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Responding to Requests for Employee Leave for Disaster Relief Efforts

In response to Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Texas and Louisiana, employees may wish to take time off from work to participate in the cleanup efforts.  Employers may wonder what their obligations are when faced with requests for leave.

Public Sector

State employees who are certified disaster service volunteers with the American Red Cross may, with approval of the employee’s supervisor, serve for up to 15 days per year without loss of pay or paid time off.  Municipal employees have a similar opportunity for leave, with an allowance for 14 days per year with approval of the legislative body of the municipality.  Notably, the statutes authorizing this service limit it to the American Red Cross upon the agency’s request, and this leave is available only to certified disaster service volunteers.

Other Requests for Disaster-Related Leave

How should an employer address requests for leave that are not covered by the special provisions above?  First, the employer should determine whether there is an obligation to provide leave.  While there is no Connecticut or federal law requiring employers to provide leave for disaster relief, employers should consider whether other laws apply.  For example, an employee wishing to travel to Texas to care for his displaced parent may have an entitlement to leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if the parent has a serious health condition.  Or, an employee may have an entitlement to leave if he or she is called upon for National Guard service related to disaster relief.

If there is no applicable law, the employer should look at its leave policies.  Employers may choose to allow for some variance from the policies, such as allowing employees to use sick time for a reason other than illness or allowing an unpaid leave of absence, but should be prepared to set a precedent.  Employers should also set limits to ensure that its own operations are not unduly impacted.  If a small employer has several employees take time off to volunteer, will the business become the next casualty?  Employers must think about the big picture.  Of course, employers with collective bargaining agreements must follow their terms.

Finally, employers can consider other ways to contribute to the relief efforts.  Fundraising drives can be a great way to allow employees to engage in relief efforts and may be more practical than on-the-ground volunteering in many cases.

Our team of labor and employment attorneys can assist employers with employee leave issues and other human resources matters.  Contact us for assistance in creating or administering employee leave or other employee policies.