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.