When hurricanes or other natural disasters strike, most people are concerned primarily with survival and recovery in the aftermath. The last thing those living in impacted areas are probably worrying about is protecting their jobs. Unfortunately, if this unforeseen situation isn't handled properly with an employer, a person's job security may be at risk.
It is important for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to know their employment rights, as well as steps they can take to keep their employment secure.
Federal Laws governing employment rights
Employment rights during and after a natural disaster are governed by several federal laws, including but not limited to the following:
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) - Employers are required to pay exempt employees' full salaries if a worksite is closed due to inclement weather or other disasters. The employees, however, may have to use their paid leave for this time. If the worksite is open, employees must come into work or take a personal leave of absence.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - Employees may take leave under FMLA for a serious health condition that has been caused by a natural disaster. They also may request leave if they must care for a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition.
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) - This law protects the jobs of employees who are part of the National Guard, a Reserve Unit or other emergency services organization and may be called to service after a natural disaster.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) - Under OSHA, employers are required to protect employees from unreasonable workplace dangers, including those present during or after a natural disaster. Employees forced to work under these conditions may file a complaint against their employer.
In addition to the above federal laws, there may be state and/or local employment laws that apply to you. You should consult with an employment lawyer licensed in your state if you need assistance.
Ways to protect your rights as an employee
The following are ways to protect your employment in the event of a natural disaster:
- Understand your company's policy on leaves for emergency situations, particularly if the business resumes operation following the disaster.
- Let your employer know your plans to evacuate, if applicable, as well as when you might be able to return.
- If you work with people who reside abroad or in other parts of the country, inform them about what is happening.
- Back up your important work files to prevent them from being lost during a disaster.
Most importantly, whether you are a current or new employee, make sure you communicate often and effectively with your employer to avoid any misunderstandings. Also, be sure your manager has your most up-to-date emergency contact information in case you can't be reached.