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.