Employers Turn to Attorneys for Advice in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

9/19/17

Hurricane Harvey has pummeled Texas and the cleanup has begun but there could be more trouble ahead. Hurricane season is expected to last through the end of November and tornado season following two months later, so it’s important for every employer to create a natural disaster plan. From family and military leave to disaster recovery funds, a well thought out plan can be an essential business tool. 

“Employees have missed or are missing work for reasons ranging from transportation issues, displacement, to military leave. Some employers are soliciting donations on behalf of their businesses for those hardest hit. Some employers are considering closing or mass layoffs,” said Amy Strauss, attorney in the Dallas office of Fisher Phillips. “Each of these issues have legal ramifications so employers should exercise prudence.” 

Many companies are struggling to return to normal. When complicated employment-related issues arise, it’s important for businesses to contact a trusted advisor or attorney to assist with planning. Below are some of the issues facing Texas employers today: 

Family and Medical Leave 

If employees choose to stay home or has transportation difficulties due to weather, the U.S. Department of Labor considers this an absence for personal reasons. Employers may place an employee on leave without pay or make deductions, depending on the employee’s status. For a number of reasons, caution is recommended in docking salaried employees' pay.  

Military Leave and Emergency Workers 

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is a Federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed Service members and their civilian employers. In addition to military personnel called up to serve in the federal response to the hurricane disasters, the act protects federal emergency workers including those employees performing as intermittent disaster response appointees even if they are not otherwise members of the uniformed services. There are three major categories of employer obligations: prohibition against discrimination, continuations of benefits while on leave and right to reemployment. 

Workplace Donations to Natural Disaster 

Victims Employers can create a “tax-efficient” charitable fund (i.e., all contributions are tax-deductible to the donors and all distributions are income tax-free to the recipients) to provide disaster relief assistance to its own employees. After the 9/11 disaster, Congress enacted the Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act of 2001, which allowed employers to establish a 501(c)(3) private foundation for the sole purpose of providing disaster relief assistance to the employer’s employees and their families. In order to avoid IRS concerns regarding private inurement, there are very specific requirements that must be followed. 

Plant Closing Laws 

The WARN Act states employers must provide at least 60 calendar days of notice prior to any covered plant closing or mass layoff. Fortunately, even in cases where its notice requirements would otherwise apply, the WARN Act provides a specific exception due to any form of natural disaster. 

Businesses interested in learning more about legal issues that often arise during a natural disaster can visit the Fisher Phillips website for FAQs that addresses the above as well as workplace safety issues, wage and hour issues, labor relations, workers’ compensation and immigration law.  

About Fisher Phillips (www.fisherphillips.com)

Fisher Phillips attorneys are ready to help you take a stand: in court, with employees and unions, or with competitors. Fisher Phillips has the experience and resolve to back you up. That’s why some of the savviest employers come to the firm to handle their toughest labor and employment cases. The firm has 350 attorneys in 32 offices. In addition to Houston there are offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Gulfport, Irvine, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

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