FMLA: What employees are entitled to after a natural disaster

Recent flooding and tornadoes in the South and Midwest have raised an intriguing question for Benefits pros: Can employees take FMLA leave when a natural disaster strikes?
Labor and employment law attorney Jeffrey Nowak recently tackled that very question over at his informative FMLA Insights blog.
The answer: It depends on whether or not an employee (or the employee’s spouse, child or parent) has an injury or illness that meets the FMLA’s definition of a “serious medical condition” — and is affected by, or flares up do to, a natural disaster.
As Nowak points out, the FMLA doesn’t require employers to give workers time off to deal with personal matters that crop up due to a natural disaster — like cleaning a home or searching for family/friends.
However, it’s not a bad idea to have a policy in place that allows employees to take non-FMLA leave to deal with personal matters after a disaster.
What qualifies as FMLA leave?
Some examples Nowak gives of when an employee’s leave of absence would be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act:

  • An employee suffers a physical or emotional injury as the result of a natural disaster and is unable to perform his/her job duties. (Note: If the injury is severe enough, it may also trigger ADA obligations.)
  • The disaster causes an employee’s chronic health condition to flare up.
  • The disaster creates a reason that the employee must take care of a family member with a serious health condition. Nowak says this could occur when the disaster knocks out power, for example, and causes a family member’s medical equipment to fail.

It’s also important to note that a disaster does not have to be of the catastrophic variety to raise these kinds of FMLA issues. Winter storms and extended power outages could trigger FMLA-related absences, too.
Info: For more tips on staying in compliance with the FMLA after a disaster, visit Nowak’s blog post,Are Employees Eligible for FMLA Leave When A Natural Disaster Strikes?” at