In light of the recent weather that has taken over national attention with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is as good a time as any to discuss how these natural disasters impact the employment world in the United States, including an employer’s obligation to provide leave under laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”).
The FMLA is a federal law that allows eligible employees (employees who have worked for at least 12 months for the employer for at least 1,250 hours in that period) to take leave under certain circumstances, if the employer is subject to such leave (the employer has to have at least 50 employees at the work location or within a 75-mile radius from the location). Qualifying leave generally applies when an employee needs to take time off to care for herself or a close family member (spouse, child, parent) due to a serious health condition.
So what happens when a natural disaster hits? Does FMLA come into play?
The FMLA does not require an employer to provide leave to employees in order for them to attend to personal matters that may arise from a natural disaster, such as dealing with flooding, attempting to retrieve belongings or searching for others.
Yet, if the natural disaster results in an employee, or a close relative of an employee, suffering from a serious health condition due as a result of the disaster that renders them unable to perform the functions of their job, then the FMLA may come into play. While medical certification may be requested by an employer to substantiate any injury that relates to the disaster, this is an instance where the employee may qualify for FMLA leave.
What if the business is shut down due to the disaster?
If a business is forced or chooses to shut down its operations due to the natural disaster, this would not be an FMLA qualifying-event. If an employee has already been on FMLA leave when the disaster struck, the time that the business was closed would not count against the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement.
Other issues that may arise here are whether employees are entitled to pay during such closure, which could depend on policies the employer has in place to address disasters, as well as whether an exempt employee works any part of the week during which the disaster took place.
When unexpected events affect a business, it is important to contact an employment attorney to discuss rights and obligations under federal, state and local laws. The Law Offices of Yale Pollack, P.C. are here to help. If you have any questions, please call 516-634-6340.
Disclaimer: The blog is for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal or other professional advice.