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Employee Benefits: Prioritizing Employees After a Natural Disaster

Understanding the Issue – Prioritizing Needs After a Natural Disaster

Find Clean Drinking Water? Check Work Email?


A recent report declared Hurricane Ian the costliest storm to hit Florida. Ever. With catastrophic storm surge, feet of rainfall, extensive flooding, and battering winds that lasted for hours, the monumental storm devastated property. And people.


Natural disasters can leave employees who are directly impacted with a lot of consequences to deal with, including:

  • injuries, and/or death of friends and family
  • missing friends, relatives, neighbors
  • uninhabitable homes
  • destruction of banks, schools, housing, grocery stories, and gas stations
  • loss of infrastructure, including buildings, roads, bridges, etc.
  • interruption of basic utilities, such as water, power, internet, cable, and phone service
  • mental and emotional trauma
  • decreased availability of hotel rooms for temporary housing
  • extensive property and auto damage
  • financial uncertainty
  • insurance claims process to recover and rebuild
  • dependence on charitable resources for daily living needs


To recover as quickly and safely as possible, they must prioritize their needs and their family above work – at least for a time.


Impact on Businesses:

While completely understandable, this can result in impacts to the day-to-day operation of businesses in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Labor shortages | because employees can’t get to work physically and/or can’t connect virtually due to power and internet outages.
  • Communication obstacles | because power stations, cell towers, and fiber optics can be damaged, making it difficult or impossible for employees to call, text, email, or leverage social media to get/respond to messages.
  • Declines in productivity/work performance | due to fewer employees working, extra costs to bring in temporary workers, and general preoccupation in the aftermath of the disaster.
  • Additional stress levels among employees | who are not only worried about family, friends, and co-workers, but who may also be stressed and panicked over where they’re going to live, how they’re going to take care of the family, and, in some cases, how they’re going to pay to rebuild.
  • Disruption of workflow | as teams take time off and mobilize to deliver necessities to severely impacted areas/employees.


What can you do to help affected employees prioritize their needs after a natural disaster?

There are several ways that employers can support impacted employees, physically, financially, and emotionally after a natural disaster strikes. Remind them about benefits that can help them take care of themselves and their families:

Medical benefits you offer, like health insurance, telemedicine, short- and long-term disability policies, and health savings accounts, can provide employees with a way to get, and pay for, medical treatment if they are injured as a result of the disaster.

Financial benefits, such as employee assistance funds, hardship withdrawals from retirement plans, and life insurance can all help hard-hit employees pay to rebuild and recover.

Emotional benefits, particularly those provided through an employee assistance program (EAP), can offer services for mental health counseling for those suffering from shock, grief, PTSD, and uncertainty.

Strategies to Manage the Issue – Strategies for Managing the Message to Employees After a Natural Disaster

It’s hard to imagine. Apocalyptic destruction. Scarcity of housing. Flattened schools. No clean water. No electricity. No fuel.


Yet, these are the conditions employees can face in their personal lives after a natural disaster strikes. In fact, just trying to find ways to exist and survive can become a full-time job.


As “danger season” approaches for wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters across the U.S., consider these tips to help manage the message if a catastrophe strikes your area and severely impacts your employees.


The 8 “Es” to Guide Employer-to-Employee Messages


#1. Expect recovery to take time. Some employees may have lost everything and are facing months to repair, rebuild, and recover. Others can’t get to work because roads are blocked. And even if roads are clear, there may be no gas to get there because of interrupted supply chains.


#2. Enable electronic communications. Very often after a catastrophe, text messaging can work even though power, cell service, landlines, and cable are all out. So, activate “call trees” you may have set up in your disaster recovery plan to reach out to all employees electronically, make sure everyone is ok, and offer support.


#3. Empathize with employees. Let them know that you understand it’s a difficult time and reaffirm that they must prioritize their needs and family.


#4. Ease their minds. On top of the physical devastation, they may be facing, employees may also feel guilty about missing work and worried about losing their jobs… at a time when they need it most. So, reassure them of job security and why they are essential to the team.

In addition, seeing total devastation and lives lost also takes a toll on mental health – even for survivors and those with little or no direct damage. Remind employees of mental health counseling and services through your employee assistance program that can help with the trauma and distress of a disaster.


#5. Extend deadlines for work-related or administrative duties, such as benefits enrollment, required trainings, retirement plan contributions, and other time-sensitive tasks, at least until the initial chaos and trauma has passed. This way impacted employees have breathing room to prioritize more important decisions.


#6. Enlist employees who are not directly impacted to assist those who are. That can mean:

  • organizing relief efforts
  • collecting or donating non-perishable food items, gas, and other basic necessities, and delivering them to those in need
  • contributing to employee assistance funds that can be distributed to co-workers who need financial help to recover
  • donating unused or unneeded PTO to “banks” so that fellow employees can take the extra time off they may need with pay


#7. Engage impacted employees on a regular basis so they feel connected to their job. Consider offering modified work schedules or remote arrangements to smooth their eventual return to work.


#8. Explain insurance claims processes, resources, or general financial support from federal, state, and local agencies, such as FEMA, SBA, the Red Cross, etc. that can help employees get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

Determining a Path Forward – Contact Us.

To learn more about how we can help you and your employees prepare and recover from a natural disaster, contact us today.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. BRP Group, Inc. and its affiliates, do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own tax, legal or accounting professionals before engaging in any transaction.