HR Leads Business

Sep 1, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, aPHR, Staff Writer for HRCI

Hurricane Harvey: A Reminder of HR’s Duty to Keep Employees Safe

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas and Louisiana in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For human resource professionals, this is also a reminder to take steps to maintain organizational resilience and ensure the safety of employees.

Preparation and planning are key, as is clear communication and knowing which resources to turn to. HR is vital in efforts to protect workers and ensure the organizational responses to reduce compounding risks.

"The most valuable output from the planning process is not always the written plan," says Sandra M. Reed, SPHR, the author of A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge, published by HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). "The process of assessing risk, talking with employees and reaching out to the experts serves to create a depth in organizational behaviors for managing risk."

Ready.gov, developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), provides excellent examples of plans and actions employers – and families – can take to be ready in a crisis.

Employee Benefit News also provides a resourceful storm strategy checklist for businesses. Law firm Fisher Phillips answers Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) questions. CNET warns organizations to be wary of Hurricane Harvey phishing scams.

When considering crisis plans, writes HR consultant Laurie Ruettimann, companies should be prepared to accommodate remote work and review paid time off policies (PTO), since some workers will need time for physical and mental recovery. Be prepared to "give your workers space and freedom to take care of personal issues," Ruettimann says. "If you don’t let people address the logistics challenges in their lives, small problems can turn into ongoing nightmares and stressful mental health challenges."

Paul Bassett, writing for the United Kingdom’s People Management, advises  HR teams to:

  • Ensure all employees know which employees are part of the crisis response team and require them to provide regular updates of emergency contacts.
  • Maintain real-time updates on employees.
  • Provide situational awareness training on what to do during a crisis.
  • Establish clear policies on medical assistance, evacuation and repatriation procedures during an emergency.
  • Offer access to post-incident trauma counseling and other return-to-work support.

Being proactive is key, Bassett says, "to successfully anticipate, prevent, respond and recover" from natural disasters, threats and other emergencies. "HR has a central role to play in these resilience-building efforts, not least because every company has a legal duty of care to its employees."

Catastrophe takes a tremendous toll on cities, organizations and people. Many HR professionals have already reached out to donate help, resources and money to help support victims of Hurricane Harvey. If your organization is seeking ways to aid Hurricane Harvey victims, Suzanne Lucas, in Inc. magazine, provides nine ways your business can provide assistance