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Preparing Your Business For Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma Projected Path

 

I wrote this article last year and I can’t believe almost a year later and I am posting it again.  I made some updates to it as well.

If you own your own business you have twice the work to do to get ready for a hurricane and it is not too late to protect your business.  Here are 5 quick steps to ensure your business is ready.

 Step 1: Protect Your Property

  • Invest in and install shutters or plywood in order to protect windows and doors from wind borne-debris.
  • Have the roof of your building evaluated to ensure it can withstand a storm.
  • Remove any branches or trees adjacent to your building that could potentially fall and damage it.
  • Sandbag any area that is subject to flooding.
  • Anchor and brace any large furniture (bookcases, shelves, filing cabinets) to wall studs.
  • Relocate any valuable or fragile possessions.
  • Secure all utilities including water heaters, gas tanks, and heaters and if necessary, raise them to higher locations to avoid water damages.
  • Secure electronics such as computers and other office equipment with straps or Velcro.
  • Turn off all the utilities prior to a hurricane making landfall if possible.

Step 2: Confirm You Have the Proper and Adequate Insurance in Place to Protect Your Business.

  • Make sure you have enough insurance. Just like your home, you need insurance that covers more than just the structure.
    • Is your coverage up to date?
    • Do you have coverage for floods? Water damage is not the same as wind or storm damage.  Most of the damage caused by Hurricanes in coastal areas involves rising water which is not covered under most standard insurance policies
    • Do you have Business Interruption Coverage?  Could your business survive being closed for 30 days or more during repair time? Business Interruption insurance will kick in after the 72-hour deductible period.

Step 3: Protect Important Documents and Information

  • Designate important contacts to save that are crucial to business operations, such as employees, banks, lawyers, accountants, suppliers, etc.
  • Backup documents that are not easily produced such as insurance documents, legal contracts, tax returns, and accounting statements to avoid water damage.
  • Seal these documents in waterproof containers on site.
  • Save all your designated contacts and documents in an alternate, accessible off-site location. You can take photos or video of important documents.

Step 4: Keep A Preparedness Checklist

The below items should be gathered in one location at your place of business should a storm hit while you are on premises. This will help protect the safety of your employees should disaster strike during regular working hours and without ample notice.

  • Battery operated radio or television
  • Non-perishable three-day food supply for you and your employees
  • Three-day supply of water for you and your employees (One gallon of water per person, per day)
  • Coolers and containers for water and washing
  • Blankets, pillows, cots, and chairs
  • First Aid Kit and first aid manual
  • Flashlights, batteries, light-sticks
  • Tool kit (basic tools, gloves, etc.)
  • Camera and film for documenting damages
  • Whistle/signal flare to signal for help
  • Tarps, plastic bags, duct tape
  • Cleaning supplies, including mops, towels and garbage cans
  • Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers
  • Electric generator
  • Gas for vehicles, generators and other equipment
  • Cash, ATM cards, credit cards proper identification
  • Emergency contact information such as the nearest hospital and police, along with:
    • Life safety issues: 9-1-1
    • Small Business Administration (SBA): 1-800-359-2227
    • FEMA hot-line: 1-800-621-FEMA(3362)
    • Florida Emergency Hotline: 1-(800) 342-3557 – You can get information on road closures and alternate routes, available/open shelters, shelters designed for special needs patients and re-entry information once it is safe to return to the affected area.
    • Insurance company and agent’s contact information

Step 5: Make Sure Your Employees Are Informed

  • Don’t wait too late to make decisions regarding the closing of your business. Remember your employees need adequate time to make arrangements for their own families and safety.  Also, your employees could reside in different (more high risk) counties. Speak with your employees to make sure everyone has a plan and a place to go.
  • Make sure to communicate with your employees how you intend to communicate with them. For example, if you will text them, email them, or make a decision by a certain time whether or not you will remain open. Communication during this is key.
  • Be aware of potential pay issues and laws implicated by a natural disaster:
    • Fair Labor Standards Act: Reduction of Pay and Work Hours Nonexempt employees: The FLSA requires employers to pay nonexempt employees only for hours that the employees have actually worked. Therefore, an employer is not required to pay nonexempt employees if the employer is unable to provide work to those employees due to a natural disaster (i.e. closure due to a hurricane).
    • Be careful where there are employees who receive fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks. These are nonexempt employees who have agreed to work an unspecified number of hours for a specified salary. An employer must pay these employees their full weekly salary for any week in which any work was performed.
    • Exempt employees: For exempt employees, an employer will be required to pay the employee’s full salary if the worksite is closed or unable to reopen due to inclement weather, a hurricane, or other disasters for less than a full workweek. However, an employer may require exempt employees to use leave for this time.
    • The exempt employee chooses to stay home because of weather:  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) considers an absence caused by transportation difficulties experienced during weather emergencies, if the employer is open for business, as an absence for personal reasons. Here, an employer may place an exempt employee on leave without pay, or require the employee to use accrued vacation time, for the full day that he or she fails to report to work. If an employee is absent for one or more full days for personal reasons, the employee’s salaried status will not be affected if deductions are made from a salary for these absences.
    • A deduction from salary for less than a full day’s absence is not allowed, although the employer may make a partial day deduction from the employee’s leave bank (if there is insufficient time in the leave bank, no deduction from salary can be made).
    • Some employers can also require employees to “make up” lost time after they return to work, which is permissible for exempt employees. However, this practice is not allowed for nonexempt employees, who must be paid overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a work week.

If not this storm, there will be others, so do not wait to protect your business.  Now, let’s get to work, there is no time to waste!

Heather M. Meglino, Esq.

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