Disaster Recovery: 5 Ways You Can Help Employees Return to Work

Hit by Hurricane Isaac a few weeks ago, many business owners have reopened their doors and are getting back to business as normal. But with so many people still cleaning up their homes and neighborhoods, some employers are struggling with the question: How can I help my employees get back to work?

In the wake of a natural disaster, having a business continuity plan and handling your employees with compassion can make the transition back to work much easier and quicker for everyone. Here are a few things you can do to help your employees manage their work life and personal challenges.

Keep in contact

Once the weather or the threat has past, the first thing you should do is attempt to contact your employees.

“You should have a list with all your employees’ contact information,” says Emily Dusablon, human resources advisor at Insperity. “You want to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for.”

If you can’t reach people right away, don’t jump to conclusions. They may not have phone service or may be attending to more urgent matters. Wait a reasonable amount of time before taking further action or contacting the authorities.

Allow your employees to work remotely

From downed power lines to icy roads, it may be too dangerous for your employees to return to the office. Likewise, you need to make sure your office is safe before asking them to return to work.

“If possible, consider allowing your employees to work remotely for a while,” says Dusablon.

This allows employees to keep working without jeopardizing their safety.

Conditions such as power and telephone outages may make it impossible for employees to work remotely. Unfortunately, in cases like this, you will need to put their work on hold until they’re accessible again or able to return to the office.

But be careful not to forget about these employees. If possible, make arrangements to check in with them regularly to stay-up-to-date on their situation and see if there is anything you can do to help them get back to work.

Be flexible

In the weeks or even months following a natural disaster, your employees will likely be doing a lot of clean up and damage control at their homes.

“If people can come into the office, be flexible about work hours and dress code,” says Dusablon.

Allowing employees flexible work hours to take care of personal issues can help reduce their stress, so they can be more focused and productive when they’re in the office.

Pay your employees

Requirements for paying employees depend on whether they’re exempt or non-exempt. According to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) you must pay non-exempt at least federal minimum wage for each hour worked and the appropriate overtime wage for each hour worked after 40 hours during a workweek.

You’re only required to pay non-exempt employees for hours actually worked. So if your business is closed during or after a natural disaster, you’re not required to pay these employees. But to help employees through tough times, some employers will agree to pay non-exempt employees at least some of their wages. It’s your decision.

On the other hand, exempt employees must be paid their normal wage, even if your business is closed as a result of a natural disaster. If the business is open, but exempt employees aren’t able to work or get to the office, employers may choose to deduct time from employees’ vacation time or paid time off.

“It’s a business decision,” says Dusablon. “Whether you charge exempt employees paid time off days for absences or just allow them additional time.”

Regardless of what you decide, the policy should be official and documented in the employee handbook, says Dusablon.

If employees sustain injuries during the event and are unable to work, they need to check their state’s leave of absence requirements and file the appropriate paperwork.

Set up an employee assistance program (EAP)

Sometimes the most difficult part of recovering from a disaster is finding help. An EAP is a third-party organization that contracts with your company and provides a variety of support programs for employees.

“An EAP can offer guidance as well as counseling and other resources to help your employees deal with the challenges their facing,” says Dusablon.

Normally, EAPs are in place to help employees with work-related difficulties, but it can also help employees with personal struggles.

The Takeaway

Recovery from a natural disaster can be a slow and sometimes frustrating process. As an employer, you can help by setting reasonable expectations during this time. A little extra flexibility and support can help keep morale up so that employees continue to be productive.