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Attention Business Owners – Are Your Policies Ready for A Weather Emergency?

Hurricane Sandy - Courtesy NOAA

Hurricane Sandy – Courtesy NOAA

With Hurricane Sandy making its way up the Atlantic, a second storm front pushing across from the West, a full moon raising the tide waters even higher than normal, and predictions calling for the worst storm in a hundred years – maybe even five hundred years – all across the East Coast, government leaders and residents are taking precautions for the impending rain, winds, storm surge and flooding. Here in the Tri-State area, schools have been ordered closed; shore points evacuated; trains, subways, busses, even casinos, shut down. A state of emergency has already been called, even though not a single drop of rain has yet fallen.

And what about you, Business Owners & CEOs. Are you prepared?

I don’t mean an insurance policy (though that’s certainly a consideration). And I’m not talking about boarding up windows, either. I’m talking about personnel policies and procedures related to weather emergencies.

I’m no expert, but here are just a few thoughts, based on experience from last year’s freak snow storm that knocked out power to the company where I worked, forcing a one-day closure. Doesn’t matter if you’re a mom-and-pop shop, or a multi-national company. These are issues and ideas that businesses of all sizes should consider and be prepared for. And I bring it up because, surprisingly, as big a company as it is, and despite having been in business for decades, we weren’t adequately prepared at the time. Let’s make sure you are. So:

1. Do you have a policy on how to treat employee time off if your business is closed due to inclement weather?

Let’s say a local power outage forces closure of your office or plant. Your employees may be prepared to come to work. Maybe they even show up, unaware the problem exists. Do you:

–       Pay employees for the unworked day, without docking them for the time off?

–       Pay them, but make them take the time out of their personal, sick or vacation bank?

–       Or, maybe you allow them the option to work from home, so as to not take the day off, at all?

–       And what if the shut down isn’t just for a day or two, but persists for a week or longer? Is the policy the same?

Turns out, there are both federal and state laws governing docking employee pay in cases of company closure due to inclement weather. The laws are a bit complex, since they vary dependent on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt. For a quick overview of what you need to know, see the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) website. And, of course, make sure you incorporate this information in your policy handbook, and share it with employees, so they know the rules. [If you’re not a SHRM member, and therefore can’t access the above link without member sign in, you can still read the the full article by going to Google, searching on “employee pay for inclement weather”, and selecting the Jan. 24, 2011 article on the SHRM.org website.]

2. Do you have a system of notifying employees when your business is closed due to inclement weather?

Perhaps you notify employees of an office closure via an announcement on a local radio or tv station. Or by adding a note to the home page of your company’s website, so employees, (as well as customers, prospects and distributors) know you’re closed for the day and will be responding to their needs at the reopen of business. But what if there’s no power and no access to tv, radio, or the internet?

You could use some sort of round-robin phone call system to alert employees, whereby top management notifies department heads. Department heads call their group members, and so on.

Or, for  a higher-tech approach, you could use any one of a dozen or more automated phone and /or text message services. All you need to do is to supply the phone numbers and the outbound message, and the service will  auto-forward you message to your entire list. If you are in need of such a service, try entering, “automated phone service announcement” into Google. You’ll turn up many options.

Either way, be sure you keep an up-to-date list of your employees’ primary and alternate contact info (home and cell phone). Make it a practice to update the phone list regularly – every 6 to 12 months. And, if you are making the calls yourself, it’s probably a good idea to keep a record of the time you called, who you talked with, and whether you actually spoke to that person or just left a message, to avoid any subsequent issues.

3. Work From Home Option?

I believe in work from home. But not all companies allow it as standard practice. However, if bad weather is expected, why not allow your exempt employees the option of bringing work home? Even if the company remains open, it’s not only safer for your employees not to have to traverse potentially flooded, snowy or icy roads, but, it’s probably also more productive, since they can get right to work, rather than spending the extra hours trying to wend their way in. Furthermore, a work-from-home option shows your trust and respect for your employees, while also showing your concern for their safety and well-being, since they need not risk possible injury when road conditions are less than ideal.

Related Topics and Resources:

Safety-Related Gifts – In addition to being aware of federal and state guidelines, enacting effective employee communication programs, and creating positive policies such as work-from-home programs, you may want to consider adding safety-related gifts to your thought process, as a nice way of showing employees you care about them. You could offer a safety-related gift as a service award — perhaps on a 1-year anniversary; or even as a welcome gift to all new employees. Since the topic is preparedness for emergencies and inclement weather, here are just a few employee gift ideas you might want to consider:

–       first aid kit

–       roadside emergency kit

–       company logo-emblazoned umbrella

–       lantern, flashlight or strobe light

–       whistle (a Red Cross emergency kit suggestion)

–       hand-crank radio

–       wind-up mobile phone/flashlight charger

–       deluxe ice / snow window scraper.

Any of these items can be customized with you company name and logo (including the whistle, which might be added to a lanyard imprinted with your company insignia.) While you can find dozens of low-cost vendor websites, usually offering cheap import goods, I prefer to work directly with a reputable advertising specialties (premiums and incentives) vendor, who will suggest a variety of gift ideas designed specifically to fit my goals, timeline and budget; who can source American-made items, if desired; and can even assist with artwork for imprinting my logo and message. If you need such a vendor, one of my most trusted and knowledgable sources for the past 20 years has been Gene Bozzo at B 2 B Promotions, www.b2b-promos.com. And while I now consider him not just a trusted vendor, but colleague and friend, I should add that I’m not affiliated with his business in any way, nor receive compensation from him or his company.

Free Hurricane App – Incidentally, the American Red Cross offers a new, free Hurricane App for your Apple or Android smartphone, iPod or tablet to monitor the storm, view a checklist of emergency kit supplies, find emergency shelters (including pet-friendly ones), and even send a message to your loved ones that you’re safe. See the iTunes or GooglePlay stores for download, and share these links with your employees. (The American Red Cross name is a federally protected mark of The American National Red Cross.)

So – is your business ready for the next weather emergency?

Did this article help? And what other considerations, policies or ideas would you suggest?

5 comments on “Attention Business Owners – Are Your Policies Ready for A Weather Emergency?

  1. http://yahoo.com
    February 10, 2013

    I personally found this specific blog , “Attention Business Owners – Are Your Policies Ready for A
    Weather Emergency? Marketing Communications Ink”, incredibly entertaining
    plus it ended up being a wonderful read. I appreciate it-Chasity

    • suzykedz
      February 11, 2013

      Hi Chasity – So nice of you to write! Hope you weren’t caught in our most recent blizzard. Some of the photos of New England area were pretty awful! Thanks again for reading and for writing. suzy

  2. Pingback: Helpful Resources for Those Affected by Hurricane Sandy « Marketing Communications Ink

  3. Kasey
    November 4, 2012

    I can tell this was written by someone who’s got some serious first-hand experience at this sort of thing.

    Good job!

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