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Navigating Paying Your Employees During a Natural Disaster

Navigating Paying Your Employees During a Natural Disaster

Again, this year we are experiencing more natural disasters, wildfires and power outages in California. As a result, many employers have experienced business closures, lack of power, limited access to technology and related employee health issues. It is important to plan ahead and be prepared.

Accommodating Employees

California employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) if an employee suffers a physical or mental injury due to a natural disaster. At a minimum, the interactive process must be initiated.

For example, employees who are sensitive to smoke might need time off or an alternative worksite. Employees who lose their homes temporarily or permanently may need time off for mental or emotional support. If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it is a good time to recommunicate access and benefits to your team.

Paying Employees

During a natural disaster, exempt employees that perform any work during the work week are entitled to be paid their full weekly salary. If an employer decides to shut down operations early and exempt employees work a partial day, no deductions should be made from their regular salary.

Nonexempt employees must be paid for all time worked, whether at the work site or remote. On regular workdays, if a nonexempt employee reports to work and is sent home prior to the end of their shift, they must be paid for half of their scheduled shift, no less than two hours but no more than four hours. This is not required when there is a natural disaster in which the employer has no control; in this case the employer only needs to pay employees for the actual hours worked.

Employers are free to pay employees even when pay is not required or let them use available paid time off. Be sure to clearly communicate your policy and be consistent.

Late Wage Payments

It is important for employers to make alternative arrangements for payroll when there is no power and/or no access to the payroll system. Contact your payroll provider for guidance and procedures now, rather than waiting until the disaster occurs.

If an employer is unable to process payroll on time, they are required to provide written notice to their employees with pay date changes. This notification should be done as quickly as possible. Contact the EDD at for further information.

Employment Development Department (EDD) Resources for Victims of Disasters and Employers

The EDD provides various disaster-related services, including assistance filing unemployment insurance (UI) claims for individuals and time extensions for filing and paying payroll taxes for employers. Once an emergency proclamation for a specific disaster area is issued by the Governor, the one-week waiting period for UI is waived.

Communication is Key

Communication is key during times of emergencies. Management and key decision makers should discuss office closures, alternative workplaces, work from home arrangements, additional benefits and any extensions for payroll reporting. There are many factors to consider when dealing with a natural disaster. Contact your HR Consultant to ensure your employees are taken care of.