What employers and employees should do during times of disaster

A joint team of firefighters, Security officers, and Nairobi City County in a drill exercise that found the occupants of the I&M Building and people in the streets of Muindi Mbingu Street and Kenyatta Avenue by surprise. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kenya has, in the last two months, experienced unprecedented and adverse weather conditions leading to unexpected disasters. Many parts of the country experienced floods and mudslides leading to the destruction of homes, school infrastructure and roads. So significant was the impact in some areas that even employees could not report to work – which left me asking, what is the role of employers and employees when such unfortunate incidents happen?

Well, disasters are a multifaceted challenge that can significantly impact the productivity and well-being of many organisations. Employers need to accord employees appropriate support. Similarly, employees should be alive to the responsibility that they have to their employer and to themselves during and after the disaster.

According to the International Association of Human Resources Information Management employees, through their human resource departments have a role to mitigate the uncertainty that is inevitable following a workplace crisis.

This means that HR professionals, understanding the challenges that employers and employees face during and after events, should craft effective support systems and ensure a swift recovery.

The first thing to do is to check the immediate challenges which can include displacement and commuting woes, work-life strains, infrastructure disruption, health and safety concerns, as well as supply chain disruptions where organisations rely heavily on supplies to and from stakeholders.

In such a case, the employer has a duty of care to employees and may consider offering alternatives such as remote work or reporting to an off station. This will require investment in ERP systems and virtual machines, but it will also allow employees to work from the comfort of their homes or in offices within their proximity.

The employer may also seek support from the authorities. The local authorities can be made aware of affected staff and can help in evacuation, repatriation or rehabilitation as required. The workplace should also have counsellors or psychologists that the employees can reach out should they need help. 

Incentives such as salary advances or negotiated rates with financial institutions can help support the employees should they require additional financial assistance to aid in their resettlement.

The employer should also ensure that the organisation and property are insured – there are several reputable insurance companies in the country who provide solutions to limit or eliminate the monetary impact of disasters.

Other key initiatives include staff welfare programmes such as funeral support. Having a data backup/recovery site off premise and developing a disaster risk recovery plan is critical for every employer and organisation.

By approaching the situation with compassion and practical support, employers can help employees navigate through the challenges posed by disasters and demonstrate commitment to their well-being.

Finally, employees have the responsibility to communicate their absence in case they are unable to report to their work.

Ms Muhoro is an HR practitioner at ICT Authority and a disaster management consultant.