Crisis Management and Disaster Planning for Employers
Employers can be brought to their knees temporarily or permanently by all manner of emergencies — natural disasters, power outages, mass transit strikes, and even contagious diseases such as swine flu. Large-scale crises pose legal issues that must be considered and addressed by HR and management.
Every state and region of the United States is subject to some kind of natural disaster such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, lightning, explosions, cave-ins, and fires. Employers must plan ahead if they expect to survive these emergencies and keep their businesses running.
Crisis management and business continuity plans must be expanded from isolated company-specific disasters to plans for massive regional damage such as the total collapse of the telecommunication infrastructure that followed Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to natural disaster, illness, and utility and transportation problems, businesses’ crisis management and continuity plans must address the threat of workplace violence. All targets of major terrorist attacks in the U.S. have been workplaces — the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and media outlets and government offices that received mail laced with anthrax. And some of the most deadly shootings have been on school campuses — which are also workplaces.
Employment issues to consider when creating a crisis management or business continuity
Some of the employment-law and HR related issues employers must consider when creating a plan to handle emergencies and get the company back on its feet afterward include the following:
- workplace safety
- employee leave, including sick leave
- employee privacy, such as what questions an employer can ask about an employee’s health
- communicating with employees before, during, and after an emergency
Some of the federal employment laws that need to be considered when developing a crisis management and business continuity plan include the following:
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – a federal law regarding employee leave in certain circumstances
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – a federal law regarding wage and hour issues such as overtime
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a federal law protecting certain employees from discrimination and harassment
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – a federal law that protects people with disabilities, including workers with disabilities
- WARN Act – a federal law requiring certain employers to give notice of plant closing and mass layoffs
- Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) – a federal law regarding workplace safety
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) – a federal law that includes workplace rights of members of the military service
- HIPAA – a federal law protecting employee’s personal health information
Many states also have laws similar to the ones above but they may be more restrictive or have greater requirements than the federal laws. Employers should check their local and state laws as well when developing a crisis management and business continuity plan.
Alternative work schedules and telecommuting
Many crisis management plans and business continuity plans include changes to employees current work schedules or locations. Some employees may already be working a compressed schedule or telecommuting part of the time. During an emergency, employers may be forced to close temporarily. Some employees may not be able to do any work if the office is closed. Others may be able to continue working but must work from home. Another issue that can arise is if employees are called in and asked to work extra hours after an emergency to clean up or get machinery or computer systems up and running again. All of these scenarios bring up wage and hour issues, such as overtime.
Being prepared ahead of time and having a plan in place is key for businesses to survive emergencies and keep their companies up and running. Although it’s impossible to imagine every possible crisis that might arise, it is possible to develop plans that address major employment issues before disaster strikes.