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The impact of Hurricane Harvey on employers and employees

As the cleanup continues following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Texas residents are looking to get back to a sense of normalcy with their lives. Some want to get back to their daily routines. Others just want to get back to work.

Employers whose operations were shut down because of the devastating hurricane are also looking to restart their operations. However, many questions arise, specifically involving their obligations in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Primary concerns likely include paying their employees and providing benefits, health or otherwise.

In addition to losing homes, possessions and even loved ones, a natural disaster of this magnitude can result in serious health conditions that require leaves of absences covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

While FMLA does not provide for leave to take care of personal matters following a hurricane, it may apply if the natural disaster resulted in physical or psychological injuries that prevent an employee from performing their job. Examples include:

  • The worsening of a chronic condition that an employee suffers from supported by medical certification
  • Caring for a family member (spouse, child or parent) with a health condition resulting from the natural disaster

Employees requesting leave because of Hurricane Harvey should provide detailed information to their employer. If employers question the validity of the absence as protected leave, they should have the employee fill out FMLA paperwork to get the information necessary that supports FMLA leave.

Employers also need to get as much information as possible to ensure medical certification is sufficient to cover the leave. Should doubts arise over the appropriateness of FMLA leave, the employer has the right to request a second opinion.

The complexity of FMLA, with or without a natural disaster involved, is not something to take on without the help of an experienced employment law attorney.

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