Get the Latest Hurricane Laura Recovery Information for Louisiana Businesses
1. FEMA Disaster Assistance Now Available in 16 Parishes
2. Small Business Administration Offering Disaster Loans to Businesses Impacted by Laura
3. Internal Revenue Service Announces Hurricane Laura Tax Relief Measures
4. Want to Help Rebuild? Donate to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana
5. Entergy: Current Power Outages and Restoration
6. CLECO: Current Power Outages and Restoration
7. SWEPCO: Current Power Outages and Restoration
8. See the U.S. Department of Energy's Generator Safety Guidelines
9. Hurricane Recovery Resources from the National Association of Manufacturers
10. Hurricane Recovery Resources from the U.S. Chamber
11. Employer Concerns After Hurricane Laura
FEMA Disaster Assistance Now Available in 16 Parishe
With Hurricane Laura having a devastating impact across Louisiana, businesses and residents in 16 parishes (Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Ouachita, Vermilion, Vernon, Rapides, Natchitoches, Sabine, Winn, Grant, Jackson and Lincoln) are eligible for individual disaster assistance through FEMA. The federal aid may include grants, low-cost loans, and other programs to cover expenses such as property losses, temporary housing, and home repairs.
To start your application for the FEMA disaster assistance, click HERE.
Small Business Administration Offering Disaster Loans to Businesses Impacted by Laura
As part of the federal government's response to Hurricane Laura, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low interest disaster loans to impacted businesses as they work to recover. Two different types of loans, Business Physical Disaster Loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, are available, but businesses should note that their eligibility is limited by their location.
Understanding the Differences Between Loan Programs
According to the SBA's disaster guidance for Hurricane Laura:
• Business Physical Disaster Loans – Loans to businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property owned by the business, including real estate, inventories, supplies, machinery and equipment. Businesses of any size are eligible. Private, non-profit organizations such as charities, churches, private universities, etc., are also eligible.
• Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) – Working capital loans to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot be met as a direct result of the disaster. These loans are intended to assist through the disaster recovery period.
Currently, as with FEMA's disaster assistance, a business' ability to apply for a loan program may be determined by their location.
- Impacted companies in Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Rapides, Sabine, Vermilion, Vernon and Winn Parishes are able to apply for both programs.
- Businesses in Avoyelles, Bienville, Caldwell, Claiborne, De Soto, Evangeline, Iberia, LaSalle, Lafayette, Morehouse, Red River, Richland, St. Landry and Union Parishes are eligible for EIDL loans only.
Get More Information & Apply
To learn more information about the loan programs, including details on credit requirements, interest rates, loan terms, limits, and eligibility, click HERE.
The SBA has also launched a virtual Business Recovery Center specifically dedicated to help answer questions and provide guidance through the loan application process. The center can be contacted via phone at (800) 659-2955 or via email at FOCWAssistance@sba.gov. Staff will be available to provide assistance from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday-Sunday.
To start your application for an SBA disaster loan, click HERE.
Internal Revenue Service Announces Hurricane Laura Tax Relief Measures
The Internal Revenue Service announced this week that businesses and individuals impacted by Hurricane Laura now have until December 31, 2020, to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments. To be eligible, you must be based or reside in Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Rapides, Sabine, Vermillion, Vernon, or Winn Parishes.
The IRS also notes that the December 31 deadline applies to the third quarter estimated tax payments due on September 15. It also applies to the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on November 2, as well.
To see the entire announcement from the IRS with additional details, click HERE.
Want to Help Rebuild? Donate to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana
Given the devastating impacts of Hurricane Laura in the Lake Charles area and surrounding parishes, individuals and businesses who are able to donate to the relief efforts are encouraged to give to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. Your contribution will help with pressing needs such as food, shelter, medicine, and all the other necessities, as well as the long term rebuilding and recovery of the region. To make a donation to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana's Hurricane Laura Relief and Recovery Fund, click HERE.
Entergy: Current Power Outages and Restoration
With many customers across Louisiana still out of power, Entergy crews have been working around the clock to restore electricity. To get the latest storm updates from Entergy, click HERE.
Customers can also check Entergy's outage map to see the status in their area. You can also find additional information by clicking HERE to opt in for Entergy text alerts or download the Entergy app for your mobile device.
CLECO: Current Power Outages and Restoration
CLECO crews have been hard at work throughout the weekend to restore electricity to customers across the state. Click HERE for the latest storm updates from CLECO.
To see power outages and restoration across your area, see CLECO's outage map. In addition, the latest estimated power restoration times can be accessed by texting STAT to 25326.
