Natural disasters, FMLA leave and the FLSA

Arizona companies must still abide by the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act even in cases of natural disaster. This means that in most cases, an employee cannot volunteer to work for an employer for free and must be paid overtime regardless of circumstances.

Difficulties may arise if the natural disaster means that the employee cannot use the employer's timekeeping equipment or if records are lost. An employer's disaster plan should prepare for these possibilities and take any potential FLSA and FMLA issues into account.

If a business has to close as a result of a natural disaster, an employer is generally not permitted to dock an employee for FMLA time. A natural disaster is usually not a reason for an employee to be granted FMLA leave. However, a disaster might worsen the medical condition of an employee or an employee's family member, and if this happens, the employee may be entitled to FMLA leave. In general, employers should take the approach that nothing about FLSA or FMLA changes in a natural disaster.

An employer might attempt to deny an employee FMLA leave in the wake of a natural disaster on the grounds that the company is in particular need at that time or that too few staff are available, but this is not permitted. If an employee is denied FMLA leave or faces retaliation due to taking FMLA leave, that employee may want to talk to an attorney. It is important to document events as much as possible in order to help in building a case. An employer may try to argue that the employee was dismissed for poor performance or similar reasons, so if the employee has emails, performance reviews or other documentation showing satisfactory work, this could be helpful.

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Elizabeth D. Tate, Attorney at Law
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