It’s Sunday evening here in Connecticut.  If the forecast goes according to plan, I may not have power tomorrow to write about the storm.

Oh, Sandy!

Governor Malloy announced this evening that all non-essential state workers are not to report to work on Monday. But those who listened to his news conference know he went beyond that.

He stated that “This is the highest threat to human life our state has experienced in anyone’s lifetime.”

What does that mean, though, for private employers? Well, despite the ominous warnings, he has not ordered all private employers to close.  Under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 28-9, he may have broad powers if he declares a state of civil preparedness emergency to do so.

Indeed, under subsection (a), he is “authorized and empowered to modify or suspend in whole or in part, by order as hereinafter provided, any statute, regulation or requirement or part thereof whenever in his opinion it is in conflict with the efficient and expeditious execution of civil preparedness functions.”

But that’s not happening here.  At least not yet.  (If you’re curious on more about the state’s Disaster Plan, you can download it here.)

Thus, its up to each employer to decide what to do. Some, like our office in Bridgeport, will have no choice but to close because of the storm surge and flooding. Others will also need to close because of the expected power outages.

Whatever you decide, understand that opening or closing has its own set of consequences. Employees who are required to work tomorrow may feel like they are being put in harm’s way. While others may not get paid if the office is closed.

This storm is unprecedented (at least that’s what various articles like this one suggest.) Employers should be conscious about following guidance from officials and following the letter of the law. This disaster will pass, but employers who don’t follow the rules, are likely to have issues resurfacing down the road.

Stay safe everyone.

 

We interrupt our normally scheduled post on a recent Second Circuit case….

Monday is an anniversary that many of us in Connecticut will long remember — the anniversary of the big October snowstorm (or “Alfred” as Channel 3 called it).   Combine that storm with Irene earlier in 2011, and we’ve seen more than our share of storms recently. 

Lots of Tricks

Just like the Ice Storm of 1973, these storms had devasting consequences and made work quite difficult for employers. 

The forecasts on Thursday just got a lot more serious with Sandy heading up the coast taking dead aim at the Northeast.

Are we in for a repeat?

First off, employers should, by now, understand the rules regarding “reporting pay” and whether you need to pay employees when your office is closed, even due to power outage out of your control.  For more information, there are several posts out there on the subject like this one

But more importantly, the time is now for employers to break out all the lessons learned from those storms and start implementing them. What are some of things to still consider?

  • Emergency contact information for getting in touch with employees. This includes having backup numbers in case of widespread power outages. With mobile phones being used so readily, that’s a great place to start but even those aren’t entirely useful either when the power to the cell towers goes down too. 
  • Clear communications to employees about what should happen in the event of a storm. Who should they call? Where can they find the information? Will your e-mail work to them?
  • Rules for human resources to follow regarding absences.
  • Amending your policies so employees understand when time out of the office (even for power outages) may or may not count towards PTO. 

This may be a long duration storm.  It goes without saying that we should plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Let’s just hope we don’t have a repeat of last year. 

For more on storms, snow days, hurricanes, and other natural disasters (!), you can find some prior posts here, here, here, and here.

So, by now (Friday morning), your preparations at your workplace should be in full swing.  The latest forecasts this morning call for a landfall on Sunday somewhere along the Connecticut coast (perhaps Bridgeport) with hurricane impacts felt throughout the state.

Irene is Coming

Connecticut has set up some new resources since my post yesterday specifically on Hurricane Irene.  The 8 a.m. update is posted here.   It is frequently updated and also has a list of people to follow on Twitter.

But so far, it’s not easy to find out about all storm-related workplace laws in one place on the state’s website. (How about an update Department of Labor?)

While a blog post cannot address all of the FAQs that might come up, I thought it would be helpful to discuss a few wage/hour issues. As always, consult with your legal counsel/advisor on any specific issues you have and how these laws might apply to your workplace.

Reporting Time or Minimum Daily Earnings Guaranteed: Connecticut has a “reporting time” obligation (as do several of our neighboring states). It is contained in various regulations and applies to certain industries like the “mercantile trade”. You should already be aware of this law, but it has particular application in storm situations where people may not work full shifts.

