Just three months after Hurricane Sandy hammered the Northeast, a winter storm dubbed "Nemo" is expected to deliver another pounding to the region, plunging businesses into yet another state of emergency.
Peppercomm, a New York-based public relations firm, said it cautioned employees to stay informed about the approaching blizzard—up to 3 feet of snow is predicted this weekend along with widespread power outages lasting into early next week—and use their best judgment when deciding to travel to work.
"First and foremost, our employees' safety is our No. 1 priority," the firm said in an email on Feb. 8. "Almost every employee is equipped to work from home, and many of our employees are doing this today."
If the storm does go down as one of the worst blizzards in New York's history and business is affected after the weekend, Peppercomm said its disaster plan, which effectively guided the firm through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, is ready to be implemented. The firm uses a text message service that allows it to communicate with employees in the event of an emergency.
It also has a private Facebook group where employees can provide personal updates and have the necessary conversations that would allow client work to continue from outside the office. And in case the Tri-State area loses power, Peppercomm has employees in San Francisco and other locations that could manage the workload of the New York office.
The Society for Human Resource Management suggests companies have disaster plans similar to the one Peppercomm created. SHRM encourages companies to regularly update contact lists as communicating with employees is critical. "Through effective communication … employees know about not only what is expected but also what resources they can turn to for support during the crisis, and others can know about their role in the emergency," according to the organization.
In anticipation of losing telephone service, employers should consider using their website as a way to effectively communicate with employees during an emergency. Things like expected hours of operation, when facilities will be reopening or the location of a temporary work site could be communicated through a company's website, according to SHRM.
SHRM also recommends employers have a comprehensive understanding of their obligations under laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act because "employees who are physically or emotionally injured as the result of a natural disaster also may be entitled to FMLA leave."
It is also important for business to understand which employees it is required to pay if inclement weather causes work sites to close, SHRM says. If a work site is closed and an employer is unable to offer work to a nonexempt employee, the employer is not required to pay that employee when the work site is closed. Employers are required to pay exempt employees' full salary if a work site is closed or unable to open for less than a full workweek. However, employers may require exempt employees to use allowed leave time in such a situation, according to SHRM.
Max Mihelich is Workforce's editorial intern. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org