“Acts of God” Help Clarify Employer, Employee Rights and Responsibilities

Fires and hurricanes make lives difficult for employers and employees. Sometimes the law contradicts what seems “right” or “charitable.” Discretion is advised.

Recent natural disasters in California and nationwide have highlighted the duties of employers and employees when danger strikes. While it seems completely natural and realistic to fail to report to work while you take time to secure your home or help loved ones, it may still be considered an unexcused absence and a fireable offense. Morally, that seems wrong. But legally, it may not be.

Likewise, if your place of employment is damaged as a result of a natural disaster or sends you home after arrival because of the damage which interferes or prevents operations.  In those circumstances the employer may be under no obligation to pay you for hours you haven’t worked.

Employees can and should file for unemployment immediately, whether they are a salaried or hourly worker, even if there is some doubt as to eligibility for benefits. Let the state Employment Development Department decide. It is imperative, however, to tell the complete truth about your work situation. Misrepresentations of any kind risk being found ineligible or worse.

As far as employees who have lost homes, employers would be wise to let them use vacation days and unpaid leave as they attempt to resettle their lives. Employees who have suffered catastrophic losses are not likely to be able to concentrate fully or be optimally productive immediately after an event. While the law may allow you to force them back to work or lose risking their position, some leeway here is in order. Consult your employment attorney if you have questions, or if you feel an employee is abusing your good will.