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Ways To Prepare Your Business For A Natural Disaster

Published February 19, 2020 (last updated December 4, 2020) -
Medical Staffs Assisting Employees During A Natural Disaster

Following the torrential rains and massive floods in the South Island, and the natural disasters impacting Australia’s eastern seaboard, Kiwi business owners may be asking themselves what they can do in case their business is majorly impacted by a natural disaster such as a fire, flood or earthquake.

The following article tackles some popular queries when it comes to the natural disaster impact on business.

1. Identify the Risks to Your Business and Employees

An important first step is to identify the risks of a natural disaster hitting your workplace or workplaces, and how those disasters may impact your business.

Consider the type of natural disaster and its nature, as well as the health risks and impact on utilities (e.g. electricity and water availability) it’s likely to have.

After conducting a risk assessment, prepare an emergency plan for your business. This includes communication strategies (e.g. how you will alert staff that the emergency plan has been put into action), logistical movements, appointing wardens and training staff in first-aid, providing safety equipment, and emergency contact information.

In fact, emergency plans are a health and safety requirement. Given the somewhat unpredictable nature of natural disasters, planning for emergencies ahead of time is also best practice.

2. Keep Workers Safe During Natural Disasters

The health and safety of your employees and visitors to your workplace should be the main concern of businesses, during a natural disaster.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to ensure your workers are safe during natural disasters. Given the unpredictable nature of natural disasters, there can only be best practice actions put in place.

An emergency plan, or emergency procedure, covers for:

  • Staff evacuation routes
  • Assembly points, directing staff to safe meeting places
  • Staff wardens, staff responsible for supervising an evacuation
  • First aid – appoint and train staff to apply first aid to any injuries
  • Emergency contacts for each staff member in case a crisis hits
  • Communication strategies – ensure you have a plan to contact staff during and after a disaster, and how business will proceed
  • Limited or unavailable utilities like electricity, water, gas or telecommunications failures

Perhaps one of the most important parts of any emergency plan is that it is effectively communicated to staff.

3. Employees’ Rights During Natural Disasters

There are various employee rights that an employer may have to manage during or after a natural disaster.

These include things like their rights to pay and leave after a natural disaster, and the right to refuse work for health and safety reasons.

Do Employees Get Paid During Natural Disasters?

After a natural disaster, employees may not be able to work for several reasons. These reasons include:

  • the employer cannot provide a suitable and safe workplace (especially so after an earthquake or aftershock, as buildings may have to be assessed to ensure they are structurally sound following the event)
  • the employer may not be able to provide enough work
  • an employee can’t access the workplace, e.g. due to road closures or evacuation orders, or because their usual mode of transport is unavailable
  • an employee is sick or injured, and unable to work
  • an employee’s dependent is sick or injured, or their dependent’s usual care is not available

To ascertain if an employee shall be paid in the circumstances listed above, the employer and affected employee/s should refer to their employment agreement or workplace policies. If they are not provided for, then the employer and employee can discuss the issue in good faith and come to an agreement about how the time off work shall be classed as (e.g. annual holidays, leave without pay, special leave, etc).

With dependents, if the employee’s dependent is sick or injured then the employee can use their sick leave entitlement.  However, if normal childcare is not available, for example if a school is shut, then sick leave does not apply.

There are also specific rules for employees who are guaranteed hours and shift workers relating to a cancellation or early ending of shifts. Get in touch with Employsure to learn more about shift workers.

Can an Employee Refuse to Work Due to Health and Safety Reasons After a Natural Disaster?

If employees feel it is not safe to be at work, they can stop work because of health and safety concerns. If this takes place, the employer and employees must make reasonable efforts to resolve the issue; furthermore, employers may also be able to provide safe and suitable alternative work until the issues at the regular workplace are resolved.

Can an Employee Be Fired for Missing Work During a State of Emergency?

It’s very hard to say. An employee may be missing from work during a state of emergency for a variety of reasons.

In the case of a state of emergency, an employee may not have turned up to work for obvious reasons – they cannot access work due to circumstances out of their control, telecommunications systems are down and they cannot contact you, or they themselves are injured or sick.

The Employment Relations Act stipulates that employers must follow a fair and reasonable process, and keep an open mind when dealing with problems, and act in good faith before dismissing an employee.

Therefore, the reasons that an employee can be dismissed for during a state of emergency are very specific. For more information on terminating the employment of an employee during a state of emergency, please contact Employsure.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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