Employers can require attendance, even after a natural disaster: Ask HR
USA TODAY Published 7:00 a.m. ET Oct. 8, 2019 https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/careers/2019/10/08/employees-may-required-work-even-after-natural-disaster/3868062002/
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Question: My city has been hit in the past two years by two major hurricanes. My employer has expected us to come into the office not too long after both hurricanes hit when many people in the office still didn’t have power at home. Can employers require you to come into the office after something like that happens? What’s their obligation to you and you to them? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: You may not like this answer – so brace yourself: Yes, an employer can require attendance at work during and after natural disasters, even if an employee doesn’t have his or her personal life in order yet.
The fact of the matter is that most employers do their best to accommodate their employees as they try to get their lives back in order after natural disasters, but the nature of many jobs requires the workforce to show up after such a catastrophic event – hospitals, law enforcement, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. come to mind – along with businesses that support those types of employers. So it’s not as open and shut as the employer being sensitive to the needs of their employees.
After a hurricane, for example, it is not uncommon for many places of business to allow employees a reasonable amount of time to regroup before returning to work. Letting employees use paid or unpaid leave or allowing them to telecommute are common and frequently used options when natural disasters occur.
On the flip side, as the employee, you need to decide if you feel unsafe going into work and recognize that your decision could result in less pay – and there are laws that protect your right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. In some cases where conditions are unquestionably dangerous, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protect workers who refuse to work from employer retaliation. I would suggest examining the details of those laws to see if any of the outlined parameters pertain to you and your situation.
I don’t know the nature of your work, so it’s difficult for me to judge who's right here; these things require careful balancing between the employer and the employee's needs. You need to get your life back in order when you return to work. Your employer needs to quickly get its operations back up and running so it can ensure you have a job to come back to.
Ford Motor Co. is shutting down the Dearborn Truck Plant at the end of the second shift Wednesday, halting F-150 production in all its plants after a major fire at a parts supplier. May 9, 2018