SWEPCO: Current Power Outages and Restoration
With households and business across Northwest Louisiana still without electricity, SWEPCO crews have been hard at work over the past few days to restore power. SWEPCO customers can find storm updates by clicking HERE, and can check the status of power restoration in their area via the SWEPCO outage map. To get more information about power restoration times or to sign up for SWEPCO outage alerts, click HERE.
See the U.S. Department of Energy's Generator Safety Guidelines
With widespread power outages in impacted areas, state and local officials are encouraging individuals and businesses who are using generators to closely follow safety guidelines and procedures. The U.S. Department of Energy has a webpage to help users navigate concerns such as generator placement, plugging into your electrical system and storing fuel. To read the USDOE's guidelines, click HERE.
Hurricane Recovery Resources from the National Association of Manufacturers
LABI's partners at the National Association of Manufacturers are working with SBP to help provide industry with tools and information as they work to recover in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Hurricane Laura. The resources available include help with navigating disaster assistance, tips for filing an insurance claim, how to avoid fraud, mold and muck cleanup advice, and more. To see the full resources from NAM and SBP, click HERE.
Hurricane Recovery Resources from the U.S. Chamber
To help businesses impacted by Hurricane Laura and other natural disasters, LABI's national partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have assembled tools, information, and resources to help guide companies through the recovery process.
• For expert guidance and answers to pressing questions, business owners can reach out to the U.S. Chamber's Disaster Help Desk for Business by calling (888) 692-4943 or clicking HERE.
• The U.S. Chamber has also compiled a Small Business Recovery Guide which contains key information and tips about things such as finances and insurance, disaster assistance, cleanup, and employee support. Click HERE to access the guide.
For more business disaster assistance information from the U.S. Chamber, click HERE.
Employer Concerns After Hurricane Laura
Hurricane Laura was historic, and it was catastrophic for much of Louisiana. Indeed, few parishes in our state escaped the fury of this storm completely unscathed. Laura maintained hurricane strength well inland, leaving significant destruction in its wake.
Now that this powerful storm has moved on, impacted Louisiana employers should be cognizant of state and federal employment laws that may affect them. Some businesses will be unable to open or operate due to damage caused to their facilities by wind, rain and/or flooding. Others may have difficulty getting their employees back to work because they are dealing with their own personal storm issues. Whatever the circumstances, it is important for employers to understand their legal rights and obligations in these cases.
(NOTE: The following is information complied by LABI experts, but does not constitute formal legal advice. For more detailed guidance, please contact a labor attorney)
Unemployment Compensation (UC)
In Louisiana, when an employee is unemployed due to a natural disaster and files a claim for UC benefits, his or her employer's experience-rated tax account is usually subject to being charged for the those benefits. However, after Hurricane Katrina struck, then-Governor Kathleen Blanco issued executive orders exempting individual employer accounts from the benefit charges attributable to that storm, and the same action may be taken by Governor John Bel Edwards in this case, or by the Legislature during a special session anticipated this fall. Any employees who fail to report for work without good cause after their employers direct them to return to their jobs should be disqualified from receiving benefits, provided the Louisiana Workforce Commission is notified of their refusal.
Most unemployed workers are covered through the state's regular UC system, but those who are not can apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). DUA is a federally-funded program that assists individuals who become unemployed as a direct result of a declared disaster. The program covers self-employed individuals and others who are not normally covered under the state UC program.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Under the federal FMLA, employees impacted by a natural disaster are entitled to leave for a serious health condition caused by the disaster. Additionally, employees affected by a natural disaster who must care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition may also be entitled to leave.
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
Employees who are part of the National Guard or a Reserve unit may fall under the USERRA. USERRA prohibits discharging, denying initial employment, denying promotion or denying any benefit of employment because of a person's membership, performance of service or obligation to perform service in uniformed service. While USERRA does require advance notice of military service, there is no timeframe within which notice must be given. Notice needs only to be “timely.” In the event of a hurricane, there will be relatively short notice. The notice may be delivered in writing or orally, and it may be provided by the employee or an appropriate officer of the military branch in which the employee serves.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Under the federal ADA, employees who are physically or emotionally injured as the result of a natural disaster occurrence may be entitled to reasonable accommodation by the employer as long as it would not place undue hardship on the operation of that employer's business.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
Where Hurricane Laura is concerned, employers should consider the following under the federal OSHA:
• Employees must be protected from unreasonable dangers in the workplace that threaten safety and health.
• Hurricanes pose obvious safety considerations of which employers should be mindful when their employees return to work after the storm, including exposure to toxins, slips and falls, electrical hazards and exhaustion as a result of working extended hours.
