Hurricane Harvey has caused massive damage and displacement of individuals in southeast Texas. For employees who have been unable to work during the past week, and for those who may not be able to return to work in the near future, there is an obvious financial and emotional toll.
Here are six positive steps that businesses may want to consider in an effort to help employees who have been directly impacted by Harvey. If the employer’s affected employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the employer should reach an agreement with the union representing those employees before making any changes to the terms and conditions of employment.
1. Pay Your Employees for the Time They Would Have Worked – Salaried, exempt employees are entitled to their full salaries for any workweek in which they perform any work, subject to limited exceptions. However, neither federal law nor Texas state law requires employers to pay nonexempt employees for time that they do not spend working. Thus, employers that were closed for only part of a workweek could find themselves in a situation where their exempt employees are getting paid their full weekly salaries but their nonexempt employees are taking an economic hit. To help lessen the blow, and to be more equitable, employers with the financial ability to pay their nonexempt employees for the hours they would have worked if Hurricane Harvey had not hit the region may want to do so.
2. Provide Your Employees With No Interest Loans or Pay Advances – Many employers may not be able to afford paying employees for not working. However, they may have the ability to offer pay advances or no interest loans to hard-hit employees. Any such advance or loan should be properly documented through appropriate paperwork, including a promissory note and repayment agreement. Employers must also be mindful of complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Texas Payday Law if repayments will be deducted from employees’ paychecks.
3. Relax or Temporarily Enhance Your Vacation/PTO Policies – Employers may have policies that restrict employees’ ability to use paid time off (PTO) or vacation subject to a certain amount of notice, in certain blocks of time, or during certain times of the year. Employers may want to ease those restrictions to allow employees to have a source of income while off from work due to Harvey. Employers also may want to consider allowing employees who were not affected by Harvey to donate their unused vacation/PTO time to a vacation/PTO bank for affected employees, or allowing affected employees to take an advance of future vacation or PTO.
4. Relax Your Attendance Policies – Employers may want to relax their attendance policies to allow employees to take unpaid time off from work to address personal issues.
5. Identify Remote Work Opportunities – Employers may want to consider whether they can provide employees with opportunities to perform their work from locations other than their normal worksite. In some cases, this might mean working from home, but for an employee who is displaced from his or her home, it could mean working from a temporary residence or from one of the employer’s other locations.
6. Remind Employees of Your EAP Program – Many employers have employee assistance programs, known as EAPs. If you have an EAP program, this is a prime time to encourage your employees to take advantage of it.