The devastation in Texas is breathtakingly sad. Although the storm has passed, recovery efforts continue. For many, it will take months and years to recover.
Today I received my first call from a client asking about its obligations towards an employee who will be traveling to Texas to help with the recovery efforts. Many states do have laws that protect first responders from being disciplined or terminated for missing work while responding to an emergency.
New Jersey, for example, is one such state that has a law that provides that an employer cannot “terminate, dismiss or suspend an employee who fails to report for work at his place of employment because he is serving as a volunteer emergency responder during a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor of this State.”
Under the New Jersey law, a volunteer emergency responder is defined as “an active member in good standing of a volunteer fire company, a volunteer member of a duly incorporated first aid, rescue or ambulance squad, or a member of any county or municipal volunteer Office of Emergency Management, provided the member’s official duties include responding to a fire or emergency call.”
In the last few days, President Trump has declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana. As such any New Jersey volunteer emergency responder who is traveling to aid with the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts may be entitled to leave.
The leave does not have to be paid. Employees may be able to use available or vacation days while out on leave, but cannot be forced to use such time.
The bad news for employers is that the law does not provide a limit on the amount of work that can be missed by the employee. Many other jurisdictions besides New Jersey provide similar protections. Employers with questions about first responder leave are encouraged to contact employment counsel.
For those wanting to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, Consumer Reports and the New York Times have written some helpful guidance on avoiding scams, as well as listing some charities that are in the best position to help.