Haiti Earthquake May Have Legal Repercussions for Employers

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, businesses operating in the United States, even those without establishments in Haiti, will be facing employment issues related to the aftermath of the tragedy and the ongoing relief effort.  Companies should anticipate new employment-related questions encountered when the business and/or its employees seek to aid the relief effort, either with monetary donations or by donations of skill, expertise or goods.  In addition, employers with workers and business interests in Haiti must also address various personnel issues.

Many employers, for example, have been relaxing their phone use and electronic communications policies to facilitate employee contributions to relief efforts.  While altruistic, this move could erode the strength of these policies, as well as any non-solicitation policies in place.  To avoid the legal implications of exceptions to corporate policies, employers should consider directly controlling any relief effort involving its employees. 

As another example, employers that anticipate sending employees to Haiti--or already have employees in Haiti--should  determine which U.S. or relevant state laws, if any, apply to employees while abroad.  Some laws, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII expressly state that they apply to employees while outside the United States, but many others do not.  In addition, employers should ensure that there is adequate workers' compensation coverage for these employees.  Businesses must also consider devising a plan, in conjunction with union representatives if applicable, in the event wage payments to employees working in Haiti are delayed.  Employers may also want to show flexibility in providing leave to employees with family members in Haiti, and to employees already in Haiti. 

For more information about the types of employment issues that may arise due to the earthquake in Haiti and similar disasters, and for workplace preparedness suggestions, see Employment Issues Following the Haitian Earthquake by Tanja L. Darrow and Jim E. Hart.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.