When civil unrest leads to damage and destruction, employers within the community face many challenges. Businesses in areas where protesters may gather are often forced to close their doors early or cease operations for a longer period of time. Businesses that carry a lot of inventory are at risk of theft and looting. Even businesses that are considered “out of the way” of gatherings are affected by detoured traffic patterns and closed roads and highways that can prevent employees from getting to or from work.

Right now, communities across the entire nation are experiencing this occurrence in real time. Authorities are issuing early curfews each night to attempt to minimize destruction and vandalization and protect residents and businesses in the area, but riots and looting can still occur despite government interference – and sometimes in spite of. Many businesses in Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities, have already seen the physical damage caused by civil unrest.

Vandalization, staff shortages, and disrupted operations can put financial strain on organizations – especially small businesses – but those aren’t the only ways in which businesses are impacted.

The Impact of Civil Unrest in the Workplace

Many workplaces have already been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, from having to halt non-essential operations and close their doors to dealing with essential employees concerned about coming to work. It is almost unreasonable to expect employees to keep their personal concerns at home, especially since many are working from the home, making it more difficult than ever to maintain compartmentalization between work and personal life. The emotional stress can spill over into all aspects of an employee’s workload, affecting their productivity, collaboration, relationship with other employees, and their own mental health.

When civil unrest emerges in the community, employers need to be prepared for the possibility that the disruptions and distractions may follow employees into the workplace. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees have a safe workplace, which includes mental safety as well as physical. Below are some ways that employers should respond to and prepare for civil unrest.

Preparing for and Responding to Civil Unrest

1. Provide Resources to Improve Employees’ Well-Being
If your organization’s benefits plan includes an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), remind employees about it. EAPs can help employees with emotional issues, legal problems, financial difficulties, and any other issue that affects their well-being by connecting them with over-the-phone counseling and resource advisors. In addition to reminding employees to utilize employer-provided benefits like the EAP, Jeanine Dillard, Director of Benefits at Emplicity’s headquarters in Irvine California, recommends that employers also leverage existing community resources. “If you’ve got a really significant situation, it really helps to reach out to your county and local organizations. That’s what they’re there for,” Mrs. Dillard explains. 

2. Be Flexible With Employees for Their Safety
Whether employees are working remotely or at the worksite, they may require more flexibility during times of unrest. Employers should ensure they allow employees to leave early when needed due to curfew or other travel reasons. Employees who work remotely may be working from communities where unrest is happening around them and may need to take time off or adapt their working hours. Being flexible with employees and their needs is a direct way for employers to improve the safety and well-being of their employees.

3. Establish a Business Continuity Plan
“We’re in unprecedented times at this moment, and business owners really need to look at what they have in place if they are affected,” explains Mick Fenton, Risk and Safety Consultant at Emplicity. This type of plan should detail how the business will respond to a variety of situations and emergencies, including civil unrest. Employers should coordinate with their risk management consultant and local authorities to determine the optimal course(s) of action for their specific business, and then ensure the plan is effective before a situation occurs. “One of the mistakes employers often make when implementing a business continuity plan is that they’ve not actually practiced any of it before an event comes to fruition,” cautions Mr. Fenton. For example, in response to COVID-19 business interruptions, many businesses struggled to quickly adapt to the practice remote working, even in cases where it was mentioned in their plan. He added, “It is critical to practice key components of a continuity plan prior to an event, so the business owner knows what works and what doesn’t.”

4. Before an Emergency, dial in with OSHA.
Employers should always be sure that worksites adhere to regulatory language of federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines for safe workplaces during times of civil unrest. Federal OSHA requires employers to have an emergency action plan to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies. “In this action plan, employers need to dedicate key personnel to lead individual initiatives within the plan,” Mr. Fenton advised. OSHA specifically suggests that this plan should include: an evacuation policy and procedure; workplace maps that outline routes, floor plans, and safe or refuge areas; preferred methods for reporting emergencies; and even the contact info of individuals both within and outside of the organization to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan. Well-developed emergency plans paired with proper employee training can result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less damage to the facility during emergencies.

5. Be an Active Member of the Community You Operate In
Civil unrest can happen anywhere at any time, and when damage and destruction occur, everyone in the community is affected. The business owners who actively participate in community events through initiatives, donations, or by simply showing up, are the same business owners who receive support back from their community when they need it most. Get to know your neighbors and create a list of local law enforcement, emergency responders and community boards (we like nextdoor.com) to stay in tune with your community and the latest news and resources.

6. Consider Extra Security Measures
If there are known demonstrations occurring in your community, you may need to explore additional security options, at least temporarily. Many businesses board up doors and windows to prevent glass breaking, but that doesn’t always protect the store from damage or looting. Investing in a private security company may be necessary if your property does not already have one, or more effective physical measures such as steel security gates for doors and windows may be needed for worksites with vulnerable storefronts.

7. Educate Yourself and Your Leadership Team About Personal Safety and Situational Awareness
Developing a working understanding of situational awareness – the ability to observe your surroundings and make detailed assessments about your environment – is incredibly valuable in all areas of life. Putting this skill to practice can be the difference that keeps you, your employees, and your family safe during times of civil unrest and uncertainty. Taking inventory on key observations such as hazards, positioning, and potential exit paths may help you remain calm and adapt quickly when in compromising situations. Keep your management team informed and ready by providing resources and training on street smarts and developing a keen sense of awareness.

For further information on safety and awareness, reach out to our Risk & Safety consultant, Mick Fenton, at 714-230-4755 or email mfenton@emplicity.com.


Emplicity is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (CPEO) based in Irvine, California, that helps make employee management simple for small to mid-sized businesses. Acting as the Human Resources department for approximately 8,000 employees, Emplicity’s professionals administer and provide guidance to small business clientele in areas such as payroll, workers’ compensation insurance, employee benefits, and workplace safety. For more information on Emplicity, please contact us at 877-476-2339 or submit your information below.

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About Emplicity:
Since 1995, Emplicity has provided a smarter, more secure, and integrated platform of employer services to its 300 business clients and their 8,500 employees. As a Professional Employer Organization, or PEO, the California-based HR outsourcing firm simplifies the compliance, administration, and support businesses need in the areas of employee benefits, payroll, and human resources technology.

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 its clients.

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