how should we handle remote work and extreme weather?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I work for a small nonprofit, and most of our employees telework full-time. They live all over the state, some in urban and some in rural areas. We have been experiencing regular major extreme events (fires, floods, storms, etc.) that have substantial impacts on the team members personally and also cut them off from access to the internet (whether due to outages or safety issues). This generally impacts some staff members more than others based on their geography. Aside from the personal impacts (which can be very intense and potentially devastating, depending on the event), we also have staff unable to work for increasingly long periods.

In the past, the organization would sporadically foot the bill for the time when employees were impacted, but there is no specific policy. With the increasing frequency and duration of these events due to climate change, we need a policy that balances compassion with our budget and treats all employees equitably. We are mostly grant funded and cannot charge paid leave to the grants, so floating weeks at a time for multiple employees multiple times a year is becoming increasingly difficult. That said, I don’t love exhausting PTO for events that aren’t the employee’s fault. I also think we need some objective criteria as to what constitutes a disaster (e.g. regular power outages vs wildfire evacuation), but there are so many variations of events that it’s hard to develop one. Have you seen examples policies to address these situations, or do you have any suggestions?

Great question, and I have not — so let’s throw this one out to readers to weigh in on in the comment section.

{ 360 comments… read them below }

  1. Llama Llama*

    My organization has the option for us to donate to other people. Sometimes it’s a specific ask for a specific person and sometimes it’s for a major event.

    From an accounting perspective it’s a nightmare but from people donating hours perspective it’s rather successful.

    1. DisneyChannelThis*

      I strongly feel that companies have the power and ability to increase PTO for individuals and asking coworkers instead to give up their PTO is awful. A company can and should decide to take the loss and grant extra PTO for those situations, not try to force employees to shuffle leave around. PTO isn’t a physical resource, it’s not like everyone in the office is sharing slices of cake where if Jen wants 2 slices, Paul needs to give up his slice. It shouldn’t be treated as such.

      1. foolish fox*

        If the company is mainly grant funded, there is a limited total budget. PTO costs the company money. Money isn’t a physical resource, but it does sound like a limited resource in this case.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Yep. I work in government. Increasing time off for us would be an actual political issue. We do have an extreme weather policy, because extreme weather is just a fact in my state.

          1. zinzarin*

            What is that extreme weather policy? It seems like that’s just the info that OP is looking for.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Our policy is “extreme weather pay” is activated if half or more of the region your office is in is affected, or if the roads are actively unsafe they send as many people as possible home to telework. If it’s just absolutely unsafe we close all operations for the duration of extreme event and reschedule any clients supposed to come in during the event.

              But we’re federal so there’s a bit more leeway when it comes to money. Not everybody has that freedom.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I’m also Federal – and three years back after a very rare but severe weather event in my area the local office set up a “natural disaster transfer” account. They then asked if anybody was going to hit use or loose (which is 300 hours for annual, no limit on your separate sick leave bank) and not be able to use it all up – can you donate it to this new bank.

        2. Brooklyn*

          I work at a grant-funded non-profit with an unlimited PTO policy. PTO only costs the company money if it has to be paid out – I don’t understand the accounting you’re doing. How is allowing employees to take time off due to natural disasters any different than paid sick leave, parental leave, or paid FMLA.

          Non-profits often take advantage of people’s good intentions to treat employees worse than a for-profit would ever get away with. This is a great example. It’s abhorrent and unethical.

          1. Lily Potter*

            It sounds like the OP’s nonprofit actually does a billable hours thing where individual employees’ time is charged off to specific grants. When the nonprofit gives an employee a paid day off, they can’t bill that to someone and it goes to the organization’s overhead (which likely has only so much $ budgeted for such things)

            1. badger*

              this is how my last job worked – everything was billable to specific grants and PTO was overhead.

          2. The Somewhat Average Gilly Hopkins*

            Even if they aren’t working hourly or using billable hours, that logic doesn’t totally track. PTO costs the org money in the sense that they are paying people while they aren’t working, and if projects need to be completed in a certain amount of time, the org might need to hire more individuals to keep projects running on grant timelines.

            1. Total*

              It does track if the disasters are causing people to take massive amounts of time off — more than they would in a “normal” year.

          3. Santiago*

            Certain government grants are pretty restrive in this aspect. Labs for example, will have different personnel funded from different grants, and all their accounting loops back to different multi year grants.

      2. Llama Llama*

        Well they already said that they couldn’t increase PTO. So this is an option that many people are happy to donate to when they see people in need.

        My company’s PTO policy is generous, so when there has been an ask, I have been happy to do it.

        1. Just Another Boss*

          Should PTO not be separate from an extreme weather event? Without knowing specifics, I would think a policy should be around what is reasonable to expect. For example, recently one of my staffer’s laptops died and our IT company couldn’t ship them a new one for two days. I, of course, did not have her use PTO for those two days. This was our problem and she got two days of free vacation. But had she delayed picking the laptop up from a shipping center, I would have made her use PTO.

          1. ferrina*

            But this is something that is impacted by lifestyle choices, because internet access depends on where they live. (Folks that choose to live further out are more likely to lose access. Similarly we don’t give parents more PTO because they have kids that might be sick). And this sounds like it’s impacting the company for weeks, which is a looooong time to have someone unable to work.

            I totally agree with you that there needs to be a policy that directly speaks to extreme weather events.

