How to Keep an Emergency Closure from Being its Own Disaster

Closing a business due to inclement weather poses its own set of unique challenges. There’s a lot that can go into planning how you’ll manage a closure.

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Regardless of where you live, there is always the possibility of a natural disaster. In fact, one in three small business leaders say that they’ve experienced problems as a result of a natural disaster. Closing a business due to inclement weather poses its own set of unique challenges. We’ve put together tips on the three most important areas you need to consider when closing for a weather disruption.
 
1. Safety
 
Any business with more than 10 employees is required by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to have a documented Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This EAP will outline essential procedures of preparing for inclement weather, like evacuation plans and routes, as well as confirming your employees’ safety after the fact.
 
Make sure the office is stocked with an emergency kit. FEMA’s recommended supplies list includes a first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, a battery-powered radio, maps of the surrounding area, and a whistle to signal for help, among other things. Have an evacuation plan ready. If a problem arises while you’re in the office, ensure your employees are aware of nearby exits. To help mitigate panic in the event of a disaster, run evacuation drills the way you would a fire drill. Assign captains to guide people to the exits and out of the building to an appointed area to rendezvous.
 
2. Communication
 
If bad weather is imminent and there are plans to close the office preemptively, check that the contact information you have for all of your employees is up to date. Establish regular communication. Should the office closure be ongoing, it would be impossible to keep everyone in the loop without the proper contact info. Ensure that your office closure is communicated to any clients to manage expectations.

If the office is closed but business is expected to go on as usual, be clear in employee communications about shifts and telecommuting. Utilize email, phone numbers, and your company website to ensure clear communication with employees and clients.

3. Pay
 
There are a couple of different ways to approach pay in the event of inclement weather. This varies depending on the types of employees you have.
 
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, nonexempt employees must be paid for the hours that they work. Nonexempt employees are paid on an hourly basis, as opposed to being salaried. If the business is closed due to weather, then as an employer, there's no requirement to pay these employees. However, in the case of exempt employees, i.e., employees who are salaried rather than paid hourly, employers are obligated to pay their full salary, regardless of an office closure.

4. Aftermath

In a best-case scenario, once a storm has passed, everyone is able to return to work. However, in the event that an employee or an employee’s family member is unwell, they may be entitled to take up to twelve workweeks in a twelve-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Under this act, the employee’s job would be protected for the duration of their leave.
 
Whether you’ve already created an Emergency Action Plan and emergency kit or need to confirm your employees’ most recent contact information, start working on your preparedness today. The time you spend on it now will save you time, resources, and anxiety in the event of a natural disaster.