Continue Reading Hurricane Irene: “Reporting Time” Pay and Other Wage & Hour Issues for Employers

UPDATED:

The official hurricane forecast as of early Wednesday morning has Connecticut squarely in the path of Hurricane Irene. Now is the time to start following the news and begin initial preparations for a possible storm.

Although we’re still many days away, the weather forecasters are starting to sound the alarm of a possible major hurricane named Irene hitting South Carolina and perhaps coming up the East Coast.

Hurricane Irene, 9a, 8/22

It has been twenty years since the last hurricane touched Connecticut and many people have likely forgotten how much damage even an indirect hit from a storm like Bob (back in 1991) can cause.

Each year I’ve written about this topic (most recently back in August 2010)  and so far, each storm that seems a possibility to hit Connecticut turns right or fades away.  Will we be as lucky again this year? Perhaps.

But just in case, now’s the time to dust off your storm-related policies and make sure that you’re set for a hurricane or tropical storm.

What are some things to think about?  Particularly for those employers near the Long Island Sound, you may want to consider the following: Continue Reading Hurricane Preparedness in Connecticut: Come On Irene?

With the river flooding that has been going on in Connecticut the last week and the forecasts for a tough spring, I had originally scheduled this post to discuss emergency preparedness for employers and how employers should deal with employees affected.

Flooding is nothing new in Connecticut before and with more flooding expected, it seemed a good time to revisit the rules for employers to follow during such times and share some resources.  I’ve touched on it in prior posts like this., too

But while Connecticut was sleeping last night, a major earthquake rocked Japan and a devastating tsunami has followed for the Pacific area.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the disaster.  (If you need to find employees or loved ones, Google has set up a people finder here.)

The scope of that massive disaster makes our troubles (and other employment law issues) seem trivial today by comparison.  It’s just heartbreaking to see the destruction and scope of it. You can see one video from an airport here that is just incredible to watch. 

Frankly, I shutter to think about how Connecticut would cope with a disaster of similar scope and size as that in Japan. A hurricane is the most likely of these types of catastrophic events, but Connecticut hasn’t seen a direct impact in many years.

Connecticut does have an up-to-date emergency preparedness plan, but how many of us truly think about how we would act in such a situation and how our business would ever cope (or recover).  But that’s exactly what is going to be expected of those in Japan.  While larger businesses may have business continuity plans, smaller ones don’t. 

The government’s Ready.gov site has a good feature on such a plan specifically designed for businesses as a start.  For those of us feeling helpless for today’s events, taking a few minutes to dust off a plan may be one small step we can take to do something, anything, to shake that feeling.   (For those wanting to donate to say, the Japanese Red Cross, those websites were down this morning, no doubt by all the web traffic.)

Overall, the dark skies today match our collective moods.  What a sad day. 

Some of the long-range computer weather models have been forecasting that the next few weeks will become quite active in the tropics. For those on the East Coast and Connecticut, that can only mean one thing: Let the hurricane watching, speculating, and hyperventilating begin.

It’s not necessarily a theoretical issue either. Today marks the 55th anniversary of the devastating floods arising from Hurricanes Connie and Diane.  A hurricane may not happen with frequency in Connecticut, but when one hits, it tends to have a pretty big impact.  (The last major hurricane to hit Connecticut directly was Hurricane Gloria back in 1985.)

However, for employers, now is the perfect time to dust off the storm preparation plans and ensure that you understand the rules ahead of time.

It is a topic that I’ve touched on each hurricane season (see prior posts here, here and here) so I thought that this year, I would share another article that I’ve seen in the past that provides a great foundation for employers. 

It was published by (where else) the Florida Employment Law Blog (featuring some of my former colleagues as well). 

Among the tips provided:

  • Identify and notify those employees you believe should be deemed “emergency services personnel” who will be required to work during a storm or evacuation order. Make arrangements for providing these employees with food and shelter. Make sure to have procedures in place for evacuation of these employees in the event the hurricane or other disaster causes the workplace to become unsafe.
  • Identify your “essential employees.” These are employees that you cannot require to be at work during a hurricane or evacuation but you believe are vital to the continued operations of your company. Determine what incentives you can provide these employees to entice them to work during a disaster or to return to work as soon as possible. These incentives can include shelter, hot meals, fuel, as well as arrangements for family members.
  • Establish a contingency plan to address the needs of those employees who may be temporarily living in company facilities during a storm or disaster. Ensure you can provide such necessities as gas, food, and shelter to these employees. 

