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Employee rights remain the same during disasters

From wildfire evacuations in California to hurricane devastation in coastal regions, natural disasters and other crises impact employees and employers in many ways. Serious disruptions like these, however, do not exempt employers from following wage and hour laws or honoring employees' rights to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Disasters can interfere with a company's ability to keep records of employees' work. Workers might not have the ability to properly record their time at work or records might get destroyed. Even when such problems occur, the Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that all workers receive fair compensation, including overtime pay. Very few circumstances would allow an employer to successfully claim a worker volunteered for duty.

A disaster situation might also cause an employee to ask for time off. Although the FMLA does not protect leaves taken because of a natural disaster, its legal provisions might become active if a disaster worsens a family member's medical condition. The worker could take a medical leave to care for a sick or injured relative. Furthermore, a business shut down by a disaster should not count those days against a medical leave already in progress for an employee.

An employee with questions about wage and hour laws might gain clear information from an attorney who has experience with these types of matters. An attorney could evaluate the work duties to see if the employee should be classified as exempt or nonexempt. If the employee has a wage claim concerning unpaid overtime, then the attorney could request payroll records to build a case.

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