Getting Paid in the Wake of Superstorm Sandy

Posted November 13, 2012 in Labor and Employment by

Commuters wait in a line to board buses into Manhattan in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. The line stretched twice around the arena and commuters reported wait times of one to three hours to get on a bus. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Hurricane Sandy not only damaged the lives of many people in the Northeast; it also wreaked havoc with their jobs.

If you’re having financial or compensation issues in the wake of the superstorm, you are not alone. Lots of other people are worried about getting paid.

 

Exempt or Not?

Everything turns on whether you are an “exempt” or “non-exempt” employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You should have signed a form when you were hired that indicated your classification, says Sharon Stiller, an employment lawyer with Abrams Fensterman in Rochester, N.Y.

  • Exempt positions “are excluded from minimum wage, overtime regulations, and other rights and protections afforded non-exempt workers,” explains Paul Barada on Monster.com. “Employers must pay a salary rather than an hourly wage for a position for it to be exempt. Typically, only executive, supervisory, professional or outside sales positions are exempt positions.”
  • Non-exempt employees “must be paid at least the federal minimum wage for each hour worked and given overtime pay of not less than one-and-a-half times their hourly rate for any hours worked beyond 40 each week,” according to Barada.

 

Good news, bad news

Sharon Stiller

“Private employers need only pay employees [who are hourly employees] for the hours that they worked,” says Stiller. So if you didn’t work any hours after Sandy, you aren’t owed any wages.

“However, if the employee was required to come in to work but was sent home because of the hurricane, then New York state law requires that the employee be paid for ‘call-in’ time, which is usually four hours at minimum wage or the employee’s regular shift, whichever is less,” Stiller continues.

“For non-exempt salaried employees, an employer must pay these employees their full weekly salary for any week in which any work was performed,” Stiller says.

Exempt employees face a range of possibilities, none of which are particularly good news: “If the employer was open for business, then an exempt employee’s absence due to a state of emergency is deemed to be an absence for personal reasons and the employer can dock the employee’s wages for a full day’s absence,” Stiller says.

“If, on the other hand, the office was closed as a result of the hurricane, then an employer may not dock an exempt employee’s pay, but may require the employee to use vacation or other accrued leave,” she adds.

 

Getting to Work – or Not

Some people were able to work from home after the storm. “If the employer permitted the employee to work from home, the time would be paid as though the employee was working from the office,” Stiller notes. “There is no distinction between exempt and non-exempt employees in that regard.” 

Employees who couldn’t get to work because of lack of public transportation and were fired are out of luck. No statute protects you from being terminated, Stiller says, but you can collect unemployment benefits.

 

Disaster Plan

If Sandy taught us anything, it’s that we need to be better prepared for catastrophic events in New York City and surrounding areas.

In the event of a natural disaster like Sandy, here are a few ways to make sure you cover your bases regarding your job, according to Stiller:

  • Determine whether your office was officially open or closed.
  • Consider offering to come in or asking your employer what alternative arrangements can be made to get the work done.  
  • Consider offering to make up lost time. 
  • If you’ve lost your job, consider applying for unemployment benefits as soon as possible, as well as seeing what other disaster relief is available through your city.

If you’re concerned about your rights as an employee, contact a labor & employment lawyer on Lawyers.com.

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