There are lots of other practical suggestions in the post as well. While the seas are calm, and a hurricane is still just an idea in a computer forecast model, take a bit of time to update your plan of action. If and when a hurricane hits, you’ll be ahead of the game.

(Incidentally, the image is the cover a out-of-print children’s novel entitled "Flood Friday" by Lois Lenski, in which she recounts the story of an 11-year-old affected by the Floods of 1955. If you can find a copy at your local library, I’d recommend it highly for your family.)

UPDATED 6/25/10

This afternoon, Bridgeport Connecticut either had a pretty bad microburst, or a tornado.  The National Weather Service has yet to make that determination, though having been right in the middle of it, it sure SEEMED like a tornado, with "whiteout" conditions. 

(UPDATE: The National Weather Service has confirmed a tornado touched down in Main Street by our office.)

And some businesses, including my law firm’s Bridgeport office (where I was working this afternoon) were in the thick of things. (We’re fine, though some cars in our building’s parking lot weren’t as fortunate.)  And it appears no one was killed in the event overall, thankfully.

The storm was pretty dramatic and I’ve attached a few of my mobile phone photos taken at the time.  

Early reports suggest that although some buildings were damaged and trees knocked down, many businesses were spared the worst of it.  But it’s only a matter of time before another storm (or hurricane) hits Connecticut again.  (And with forecasters calling for perhaps TWENTY named storms to develop this year, the odds on at least one making its way to Connecticut keep improving.) 

In times of disaster, what’s an employer to do if it has been damaged by a storm?

It’s actually a topic that I’ve tackled before in some posts like this one.  Here are some of the issues:

  • Suppose, for example that a business closes for a few days because of storm damage. Does the employer have to pay the employees?  The legal answer may depend on whether the employee is an exempt or non-exempt worker.  But if the employer may decide to pay all employees regardless as a "good will gesture" as some employers have done after fires, hurricanes and the other types of disasters.  
  • What can employers do to prepare for the hurricane season or other storms in the future? Easy. Set up a storm policy. Many employers will have in place for winter storms, but make sure that it is applicable for all types of storms and sets forth what is and is not expected.  Also consider getting cell phone numbers for employees; in case of a storm, you may be able to send them a text message or call with information, particularly if there are power outages.
  • Also, do your employee know what to do if an emergency strikes your workplace while they are there? Where are they supposed to go? While employers may prepare for some fire drills, expanding those drills to include unforeseen disasters will help.

Most employers prepare for storms by worrying about insurance and the physical aspects of an office. But don’t forget dealing with personnel as well. Have rules in place and know the legal limits as well. 

If a disaster does strike, you’ll be one step ahead of everyone else. And have one less thing to worry about to get your business back up and running again quickly.  

Continue below to see some pictures from today’s storm taken from our offices.  

Continue Reading When a Storm Hits, What’s an Employer to Do In Connecticut?

Tropical Storm Danny (no relation) formed in the Atlantic Ocean late this morning.  It’s still days away from a potential impact on the East Coast but Connecticut IS within the forecasted track’s "cone"

Whether it strengthens to a hurricane and hits Connecticut, or meanders harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean is for the weather forecasters to figure out.

However, long-time Connecticut residents will remember the impact that the last hurricane to hit Connecticut — the infamous Hurricane Gloria nearly a quarter of a century ago. Hurricanes and Connecticut do not mix all that well.

So, time to dust off (or, in some cases, create) your hurricane policies — just in case.

Over a year ago, I discussed some of the common questions that arise during a storm:

As an employer, suppose some employees don’t show up for work, allegedly because they are home preparing for the hurricane, can you fire them? For the most part, yes. Connecticut is an at-will employment state.   Whether you will want to fire them, though is an entirely different question.

Do I need to pay employees who don’t show up for work for the same reason? That will depend on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt.  Non-exempt (or hourly) workers are typically paid for time worked, so no work, no pay.  But for exempt (salaried) workers, they will need to be paid if they worked during that week, though the employer may insist that the employee be charged vacation time or paid time off. 

Can I force my employees to work during the storm? The legal answer is that for the most part, the answer is yes. But in practice, most employers take a different approach that depends on the type of work that they are doing.  

