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After dealing with the initial crisis and immediate safety concerns, a myriad of legal issues will arise during the aftermath of a disaster
The destruction caused as Hurricane Matthew bore down on the Southeastern United States is a reminder that natural disasters can have a devastating effect on businesses and employees.
How an employer navigates a significant crisis can have a lasting impact on business operations, its reputation with customers, and more importantly its employees. The following is a short checklist of issues an employer needs to face in the immediate hours and days following this event.
Emergency Response Plan
Employers will likely pull their Emergency Response Plans off the shelf long before a disaster strikes. This preparation will now pay dividends and keep employers' activities and actions on track to effectively triage a current crisis.
Crisis Management Teams
The division of labor and responsibility among an employer's management team is critical to navigating a crisis well. Management teams and department leaders should understand their roles as soon as a crisis presents itself. Employers should assign separate responsibilities within each department to address immediate issues. In addition, employers should assign a separate group within each department to the continuation of business operations. Pulling together this team may require employers to reassign employees and supervisors from other regions and divisions to assist the locations and offices impacted by the disaster.
There are four key stakeholders that should be part of your communication plan:
Electronic Information and Technology
Access to electronic data is critical to the continuation of your operations. Your ongoing operations may need immediate access to back-up power sources and remote servers to continue operations with as little interruption as possible. In addition, your employees who have the capability of working remotely should have access to the support they need to continue their work. So your information technology (IT) department should focus on ensuring that all electronic data is backed up, preserved, and accessible.
Provide your property insurer with prompt notice of the property damage and/or interruption of business operations that occurred as a result of the event. Many insurers have disaster response teams that can be deployed to assist you in resuming operations. The financial department should be tracking all extra expenses the company incurs as a result of the event since these expenses may be recoverable under an insurance policy. Take the time before disaster strikes to understand the coverage that may be available to your company as a result of an unforeseen incident.
Employment Law Issues
A myriad of legal issues will arise during the immediate aftermath of a disaster or crisis but also in the days, weeks, and months that follow. Employers may need to face some of the following issues:
The Human Impact
The true costs of a natural disaster transcend their business costs. A natural disaster such as Hurricane Matthew, which stands to displace over 1 million people—almost a quarter of the state of South Carolina—has its most acute impact on people, including your employees. Your employees may have suffered injuries, deaths, and significant property damages that can have a lasting and profound impact on their personal lives.
Employers should not lose sight that those who work in their businesses may need support in many ways during a crisis. For this reason, employers may need to adapt to the needs of their employees to the extent possible. Employers may find that being supportive, reasonable, and understanding with its workforce during these critical times is the best course of action. Corporate responsibility and good citizenship will reflect well on your organization during a crisis.
Hal Shillingstad is an attorney in the Minneapolis office of law firm Ogletree Deakins, where he counsels clients on matters that include crisis management and workplace safety. ©
2016 Ogletree Deakins. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.
Related SHRM Articles:
In Hurricane Matthew’s Wake, 401(k) Withdrawals and ERISA Deadlines Eased, SHRM Online Benefits, November 2016
Hurricane Damage Control: Piecing Together Time Records,
SHRM Online Legal Issues, October 2016
Employee Leave Eligibility and Natural Disasters,
SHRM Online Benefits, November 2012
When Disasters Strike: Pay, Leave and Related Issues, SHRM Online Compensation, September 2011
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