OKLAHOMA CITY – Tornadoes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, explosions, active shooters, cyberattacks, ice storms: Oklahoma has seen them all. Employers need to have a plan in place for how to deal with employees during an emergency, according to the experts who appeared on a Journal Record webinar held May 21.
“I don’t know that you can prevent disaster, but you can be as prepared as possible,” said Brent Greene, marketing director for Rack59 Data Center, based in Oklahoma City.
“The biggest thing you have to remember is if you know it in advance, you can be ready for it,” said Madalene A.B. Witterholt, an attorney at the Tulsa office of law firm Crowe & Dunlevy.
COVID-19 has shown how much certain employees can do working from home, and has trained employers to think outside of the box when it comes to getting business done under extraordinary conditions, Witterholt said.
But some employees, such as factory workers, cannot do their jobs from home. In some instances, such as extreme weather like snow and ice, employers have to weigh whether or not to tell the employee to stay home and miss out on hourly wages. Or, the employer could require the employee to come in despite dangerous conditions and risk paying out on a workers’ comp claim if the worker is injured.
“People are going to get cranky and say I want my money, I don’t care if there’s ice,” when you tell hourly employees to stay home, Witterholt said. Employers are not required to pay hourly employees for missed time under such circumstances. When the sun shines, employers need to think ahead as to how they will handle the situation when it arises, perhaps working out a way for employee to use paid time off when the inevitable ice storm occurs.
Employees should know what to do and whom to contact in an emergency situation. The business’s emergency point of contact can relate what government officials are recommending, such as if there is an evacuation order or a stay-at-home order in place. Federal regulators may later evaluate if the employer had a reasonable expectation the emergency could happen, and if the employer took steps to mitigate the risk to employees, Witterholt said.
Greene said his company tries to help businesses prepare for their worst-case scenario.
“Worst case they may lose a physical facility, but do they lose the ability to do business afterward,” Greene said. “You’d think living in Oklahoma that we would get used to that.”
Rack59 can work with customers to walk them through what actions they can take now to prepare themselves for an emergency. Often, business leaders have an “it could never happen to me” attitude until it does, or it happens to someone close to them.
“The value of having a plan, knowing how to execute the plan, knowing who’s in charge, who’s going to communicate, who are the vendors that can help you navigate that I think is extremely valuable,” Greene said.
Businesses that manage a lot of critical data – like those in the health care or financial services industries – must back up their information off-site, Greene said, and evacuation plans might include a plan for data retrieval.
If the business has to continue to function during an emergency but employees are not available, third-party workers may be hired to fill the skill gap, Greene said.
“They do it at a premium sometimes because they’re taking on the risk, but that can be really valuable sometimes when you’ve got a lot at stake,” Greene said.
Witterholt recommended reviewing emergency action plans and ensuring employees know what those plans are, on a regular schedule, perhaps twice a year.
JR/Now is The Journal Record’s weekly webinar series addressing news and issues vital to the business community. It is moderated by Interim Editor Joe Dowd.