Address Employee Needs with Disaster Plan

By Roy Maurer Jun 21, 2013

CHICAGO--About half the capacity-filled room of HR practitioners attending the “Disaster Planning for HR” session at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition on Monday said that their organization has a disaster plan. But many attendees signaled that they weren’t sure.

The survey question was posed by Jay Kirschbaum, senior vice president and national practice leader at Willis, a global risk advisor and insurance broker. Kirschbaum covered the importance of business continuity planning to safeguard human and physical assets from disasters like terrorist attacks, hurricanes and earthquakes.

He said HR should have a crucial role in this process.

“HR professionals can demonstrate the strategic value of HR to business leaders and have that seat at the table, driving the importance of HR processes during disruptive events.”

You can’t leave the disaster plan to the IT department, Kirschbaum warned. “How are they going to implement it? How will they get the people behind it to actually make it happen?”

This isn’t something that just happens to other people, he noted. “It’s not something we can ignore. Disaster planning is really something we need to think about and think through what we’re going to do.”

Communicate Your Plan

That said, it’s not enough to have a plan. Too often, plans and policies are placed in binders and put away, he said. “Communicating your plan and making sure people understand it—including senior leadership, key suppliers and vendors—is key.”

Your business continuity plan should include the following communication elements:

  • Communication language that is clear and in the languages of your employees.
  • Assigned responsibilities and identified key personnel.
  • Training employees through regular drills.
  • Collecting and disseminating emergency contact information.
  • Building a succession tree.
  • Alternative communication methods in case electronic networks are disrupted.
  • A communication strategy for vendors, financial institutions and insurance brokers.

Put Employees First

Protecting employees and planning for their return to work after a disaster are central parts of a business continuity plan—and this is where HR can really step in.

Do your plans take into account employee absences due to injury and illness? What about their family members? Plans need to determine workers’ access to health care and mental-health and social services. HR must identify which employees have special needs in an emergency.

Employee needs may include:

  • Prescription drug refills and out-of-network reimbursement arrangements if workers end up being far from their home network.
  • Housing, including employer-provided or reimbursed lodging.
  • In addition, it is important to review current policies on leaves of absence, pay and benefits.

Among the federal employment laws that must be considered when developing a crisis management and business continuity plan are the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Many states also have laws that may be more restrictive or have greater requirements than federal legislation, so, when developing a crisis management and business continuity plan, employers should check their local and state laws, too.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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