Natural Disaster Preparedness: 3 Steps HR Should Take to Protect Employees

Recent natural disasters have highlighted the questionable workplace practices of companies in the devastated areas. Here’s what went wrong—and how HR can help companies plan better for next time.
Natural Disaster Preparedness- 3 Steps HR Should Take to Protect Employees
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Disaster struck middle America this past weekend. Tornadoes swept through six states—Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee—and left devastation in their wake. Many lives were sadly lost—and survivors are left picking through the pieces of their homes just days before the holiday season. 

What’s worse, some of the loss of human life could have been avoided. Stories are surfacing and people are sharing how—despite the known natural disasters occurring—they were forced to work… 

or face termination… 

… or loss of pay.

These stories are devastating—and frankly, infuriating. And it should go without saying that people’s lives are always more important than profits. 

Want to take action to make sure your employees are better protected? Here are three steps HR can take to prioritize and protect your employees during natural disasters. 

1. Create a Disaster Recovery Plan

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” And by not planning for a natural disaster, your company is failing your employees. 

HR professionals—we know planning for natural disasters might not be your area of expertise, but organizing your company’s experts, looking out for your employees’ health and safety, and communicating policies is. 

Now is the time to get started creating a plan that will protect the health, well-being, and safety of your employees. Partner with your facilities, technology, and leadership teams. Work with a workplace safety expert. 

The initial piece is ensuring that there are disaster recovery plans in place. Doing a tabletop exercise every few years to ensure that these plans would work, the right people are still identified correctly and that there are any holes addressed is the preparation part.”

Then, think through the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. 

This includes:

  • Who is most at risk in case of a natural disaster, who needs to receive workplace safety training, and who will conduct the trainings. 
  • What employees will need to feel safe, protected, and supported.
  • Where employees can learn about this new policy.
  • When employees should be trained, when they should be alerted to a disaster, and when is the right time to send on-site staff home.
  • Why you’re implementing new workplace policies in the first place. 

Every minute without a plan—and without communicating your plan (more on that below)—puts your people at risk. 

Just look at the events of earlier this week. While some employers (at some locations) had a plan for what to do during a natural disaster, seemingly others—like this Amazon warehouse in Jeffersonville, Indiana—did not. 

Having a plan for what leaders, managers, and employees should do in the case of an emergency—and in particular, the natural disasters most common for your location—will save lives. 

Every state in the United States has their own unique natural disasters to be prepared for, whether it is tornadoes in Illinois or snow in Utah. The Society of Human Resource Management recommends that executives drive this plan with HR providing key support through the development and execution of the plan.”

2. Communicate Your Plan to Employees

Once you have a plan in place, strategize about how you will roll the plan out to all employees. 

Introducing your plan will require consistent and timely communications that meet employees where they are:

  • In team meetings: Ask your leaders to communicate the new policy during regular team meetings and 1:1s. Encourage leaders to maintain two-way dialogue about workplace safety, and ask employees for their input. 
  • Online: Post your workplace safety policy on the company intranet; include the update in your internal email newsletter; dedicate a Slack channel to disaster planning and recovery. 
  • In common spaces: Don’t discount the power of a flyer in a break room, a placard at the reception desk, or anywhere else a physical reminder can be posted and viewed by your in-office employees.
Putting a plan into place is difficult during a disaster situation. Ensure that folks are able to follow the guidelines in the disaster recovery plan and this is the time to call, text, email every employee and make sure that they have basics in place. Throw PTO requests, etc... out the window and help staff at their most basic level."

3. Pay Employees Full Wages, Paid Leave, and/or Hazard Pay

One of the unfortunate tactics managers at both Amazon and the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory used on employees was fear—fear of losing their jobs or their wages if they left work and sheltered at home. 

Read more: What Amazon Prime Day Can Teach HR About How (Not) To Retain Employees

It should go without saying, but this behavior is atrocious. 

Instead, your company should offer full wages, paid leave, and/or hazard pay (where applicable) in instances where employees are working under dire conditions. 

Doing so demonstrates to your employees that you care about supporting their health and well-being even when they can’t come to work—or in this case, need to leave early for their own safety. 

Send people home if it’s safe or have these people stay home and not come to work without any worry of PTO or being paid. We cannot control the weather and it is the fault of no one what nature's plans are. At the end of the day, a company is nothing without its workers safe and healthy. And they will be more likely to stay somewhere that values their safety and life over the profits of the company.”

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