Cli­mate leave

Austin American-Statesman - - MONEY & MARKETS -

was one of the first to of­fer free lunch to its work­ers.

“There’s no rea­son not to make your em­ploy­ees feel se­cure about this,” Dash said. Putting the pol­icy in writ­ing, he said, takes it from a “good in­ten­tion” to a “prom­ise.” The com­pany hopes its an­nounce­ment en­cour­ages oth­ers to im­ple­ment sim­i­lar poli­cies.

It ap­pears to be work­ing. Stack Over­flow, an­other Man­hat­tan-based tech com­pany with more than 250 em­ploy­ees, will con­sider the pol­icy, said Dash, who sits on the board. (The com­pany says it hasn’t for­mal­ized their pol­icy yet, but it ac­com­mo­dates em­ploy­ees af­fected by cli­mate-re­lated oc­cur­rences.) Cylin­der, a Cal­i­for­nia de­sign con­sult­ing firm, an­nounced it will also of­fer the ben­e­fit. Adarsh Pan­dit, a man­ag­ing part­ner at the firm, said the leave is “planned” but not yet im­ple­mented. Ryan Car­son, the CEO of Tree­house, a cod­ing school, said he sent the idea over to his HR depart­ment.

Like many vol­un­tary ben­e­fits, cli­mate leave will likely be re­served for the most elite work­ers. “Am I see­ing com­pa­nies want to cre­ate a spe­cific dis­as­ter leave? We’re not,” said Julie Norville, who heads up ab­sence man­age­ment at Aon Hewitt, an HR con­sult­ing firm. Or­ga­ni­za­tions are, how­ever, re­think­ing leave poli­cies for a broader ar­ray of sit­u­a­tions. “Peo­ple need more time away to care for them­selves and their fam­i­lies,” Norville said. “This leave falls into that theme.”

Em­ploy­ees have very few job pro­tec­tions from acts of na­ture. Em­ploy­ment laws “weren’t writ­ten to an­tic­i­pate a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter,” said Phillip Rus­sell, a Tampa-based em­ploy­ment lawyer. Even Florida, which reg­u­larly gets pounded by storms, has no fed­eral, state, or lo­cal laws to pro­tect work­ers’ jobs if they don’t re­port to work dur­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral em­ploy­ment lawyers.

A close read­ing of other work­place reg­u­la­tions might pro­vide some ad-hoc pro­tec­tions. The Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion, for ex­am­ple, pro­hibits em­ploy­ers from send­ing their work­ers into “im­mi­nent dan­ger.”

“If you’re re­quir­ing em­ploy­ees to work on a con­struc­tion site in the mid­dle of a storm, that would be an OSHA vi­o­la­tion,” said Rus­sell. “Even though you can’t find any­thing in OSHA stan­dards that says, ‘Thou shall not work in a storm.’”

Re­ports from Florida dur­ing Irma found that de­spite an evac­u­a­tion order from the gov­er­nor, some em­ploy­ers pres­sured work­ers into show­ing up for work. In a sur­vey of 134 peo­ple, more than half of re­spon­dents said their em­ploy­ers threat­ened to fire or dis­ci­pline them for not show­ing up to work dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, ac­cord­ing to a study by work­ers’ rights or­ga­ni­za­tion Cen­tral Florida Jobs with Jus­tice.

A li­brar­ian said he was told to man the build­ing as a shel­ter or risk los­ing his job; a jan­i­tor who worked in a nurs­ing home said she was threat­ened with her job un­less she came in the night be­fore the hur­ri­cane.

While some com­pa­nies might not fire em­ploy­ees for fail­ing to ap­pear dur­ing a dis­as­ter, many work­ers have to worry about their pay­checks.

Em­ploy­ers don’t have to pay salar­ied em­ploy­ees af­ter more than a week of clo­sures. Hourly work­ers may not get paid at all.

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