imageLess than a week after hurricane Harvey finished its path of destruction through parts of Texas, hurricane Irma is set to hit Florida. Texans are slowly trying to recover from one of the worst natural disasters they’ve ever seen while Floridians are trying to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Natural disasters such as these bring up questions for employers that they may not have ever had to think of before. How can you pay employees during suspended operations? Are you obligated to provide extended leave or benefits to an employee as a result of a natural disaster?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not require employers to give their employees leave after a natural disaster for tasks such as cleaning out a flood-damaged residence, salvaging personal items, or trying to get in touch with missing family members. Employers do of course have the right to voluntarily provide leave in these situations, but they do not fall under the scope of what the FMLA covers. For non-medical assistance, The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program provides unemployment benefits to individuals who are unable to work as a direct result of a Presidentially declared major disaster. It not only covers unemployed persons, but those who are unable to reach their place of work or whose place of work has been temporarily closed from the damage.

However, an employee would qualify for FMLA leave if they suffered a physical or mental illness or injury as a result of the natural disaster that renders them medically unable to work; or their spouse, child, or parent suffered a serious injury that requires the employee to become their caretaker. When an employee requests leave as a result of a natural disaster, the employer should obtain as much information as possible from the employee to make sure that the absence qualifies as protected leave. If the employer is unsure, they may provide the requisite FMLA paperwork and allow the employee to provide the necessary proof. Furthermore, employees who are physically or emotionally injured during a natural disaster may reach the level of disability, resulting in additional employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the aftermath of a natural disaster it can be hard to prioritize the issues that arise for employers. However, implementing appropriate procedures is essential in protecting against future liability. While the road to recovery after a disaster can be a long one, the end goal is to have our employees and our businesses in good health again.

Emplicity understands that HR Outsourcing should be simple and meaningful. As a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), we strive to be a great partner in supporting your business. If you would like to request more information on how we can assist your needs, please reach out to us at 877-476-2339. We are located in California – Orange County, Los Angeles, and the greater Sacramento and San Francisco area.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of their clients.

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