THE REDUX – When a Natural Disaster Strikes: Employee Assistance Plans Ease Recovery Efforts
Seems like only a year ago we wrote this blog to address the floods in the Gulf south region. Oh wait, it was a year ago. And now, here we are again. Only this time we’re faced with the debilitating effects of cataclysmic storms. Hmmm, what climate change?
All joking aside, Mother Nature’s recent fury, and those yet to be felt as the hurricane season presses on, has in some areas, permanently changed the face of our landscapes – impacting millions of lives and causing millions in damages.
Unfortunately, residents grappling with this string of natural disasters don’t see relief when the winds subside. Rather, the ripple effects are felt for months, if not years, in cleanup, repairs, and the rebuilding.
For business owners, establishing an emergency preparedness plan is an essential obligation to both your employees and your company. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that approximately 40% of businesses affected by a natural disaster never reopen. If you don’t have a plan to react quickly & effectively after a disaster, your business could be one of those facing catastrophic business loss.
When an emergency or a natural disaster occurs, the first priorities are preserving life and stabilizing the situation. There are multiple actions to consider to stabilize a situation, be it a natural disaster or other type of emergency event. Some things to include in your stabilization blueprints are:
- Identify members of your designated emergency response team, including staff familiar with building utility and protection systems and those who may assist with property conservation activities
- Outline warning, notification, and any other protections systems
- Detail plans and team leaders for possible events including evacuations, severe weather/tornados, lockdown or shelter-in-place orders, and fire emergencies
Some weather events, like recent hurricanes, can be forecasted days before arrival – offering time to prepare and safeguard a facility and staff. The plan should also include a process for damage assessment, salvage, protection of undamaged property, and allocate time for cleanup. In addition, it may be helpful to create a list of emergency evacuation numbers and addresses for employees to ensure you have a way to get back in touch with staff post-incident.
Once the immediate danger of a natural disaster passes and the recovery period begins, employees may find they need to seek additional resources to rebuild their homes and get their lives back on track. A resource that employees may be able to consider is a 401(k) hardship withdrawal.
Typically, employees can not withdraw funds from a 401(k) until they leave a job or reach retirement age. But in some cases, the IRS will ease the procedural and administrative rules to allow for 401(k) hardship withdrawals and retirement plan loans. Most recently, the IRS announced such relief assistance to victims Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“A retirement plan may, but is not required to, provide hardship distributions and/or loans,” said Rob Masson, Director of 401(k) at Netchex. “This should be a last resort for employees when looking for emergency funds, but can be an option for an immediate or heavy financial need. There are many rules surrounding hardships and loans so you should check with your company plan administrator for more details on your specific plan.”
Helping your employees return to normal is crucial for business survival after a disaster. A few ways employers can help their team better adjust after disastrous loss include:
- Ensure employees receive payments. Whether you are distributing payroll or qualified disaster relief payments to employees, you want to make sure they can access funds during the recovery periods. Offices may have been impacted or inaccessible for staff, therefore, it is always a good idea to have a direct payment method in place such as direct deposit or Netchex’s Paycard Pre-Paid Mastercard. This will allow you to get critically needed funds to employees, even if they can’t reach the office.
- Provide access to your Employee Assistance Program. Dealing with the mental and emotional toll of a disaster can have a tremendous impact on your employees. Employee assistance programs can be a necessary resource to help your team members cope and better adjust to the changes going on around them. It’s important to make sure employees have access to Employee Assistance Program information during and after a disaster. Posting a flyer or important event information directly to the Employee Dashboard on the Netchex platform gives staff access to important information remotely, right where they access their pay and insurance information.
- Remember FMLA options. Remember that employees are entitled to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for conditions, caused or exacerbated by, the disaster that meet the definition of “serious health condition” and keeps them from performing their job. Employees may also take time to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition affected by the disaster. One of the best ways to do this is to allow employees to submit requests for FMLA from the Netchex platform remotely. Then all paperwork can be transmitted and exchanged electronically through Netchex’s NetGuide solution.