- Ceres Environmental Services Inc., a San Juan, Puerto Rico-based contractor, has agreed to pay $500,000 in back wages to 995 employees to settle wage claims stemming from Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said that Wage and Hour Division investigators found that employees, including roof installers, carpenters, drivers and laborers, weren't paid overtime for the hours they worked beyond 40 in a workweek, and that they often worked 12 or more hours a day, six or seven days a week.
- In a press release announcing the settlement, the DOL said the company also misapplied a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime exemption to several job categories, including clerical office positions, paying the workers a flat fee regardless of the hours they worked. The employer also failed to reimburse workers who purchased steel-toe boots that were required as personal protective equipment, the DOL said.
Areas affected by hurricanes often find themselves facing a dearth of construction workers during recovery, resulting in, among other things, long hours for those who are available. But federal employment laws still apply during disasters. Unless exempt, employees covered by the FLSA must be paid time-and-one half their regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek. Employees cannot generally volunteer for their employer during recovery efforts and are entitled to pay for any extra hours worked, even during a disaster.
Employee leave can be an issue during a natural disaster, too. Although most employees likely won't be entitled to leave solely because of a natural disaster, occurrences such as a medical condition made worse by the event could require that an employer grant an employee time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, employment law attorney Jeff Nowak previously advised on his blog, FMLA Insights. Nowak also noted that, if a business shuts down during a disaster, employees already on FMLA leave generally can't be docked for those days.
Experts suggest that compliance efforts be included in disaster planning so an employer isn't caught off guard by these issues. And as the U.S. reaches peak hurricane season, it's an important time to consider whether you're prepared for a worst-case scenario.