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Legal Q&A: Handing employment issues when a natural disaster hits

Attorney Nitin Sud

Attorney Nitin Sud

 

Hurricane Harvey has disrupted millions of workers and businesses in the greater Houston area. Employees and employers may have several questions arising out of this disaster.

Question: My business has been shut down for several days, and just one employee worked a few hours on one day. Nobody else has worked. Do I still have to pay my employees?

Answer: It generally depends on whether they are hourly non-exempt employees or salaried exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). An employer is generally not required to pay non-exempt employees who are unable to work due to a natural disaster. They only need to be paid for the actual hours worked. However, with respect to exempt employees, employers may not deduct for partial day absences. If the exempt employee is unable to work, then the employer may deduct for full day absences or require that employee to use any leave time (such as PTO) in order to receive pay for the day.
Question: I am an employee who has been unable to go back to work because my employer’s business has literally been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, and it may be a long time before I can get back to work. Can I apply for unemployment benefits?

Answer: The Texas Workforce Commission provides for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), and you may be able to get limited benefits depending on specific circumstances. For more information, visit the TWC website here: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/disaster-unemployment-assistance. FEMA’s Disaster Unemployment Assistance program will likely provide support.
Question: I was in a mandatory evacuation zone and had to leave. As a direct result, my employer fired me because I didn’t come to work. Is this legal?

Answer: No. Chapter 22 of the Texas Labor Code prevents employers from discriminating against employees for participating in an emergency evacuation. You would be entitled to recovery of lost wages and reinstatement.
Disclaimer
This article is for general information purposes and is not to be construed as specific legal advice. Every situation is different and a qualified attorney should be contacted to evaluate each specific circumstance.

Bio
Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney Nitin Sud represents employees, executives, and small businesses in a variety of labor and employment matters, including litigation in state and federal courts. For more information, visit www.sudemploymentlaw.com


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