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Absence Management

How to handle FMLA during natural disasters

Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes can wreak havoc on your organization’s operations. You want to get the company up and running again as quickly as possible. But to do that, you need your most valuable asset—your employees. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, one of the most important things you can do is show compassion. Your employees may have lost loved ones or belongings. Many will need to take time off to deal with what’s happened. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are not required to give your employees time off to handle personal matters like cleaning up. However, there are situations in which an employee would qualify for leave.

Situations that require FMLA during natural disasters

If an employee suffers a serious, verified illness or injury because of a natural disaster and isn’t able to work, you would be required to approve FMLA time off. Additionally, an employee may legally take time off to care for an immediate relative (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition who was affected by a disaster.

Ways to help employees who don't qualify for FMLA absence

If an employee doesn’t qualify for an FMLA absence, you should make an effort to help him or her take needed time away from work. Examine your company’s personnel policy. Does it include a provision for situations like this? If it doesn’t, you may want to consider ways you can build in time off for your employees. One option would be to establish a paid time off (PTO) bank. Employees could donate their PTO, vacation time, or sick leave to the bank. Their colleagues could then use that time during a disaster. The program would help employees who don’t qualify for FMLA leave or those who have exhausted their other leave options. When setting up the bank, you should include clear directions on who can donate and receive leave, as well as the maximum amount of time that can be donated. Even without a PTO bank, you can be of assistance to your employees. You can grant them time to take care of medical issues, meet with an insurance adjuster, or search for a missing relative. The bottom line is to be compassionate. It can go a long way toward building a rapport with your employees at a time when everyone needs to band together.


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