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Meg Kurlinski was featured in TerraLex Beacon Alert: A Global Perspective on Natural Disaster Preparedness

October 25, 2017

TerraLex: What's the single most important step that employers should take before the storm hits to help employees return quickly to work once the danger of a natural disaster has passed?

Meg: The most important step an employer can take to be prepared for any natural disaster is to set up multiple methods of communication in advance by which the Company can provide updates to employees.  A phone number to call and web site to reference should be provided to employees to gain information, as well as instructions as to which local news outlet should be consulted regarding business openings and closings.  HR should also make sure it has a paper copy of employee phone numbers so they can reach out to employees individually without having to access online systems that may be down or otherwise damaged.

TerraLex: What are the legal obligations of companies in your jurisdiction to provide employees with time off during a natural disaster?

Meg: Employees in Wisconsin affected by a workplace emergency may seek leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act as well as the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act for a serious health condition that they or a qualifying family member developed as a result of the emergency.  For example, an employee may seek leave to treat an injury incurred during a natural disaster or to care for a family member whose medical equipment is not operating due to a power outage.  Similarly, home health care workers may not be available to reach qualifying family members with disabilities and, therefore, employees may be required to remain home to care for them for a period of time following a natural disaster.  Leave under the WFMLA is apportioned out by the reason for taking leave, which in some instances could result in employees taking leave in excess of the 12-month federal entitlement.  For example, if an employee used 12 weeks of FMLA earlier in the year related to the birth of a child, and a natural disaster required them to care for an elderly parent, the employee would be entitled to 2 weeks of leave under the WFMLA for case of a family member with a serious health condition.

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