Can I Lose My Job Because Of Hurricane Sandy?

lost job unemployment Hurricane Sandy

Q: Can my employer let me go because of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy? I have worked for my employer since 2001, but the hurricane destroyed where I work. I have moved far up my place of employment, and I have very loyal customers. Now we may not be open for another month. I don't think they will pay me again as well as others since we are closed. Can my employer lay me off and not pay me? I am at the end of the day just an employee, a valued one, yes, but I don't know what can happen.

How awful! As someone who lives in South Florida, I certainly understand the havoc that a hurricane can wreak. There is no law requiring any employer to stay open or continue to pay employees if the workplace is destroyed by a natural disaster. However, it is in your employer's best interest to get up and running as soon as possible. Hopefully they have insurance coverage.

You aren't completely without legal remedies, though.

Here are some workplace rules and possible situations that employees should know about in the case of a natural disaster:

1. The WARN Act

If your employer is large enough, it is covered by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. WARN requires most employers with 100 or more employees to give 60 days' notice in advance of a plant closing or mass layoff that affects 50 or more employees at a single worksite. Obviously in case of a natural disaster your employer won't have advance notice. The WARN Act makes an exception for employers whose worksites are destroyed. Your employer is still required to give as much notice as possible. They can send notice to employees' last known addresses. If employee records are also destroyed, they can post notices at the worksite or post a notice in a newspaper.

Here's what the U.S. Department of Labor says about the reality of enforcing this law in case of a disaster: "In all likelihood, if the employer gave no notice in those circumstances, it may not be held liable for failure. On the other hand, if the employer wants to rebuild, it may be in its interest to make efforts to contact its employees to be sure it has a workforce when it reopens."

More: Is Weight Discrimination At Work Illegal?

2. The Fair Labor Standards Act

Your employer must pay you for all hours worked the week of the disaster (and any work you do to help afterwards). If pay records are destroyed, that makes things tough for the employer, but it doesn't relieve them of their obligation to pay. While non-exempt employees don't have to be paid for any time not worked, the rules are different for exempt employees. Exempt employees must be paid for the entire week if they worked any portion of that week. Exempt employees don't have to be paid anything for any full week the business is shut down.

3. Pay For Reporting To Work

If you report to work after a natural disaster, only to find out that the workplace is closed or destroyed, New York law requires the employer to pay you at least four hours of wages, and New Jersey law requires the employer to pay you at least one hour of wages. Other states that have some requirements for pay if workers report for duty as scheduled are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia.

4. Exceptions For First Responders And Health Care Workers

While mandatory overtime for health care employees is prohibited in New York and New Jersey, there's an exception for a declared state of emergency. New Jersey also prohibits discrimination against employees who miss work due to being volunteer first responders.

More: How To Make Sure You Won't Be Laid Off: 5 Tips

5. Risk of Job Discrimination

Studies show that, post-natural disaster, the wage gap for women and minorities widens. If you think that men are being returned to work first, that you're paid less than men once you go back, or that some other discrimination is occurring based on race, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy, genetic information, or other protected category, natural disasters do not relieve companies of their obligation to comply with discrimination laws.

6. Eligibility For Unemployment Compensation

If your workplace is destroyed, you should qualify for unemployment. In New York, you can apply here. For New Jersey, you can apply here. The federal government provides additional disaster employment assistance in case of a natural disaster. You can apply through your state's unemployment office.

7. Required Severance

If your employer has a published severance plan, it may be considered an "employee welfare benefit plan" covered by ERISA, which means the employer must pay it. If you have a contract providing for severance if you are fired without cause, then your employer must pay the amount they agreed in the contract. If the contract is for a particular length of time and doesn't say otherwise, the employer must pay you for the length of the contract (unless the contract says it can be cancelled without notice due to a disaster). There is no law requiring severance pay, so absent a company severance plan or a contract, you are out of luck.

If your workplace is closed or destroyed due to a natural disaster, I suggest you get in touch with your supervisor as soon as you can to find out what is happening and any plans to reopen. If the company is shut down indefinitely, it's time to polish that resume and start looking.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.

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I bet many men have lost most of what they own to Sandy. I mean Sandy the divorcee, not the storm.