Some employers who need to maintain operations 24/7 (a hospital, hotel, etc) may want to designate certain employees as "essential".  Others may decide that they can deal with telecommuting employees for a half-day.  But establishing a policy at the outset so employees know what to expect is essential to avoiding problems later on.  Ultimately, setting reasonable expectations (asking employees to call in if late, and having them make up for lost time) may be all that is needed for some.

However, for extremely serious storms (perhaps a Category 3 Hurricane), the Governor has the power to suspend certain laws under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 28-9.  This is rarely invoked. In non-emergency situations when the Governor says that "non-essential" state workers should stay home, private employers should understand that this applies only to state workers and they are free to set different rules. 

We have closed our business during the storm; do we need to pay employees? The legal answer again depends on whether the employee is an exempt or non-exempt worker.  But if you follow the letter of the law, there are serious ramifications for employee morale.  It will obviously be challenging to some small employers, but paying employees in those times of need may pay dividends later for employee morale as well.

Some other steps you can take this week:

  • Get a list of employee cell phone numbers. In the event of widespread power losses or phone outages, you still may be able to send text messages to them.
  • Be sure to seek out legal counsel where appropriate for specific legal questions that may arise in this context.  For instance, there may be contractual obligations by an employer or other laws that may apply to your specific situation.
  • Stay informed. The National Hurricane Center puts out no-nonsense forecasts without all the hype that sometimes accompanies these types of storms. 

As Tropical Storm Fay continues to pound Florida this week, I was recently reminded that it’s been 23 years since Connecticut suffered a direct hit from a Hurricane — the infamous Hurricane Gloria

No worries then for Connecticut, right? Wrong. Connecticut has been hit by several tropical storms since then — just like Fay — and Hurricane Bob passed close enough over 15 years ago to cause significant damage in the state.  And the Great Hurricane of 1938 may be one for the history books, but it was historic in proportions and shows it could happen here again.

And if you follow the weather blogs, Connecticut is just due for a hurricane strike; maybe not this year, but soon.

So now is the best time to understand the law and help establish a policy to have in place in case a storm develops.

Here are some common questions; some are similar to snow storms (see my earlier post here), but even in snow, Connecticut seems to function ok.  A hurricane might change that equation.

As an employer, suppose some employees don’t show up for work to prepare for the hurricane, can you fire them? For the most part, yes. Connecticut is an at-will employment state.   Whether you will want to fire them, though is an entirely different question.

Do I need to pay employees who don’t show up for work for the same reason? That will depend on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt.  Non-exempt (or hourly) workers are typically paid for time worked, so no work, no pay.  But for exempt (salaried) workers, they will need to be paid if they worked during that week, though the employer may insist that the employee be charged vacation time or paid time off. 

Can I force my employees to work during the storm? The legal answer is that for the most part, the answer is yes. But in practice, most employers take a different approach that depends on the type of work that they are doing.  

Some employers who need to maintain operations 24/7 (a hospital, hotel, etc) may want to designate certain employees as "essential".  Others may decide that they can deal with telecommuting employees for a half-day.  But establishing a policy at the outset so employees know what to expect is essential to avoiding problems later on.  Ultimately, setting reasonable expectations (asking employees to call in if late, and having them make up for lost time) may be all that is needed for some.

However, for extremely serious storms (perhaps a Category 3 Hurricane), the Governor has the power to suspend certain laws under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 28-9.  This is rarely invoked. In non-emergency situations when the Governor says that "non-essential" state workers should stay home, private employers should understand that this applies only to state workers and they are free to set different rules. 

We have closed our business during the storm; do we need to pay employees? The legal answer again depends on whether the employee is an exempt or non-exempt worker.  But if you follow the letter of the law, there are serious ramifications for employee morale.  It will obviously be challenging to some small employers, but paying employees in those times of need may pay dividends later for employee morale as well.

What can I do now? Easy. Set up a storm policy. Many employers will have in place for winter storms, but make sure that it is applicable for all types of storms and sets forth what is and is not expected.  Also consider getting cell phone numbers for employees; in case of a storm, you may be able to send them a text message or call with information, particularly if there are power outages.

Lastly, be sure to seek out legal counsel where appropriate for specific legal questions that may arise in this context.  For instance, there may be contractual obligations by an employer or other laws that may apply to your specific situation.