From hurricanes and tornadoes to wildfires and volcanic eruptions, natural disasters have affected millions of people in the United States this year. When people are dealing with the destruction of their homes and communities, they don’t want to have to worry about how they can fill vital prescriptions or whether they can take their children to the doctor. To remove that worry, organizations should make sure that employee benefits are part of their disaster planning efforts, according to Petula Workman, CEBS, division vice president and compliance counsel for the benefits and human resources consulting division of Gallagher.
Disaster planning has been top of mind over the past year for Workman, who works out of Gallagher’s office in the Houston, Texas area. She witnessed firsthand the physical devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the impact it had on workers in the area.
In her article “Disaster Planning for Employee Benefits” in the October issue of Benefits Magazine, Workman identifies several key areas for organizations to consider.
Employee Benefits Details to Consider When Disaster Planning
If there is advance notice of a disaster, employees should be reminded how they will be communicated with during the disaster and how they can find medical coverage information. Employers should consider using recorded messages on well-known organizational phone lines to communicate plan or benefit information during and after a disaster. Social media and text messages also can be effective.
Setting Up a Disaster Team
A team should be set up to handle employee issues during a disaster. Each team member should have a backup, and the backup person also should have a backup. Team members should have the tools and resources they need, such as employee cell phone and home phone numbers and a copy of the business continuity plan.
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The U.S. government has provided tax relief to organizations following several recent natural disasters. Relief has included wage continuation credits during periods of inoperability and Section 139 disaster relief payments. Employers may be able to set up leave-sharing and leave-donation programs, as well as hardship distributions from retirement plans, but should be aware of the requirements.
Monetary Donations and Gifts of Goods
Employers that wish to set up crowdfunding pages to collect donations for an employee or group of employees should seek guidance from their tax advisors. Any organization that collects special donations from co-workers may want to set up a committee to determine how the donations should be distributed.
Plan sponsors should work with their insurance carriers or third-party administrators to minimize the possibility that employees may lose benefits because of failure to comply with preestablished benefit plan deadlines.
“The hope is that organizations will not have to face a challenge as great as (Hurricane) Harvey, but those that do should be prepared to show their employees how their benefits are there for them—even in times of disaster,” Workman wrote.
Read the full article “Disaster Planning for Employee Benefits” in the October issue of Benefits Magazine.
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications, at the International Foundation