November 12 2012 at 11:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article is about as useless as our sitting president. The first thing the author tells us about is the WARN act - which has no substance when a natural disaster occurs. Since Hurricane Sandy is a natural disaster and that's what the article is asking about, why bother listing the recourses that we DON'T have? Item 2 states that an employer has to pay an employee for hours worked the week the natural disaster occurred! Really? You mean and employer has to pay employees for hours worked? When did that start? Item 3 - if an employee shows up for work and the business is under water or destroyed, doesn't that just mean they're too stupid to have as an employee anyway? What if the business owner is either hurt or killed during the disaster, so they can't call? Item 4 gives info but not useful to many. Item 5 talks about job discrimination - hell, we can't prove it to start with so who's going to be able to prove it with a natural disaster to deal with? Item 6 talking about unemployment compensation and benefits is a no brainer - go file for unemployment! Item 7 talks about a severance plan! How many employers offer a severance plan these days? Extremely few to none! None of this article actually gave any information that was helpful!!! The only thing I can think of is that the author gets paid by the article length!

November 11 2012 at 10:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to uncommonsensesc's comment

Hi uncommonsensesc. I don't write the laws. I just write about them. There isn't much in the way of legal help for people in this situation, so I tried to point out the laws I thought might be of use. I wish I got paid by the word! I'm an unpaid blogger, writing here to try to help inform people about their rights under the employment laws.

If you think there should be more laws protecting people in this situation, talk to your members of Congress and state representatives. Only if concerned citizens speak up will anything be changed.

November 12 2012 at 12:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to EmployeeAtty's comment

Why would someone expect to be paid "for not working" by a company that was "devistated". Ther is no doubt that an "attorney" will try to find a way to get something for nothing at the expense of others and make big bucks in the process. This is what is wrong with the legal system. I see advertisements for it on TV. "Call us and we'll help you get out of paying your income taxes so that someone else will have to carry your load". Does anyone really think there should be a law that requires a company to pay employees after the company is destroyed by a hurricane? If the person that asked the original question in this article worked for me I "can" them for their attitude.

November 12 2012 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

This is one question that I can answer with a firm no. This will be one time we'll be kept busy supplying replacements for destroyed and damaged products.

November 11 2012 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You could lose your job if the Federal Government allows ILLEGALS to enter your area before you are allowed. That is what happened alone the Gulf Coast when the Federal Government allowed ILLEGALS to enter the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 ..... The ILLEGALS were allowed, with the blessing of (then) President Bush, who said "allowing them into the effected areas was good for the economy of the region and the Country (U.S.A.) ....." and the U.S. Congress ..... Their numbers have increased since then and still growing ..... I know of a number of local, and national, companies who hired ILLEGALS and NEVER hired back their "employees" who were forced, by local, state, and Federal government, to evacuate ,,,,,, When they started returning not only were they returning to areas which took years to back to normality but had NO JOBS to return to because ILLEGALS TOOK THEM AND ARE STILL TAKING THEM ..........

November 11 2012 at 5:02 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Patricia Farmer

This article is about the damage caused by Sandy. You can draw unemployment of course, but you can also check with FEMA. IF you did not work while the destruction was going on you have a loss of wages. I think when the tornado's came through the south this is what people were doing. CHECK WITH FEMA TO MAKE SURE.

November 11 2012 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The layoffs began the morning after the election and will increase to tsunami proportions. When you voted Obama back in, you voted yourself out of a job. You own it so wear it. Obamacare will usher in the next great depression.

November 11 2012 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

But you might lose it because of Obama's Polcies !! It will be couched in company termonology as you have to be laid off; due to company cut-backs an/or loss of income due to the business climate; i.e. Obamacaire!!

November 11 2012 at 1:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Your employer can fire you because Obama won and Romney lost.

November 11 2012 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your employer can fire or lay you off for ANY reason, so long as he isn't caught doing it for a reason protected by the EEOC. He can't fire you for being of a certain race, religion, ethnicity, gender,etc--but because it rained, snowed, or sunshined is JUST FINE. He can fire you because he didn't like your hat, or because he didn't like what he watched on television the previous night.

November 11 2012 at 11:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

no, but it cost us AMERICA.....along with me 'seeing stupid people'

November 09 2012 at 8:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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