A STORMY PROPOSITION: EMPLOYER LIABILITY
How liable are you for the forces of nature?
Recent winter storms have many employers dusting off their business continuity plans. The fickle tracks of hurricanes like Sandy and blizzards like Nemo make cancellations, weather-proofing and deliveries a last minute guessing game. “Call us an hour before and we’ll let you know whether to report to work.”
According to The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers are required to comply with, “hazard-specific safety and health standards.” This includes making sure employers provide their employees with a workplace free from recognizable hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. Most notably, the responsibility applies to protecting employees and guests from acts of nature. Winter storms, then, may bring not only loss of business but also exposure to fines, lawsuits or both.
Luckily for employers the storm fell on a Friday with plenty of advance publicity. The governors helped out as well. Governor Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island declared a State of Emergency at midday Friday. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) advised residents to avoid traveling on Friday if possible due to high winds and drifting snow. Governor Devol Patrick of Massachusetts declared a State of Emergency and banned all vehicles from the roads starting at 4PM and continuing for 24 hours.
Employers used a combination of hot lines phone trees, emails, web sites and public announcements to communicate their emergency plans, Covidien, a global medical supply company with 1,400 employees in the area, closed their Mansfield campus at noon Friday and “encouragedemployees to work from home in the morning when possible,” according to Lisa Clemence, the company’s director for corporate communications
By Monday, most of the economy was up and running in the Bay and Ocean States. The Governors simplified the ultimate decisions for most private employers. However, early precautions may have offered more than protection from law suits. A clear, thoughtful response to an emergency helps to build trust among clients as well as staff. One IT service provider Jennifer Mazzanti, president of eMazzanti of Hoboken, NJ, reflected the lessons learned from the previous storm, “We realized during Sandy that you need to be up and running as soon as possible. If you are not stable yourself, you can’t service your customers well. So before Nemo, we took a lot of extra measures to make sure we were ready.”
Employers have been given fair warning. They will have further emergencies and those that have a well-constructed and well-communicated plan will protect not only their people, but also their profits!
The bellow links render information regarding when an emergency plan is necessary and how to create one.