Often we live thinking, or at least hoping, that no natural disasters will befall us. However, over the last several years, tragedies and natural disaster have plagued too many, whether on the East Coast with hurricane Sandy, in the Midwest with active tornado seasons, in the Mountain West with the recent floods in Colorado, and of course, too many wild fires to count. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered so much. Many families, employers, and individuals have extended helping hands and assisted in the clean up and search and rescue missions. It is important for employers to understand an employee’s rights in this regard, and frankly, to encourage such great service to our communities.
Emergency Response Leave – Generally
Many states have laws governing an employee’s right to Emergency Response Leave. These laws can govern leave required of members of the National Guard, volunteer firefighters, volunteer emergency medical service personnel, and others. Each state has its own unique requirements governing documentation from employees, the duration of leave, and whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Employers should carefully consult with a qualified attorney to identify an employee’s leave entitlement and what the employer must provide to and can require of the employee.
Indiana Emergency Response Leave – Firefighters & EMS Personnel
For Indiana employers, emergency response leave can be categorized into two primary types. The first type of leave applies to volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical service (EMS) personnel.
Employees seeking to qualify to be eligible to take emergency response leave must notify their employer in advance that he or she is a member of a volunteer fire department or emergency medical service. Employees who are considered “essential” employees may still not qualify for emergency response leave.
Protections to Qualifying Employees
Employees who are volunteer firefighters or members of a volunteer emergency medical service are protected from discipline for missing work to respond to a fire or emergency call. In addition, a qualifying employee may also miss work to recover from an injury resulting from his or her service relating to the emergency.
Employers may require the employee to give notice of the need for leave to respond to an emergency prior to the beginning of a shift if the need arises when the employee is not at work. If the need for leave arises while the employee is at work, the employer may require the employee to obtain prior approval from a supervisor.
The employer may require documentation from a fire chief or other person in charge at the time the emergency response is required. In addition, an employee injured during an emergency response may be required to provide documentation from a physician verifying that the injury occurred during an emergency response and that the absence was necessary for treatment. Medical information obtained must be treated as a confidential medical record.
Leave is Unpaid
Generally, emergency response leave is unpaid leave, although an employer may pay the employee if it chooses. In addition, the law entitles the employee to use vacation leave, personal time, or compensatory time off during the leave or to recover from an injury sustained during emergency response leave.
An employee requiring emergency response leave to recover from an injury sustained during an emergency response is entitled to up to six (6) months unpaid from the date of the injury.
Mobile Support Units
Finally, the law provides that the governor may establish mobile support units in response to a disaster, public health emergency, public safety emergency, or other similar event. Retaliation is prohibited against an employee serving in such a unit. Private sector employers may be reimbursed by the state for compensation paid to and expenses of the employee while on duty with the response unit.
Civil Air Patrol
The second category of emergency response leave is civil air patrol. While similar in some respects, the protections do differ.
Employees of private employers who are members of the civil air patrol must provide written notice to their employers in advance of an emergency service operation to be eligible for emergency response leave. Employees who are considered “essential” employees may still not qualify for emergency response leave.
Protections to Qualifying Employees
Qualifying employees are protected from retaliation for being absent from employment for having engaged in an emergency service operation that started before the employee’s shift. In addition, employees are protected from retaliation for leaving their employment to respond to an emergency service operation if they have obtain permission from their supervisor.
Emergency Service Operation
Emergency service operations include search and rescue missions designated by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center; disaster relief, when requested by the federal or state emergency management agency; humanitarian services, when requested by the federal or state emergency management agency; and U.S. Air Force support designated by the First Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The employer may require the employee to provide a written statement from the commander or other officer in charge of the civil air patrol at the time of the absence indicating that the employee was so engaged.
Employers should consider the following steps to ensure their compliance with these laws:
- Carefully review their handbook policies to determine if they currently address these types of leave;
- Implement and or revise policies to ensure compliance with these requirements; and
- Consider adopting policies that encourage employees to engage in these important services to their communities.
Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding these topics.