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How natural disasters affect FLSA and FMLA

Natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey may raise issues between some employees and employers regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. If a person is on FMLA leave when a natural disaster occurs that results in the employer having to close the premises, that person generally cannot have the leave docked for those hours of closure.

Furthermore, employees in most cases cannot volunteer their time to employers. Extra hours worked, even in a natural disaster, must still be paid as overtime. Some problems may arise if the employer's usual timekeeping method is unavailable or if records required by the FLSA are lost as may happen in some natural disasters.

In most cases, an employee will not be permitted to take FMLA leave just because a natural disaster has occurred. However, if an employee or employee's family member has a medical condition that is exacerbated by the disaster, the employee could be eligible for FMLA leave. Natural disasters do not change laws about FMLA or the FLSA, and businesses should take these laws into account when making contingency plans for disasters. Having a policy in place that specifically addresses disaster and these laws is a good idea for employers.

People who have been denied FMLA leave or overtime pay during a natural disaster or who feel that an employer has otherwise violated their rights may want to talk to an attorney about their options. For example, an employee might be unable to leave the workplace because of a natural disaster and might continue performing work duties at that location. The employer might then refuse to pay the employee for that time. Another scenario that could arise is that if a business is short-staffed because of a natural disaster, the employer might also try to discourage FMLA leave.

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