Last year, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency as wildfires and extreme heat caused rolling blackouts for the first time in nearly two decades. This year state officials announced that by August, California should have roughly 3,500 additional megawatts of capacity compared to last year. However, Elliot Mainzer, president of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the electric grid, warned residents that if the West experiences another widespread heat event as was the case last August, the state might not be able to import enough power to get through the crunch.
Multiple extreme heat waves in the last few weeks have already led to record-breaking temperatures across the state as well as in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and Nevada, putting the West in an energy crunch rather early in the season. With this summer already off to a blazing start, California employers may want to ensure they are adequately prepared for the possibility of power outages in the workplace.
Being Prepared for Power Outages in the Workplace
- Have a written power outage response plan in place. Ensure all employees know what to do when the power goes out in order to keep themselves and any customers or clients safe and keep equipment or product from being damaged.
- Ensure your emergency kit is up to date and accessible. Every employer in California should have an emergency kit that is stocked with water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, flashlights, and other basic survival items. It should always be in an easily accessible location so that employees can quickly find it in an emergency.
- Invest in surge protection and backup battery systems. Surge protectors help keep expensive equipment like computers and servers from being damaged when there is a sudden change in voltage. Backup battery systems typically are not enough to run equipment for very long, but can allow things to be safely shut down to avoid damage or malfunction. Other important equipment like illuminated exit signs, smoke detectors and sprinklers can also be affected by a power outages and battery backup options are crucial to keeping these functioning in an emergency.
- Have a generator ready. Ensure that multiple employees are trained on how to access and properly use the generator. Generators, while helpful in an emergency situation can also cause a multitude of safety hazards if not used properly, including carbon monoxide poisoning and electric shock.
What to Do during a Power Outage in the Workplace
- Call the utility provider immediately to report the power outage with accurate time and location details and find out any information about restoration. This is important in an unplanned outage, as it allows the provider to respond quickly to the outage and restore power as soon as they can. If there is immediate danger to employees or the general public call 911 first.
- Get a count of all employees and any customers in the building. Ensure everyone is accounted for and safe. Distribute flashlights if needed. If it is safe to leave the building, you can allow people to exit calmly.
- Disconnect equipment and machinery to prevent damage from surges. If your business has refrigeration equipment, keep all refrigerators closed until power is restored to maintain proper temperatures and lessen waste. For longer-term or planned outages, coolers can be used with dry ice to maintain a safe food temperatures.
When Remote Workers Experience Power Outages
Remote workers should also be well-equipped for power outages and surges – just like they would be in the office – with surge protection, hot spot access and battery back-ups. Employers should also clarify the expectations for workers who may be affected by blackouts during work hours and consider implementing an HR policy that outlines what employees are expected to do if a blackout occurs while they are working at home, such as who to report the event to, whether or not to continue working from battery-powered equipment, or if there’s an expectation for the employee to temporarily relocate to an area with power.
What Employers Need to Know About Power Outage Pay
After the above steps have been taken, employers have several options to choose from. Depending on the reason for the outage, employers may choose to send employees home or on break, or have them remain at work to wait it out. Employers should be careful to pay employees properly during a power outage. Below are the pay regulations that apply to each scenario.
Requiring Employees to Remain at Work
You can require employees to remain in the workplace to wait for power to return, and in some cases that may be the safest option – especially if traffic signals are out as well. If employees can safely and effectively perform their work without power, they may do so. However, even if employees do not perform any work, employers are required to pay them for their time while waiting for power to be restored.
If the power goes out near a scheduled meal period, you can take employees off the clock for a meal break for up to one hour. If power is still out when the break is over, you can require employees to wait it out in the workplace (with pay) or send them home for the rest of their shift.
Sending Employees Home
Pay requirements differ for exempt and nonexempt employees. Reporting time pay requirements do not apply when public utilities fail to supply electricity, water or gas, or there is a failure in the public utilities or sewer system. If you send a nonexempt employee home because of a power outage, you would only pay that employee for the time he/she actually worked that day.
If an exempt employee worked any part of the day, he/she is entitled to a full day’s pay if sent home due to a power outage. Employers are not permitted to make a deduction for the portion of the day not worked.
Calling Employees Back to Work
If power is restored after sending employees home, you can call employees back to work to finish the rest of their shift. The normal call-back pay requirement, which is a minimum of two hours of pay for the second reporting in a single day, does not apply when public utilities fail to supply electricity, water or gas, or there is a failure in the public utilities or sewer system.
Power outages can cause panic, but with expert guidance from your HR representative and a proper emergency response plan in place, you and your employees will be well-equipped to handle the situation.
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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.