• OSHA fact sheets exist that lay out the issues and hazards related to recovery and cleanup efforts after hurricanes.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
The NLRA generally governs relations between employers and labor unions. The NLRA constrains an employer and the union representing its employees to meet periodically in order to confer in good faith with respect to hours, wages and/or any other terms or conditions of employment, and for the purpose of negotiating an agreement or addressing any issue arising under such agreement. Following a natural disaster, an employer may have to make certain changes in the workplace if employees reasonably believe the workplace to be unsafe.
Some collective bargaining agreements contain a “force majeure” clause, outlining the employer's rights and duties in emergency situations caused by unforeseeable forces of nature. In some cases, a disaster can force an employer out of business. Generally, an employer has the right to cease operations and close business completely without first bargaining with the union over its decision, but must bargain over the “effects” of the decision to do so.
The OSHA and the NLRA both give employees the right to refuse to work in conditions they believe are unsafe. While employees must reasonably and in good faith believe that working would be unsafe, the law protects them even if they are mistaken about the danger. The two laws have slightly different standards. For both union and nonunion employees, refusing to work because of safety concerns can be considered a “concerted activity” that is protected by the NLRA. Concerted activity usually involves more than one employee; i.e., in concert with others. However, it has also been interpreted to consist of one employee if he or she is acting on a matter that affects other workers.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The federal FLSA governs employer/employee relations respecting wages and hours of work. Under the FLSA, there are “nonexempt employees,” who are generally compensated on an hourly basis, and there are “exempt employees” who are salaried.
Employers are obligated to pay “nonexempt employees” only for the hours they actually work. So, an employer is not required to pay nonexempt employees if that employer is unable to provide work for them because of a natural disaster. An exception exists to this rule for nonexempt employees receiving fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks. Such employees agree to work an unspecified number of hours for a specified salary. These employees must be paid their full weekly salary for any week in which work is performed.
Employers must pay their exempt employees full salary if the business is closed or unable to reopen due to a natural disaster for less than a full workweek. However, an employer may require exempt employees to use allowed leave for this time. If an employer is open for business, an employee’s failure to report for work due to transportation difficulties experienced during a weather emergency is considered by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) to be an absence for personal reasons. So, an employer has the option of placing an exempt employee on leave without pay (or requiring the employee to use accrued vacation time) for the day or days he or she fails to report to work.
When an employee is absent for one or more full days for personal reasons, the employee's salaried status will not be affected if deductions are made from his or her salary for such absences. However, a deduction from salary for less than a full-day's absence is not permitted. Many employers require employees to “make up” lost time after they return to work, which is permissible for exempt employees. This practice is not allowed for nonexempt employees, who must be paid overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a work week.
Employees who must be “on call” at the employer's premises, or remain close by, may be working, and the employer may have to pay such employee for all of that time. Maintenance workers who remain on their employer’s premises during a storm in the event of a need for emergency repairs must be compensated if they are not free to leave at any time, even if they perform no work within the timeframe. If an employee is required to be at work and wait for the power to come back on, that is considered time worked and compensable – even if he or she does nothing the entire time.
Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)
The federal WARN Act requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide notice 60 days ahead of certain closings and/or mass layoffs. An exception exists when the closing or layoff is a direct result of a natural disaster. Nevertheless, employers are required to give as much notice as possible. If an employer gives less than 60 days advance notice, it may become necessary to prove that the conditions for the exception were met. If such a closing or layoff is anticipated, legal counsel should be consulted to ensure compliance with the WARN Act.
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
Facility closure and employee displacement resulting from a natural disaster creates issues involving the continuance or discontinuance of benefits. During such times when employees and/or the business may not be working or operating, even if temporarily, employers must make coverage decisions about whether benefits will be maintained for their employees. Where an employer decides to continue coverage, the benefits vendor should be contacted to determine how and to what extent coverage is to be maintained during the period of the disaster.
Often, it is the ERISA-covered benefits of life, health and disability insurance about which employees and their dependents are most concerned and wish to maintain. For a COBRA-covered health plan, the plan administrator must be notified if an employee is no longer eligible for coverage under an ongoing plan because the employee is not working. Upon notification, the employer must send COBRA packages to employees and their covered dependents. The general rule for all notices is that they need only be sent to an employee's last known address. According to the USDOL, COBRA notices are timely when sent up to 45 days from the COBRA “qualifying event.” Generally, the decision to discontinue coverage and terminate any and all benefit plans must be communicated to the employee within 30 days or less.
In previous natural disasters, many governmental agencies and entities have chosen to extend their deadlines for certain reports and paperwork. However, while it is hoped that the government will provide some deadline extensions, employers should not operate in anticipation of such, since with every natural disaster the government's responses have varied.