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.
I'm an Amazon worker in Kentucky, tornado hit 2 miles from my house and I physically couldn't get to work for my shift. The ERC team told me that they had no record of tornadoes in Kentucky and couldn't help me with not getting attendance time reduced for today— ʟᴇꜱʟɪᴇ ᴄᴀᴍᴘʙᴇʟʟ (@LCampbell_35) December 11, 2021
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.
Then, think through the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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