            1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

              I wouldn’t say this is impacted by “lifestyle choices.” You make it sound like most people live in the city but there are a few who choose to live in the mountains because they like it. Believe me, you can lose internet access in the city. It has happened where my entire university lost internet access. I also worked someplace where someplace 100s of miles away a fiber line got cut and the tristate area lost internet and our call center was down for the rest of the day. We are in a large city.

              1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

                Same here! I lost internet (and had to use mobile hotspot) for almost 36 hours because two fiber cables in other counties were damaged during separate construction incidents, and while I don’t live in a Big City, I’m certainly not choosing a cabin in the Adirondacks as my workspace.

                Accidents and weather and disasters affect people differently, but the solution isn’t to blame people for lifestyle choices, it’s to make the system more capable of responding to accidents and weather and disasters.

              2. ferrina*

                You’re absolutely right. I almost added a caveat in my original comment about this!

                For business purposes, it’s often considered a “choice”, even though IRL there’s some serious mitigating factors. Cost of living, access of critical amenities, etc. It can be more of a “choice under duress” (and the same is true of parenting- while it is truly a free choice for some people, other people have limited or no choice over whether they become a parent).

                There’s definitely a wide spectrum between people that have a lot of options and folks that have little or no options on these ‘lifestyle choices’. But it’s also true that businesses are impacted by them. Parents will need to adjust work schedule when their child care isn’t available. Folks that live in certain areas are more likely to have power/internet services unavailable. This has a business impact. A business gets to limit the amount of impact that they are willing to carry.

                (Not saying we don’t need a societal change around this, because we ABSOLUTELY do)

              3. Not Totally Subclinical*

                I’m in a large city, and when I lose power, I lose internet access as well. If there’s a weather situation bad enough that we’re told not to come into the office, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to work from home either.

            2. Irish Teacher*

              Where somebody lives isn’t always an entirely free choice though. Areas that are further out are often cheaper and therefore the only place a lower paid employee might be able to afford to live. I am not sure I like the idea of somebody having less PTO to use as they wish because they are on a low income and cannot afford to live where they would wish to. (Obviously, I don’t know if there are employees in the LW’s company that would have trouble affording housing in better-serviced areas or not.)

              And some countries do have leave specifically for parents (separate from maternity/paternity leave).

              1. ferrina*

                I agree that it’s not always a free choice. I’ve seen this from both sides- the employee that couldn’t afford to live close to the office because they were low-income and didn’t have generational wealth, and the employee that could have lived closer, but wanted the 6-bedroom house with an acre of lawn. Or the folks that choose to live closer to family (but maybe they’re living closer to family because they are helping with a family member who has health conditions. Or maybe the family is helping with childcare. Or maybe they just really like family barbeques).

                Either way, the business impact remains the same. The employee isn’t available to work for reasons that have nothing to do with the company*. What is the company’s responsibility in that situation? What if the employee could take actions to mitigate the impact to the company but chooses not to? Where is the line between a responsibility of the company and responsibility of the individual, especially when it could ultimately be a societal problem that neither the individual nor the company is in a position to fix?

                *At least, according to the company. See also: companies that don’t pay livable wage then are annoyed when employees that live far away. But see also: daycare teachers often don’t have a livable wage, but raising daycare rates hurts low/middle income families as well. So…..sometimes it’s simple and sometimes it’s complicated.

                1. Bibli*

                  Ferrina, I like your thoroughness. It has inspired me to reciprocate.

                  I learned these lessons the hard way as an employee, re balancing distance, kids, illness, disaster, and pto. Big snow? I drove a Subaru.

                  The long story
                  We (naively) moved to a rural home at “stretch-commute” distance, when our kids were 0 and 2 years old. 11 months later, I got viral pneumonia which knocked me out from work for a month.

                  Looking back, living so far from both our jobs while *parenting small children*, was a super bad decision. I frequently had to leave work, because the daycare decided there were possible “rash bumps” on my baby. Sure, I’ll be there asap in two hours, given my commute. I didn’t stay at that job, so idk what their pto approach would have been.

                  Working at my next job had fewer absences due to kiddo’s tendency to skin spots. But, after I missed a month due to pneumonia (though I went back every Monday thinking I must be better by now)… they told me I had used my vacation as sick leave that year. I coulda-shoulda at least looked at the employment agreement but I just folded.

                  Disaster: the big North American eastern power outage, in 2003ish? THEN we salaried employees got paid time off. My remote house didn’t have power to pump water from the well, sadly.

                  (Again I like thoroughness.)

              2. Reluctant Mezzo*

                I might add that the Palm Springs area is *very* strung out along a long, single highway; people work in Palm Springs but live in Indio, because of housing prices. Something as simple as ‘rain’ which rarely occurs but nobody seems able to cope with can make one part or the other unworkable.

            3. Starbuck*

              “But this is something that is impacted by lifestyle choices, because internet access depends on where they live. (Folks that choose to live further out are more likely to lose access.”

              That’s not always a lifestyle choice, sometimes the place out in the boonies is all you can afford!

      3. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yeah, every time I hear about this kind of policy, I cringe. I’m glad people’s coworkers are so kind, but they also shouldn’t ever be put in this position.

      4. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        You’re aren’t wrong, but in this case you aren’t right either. When you mostly work on a grant/contract basis, billable hours are something that has to be treated almost like a physical resource. The way these things usually work is that the company’s employee does one hour of work , which is billed at, let’s say $100. Now the employee only makes, let’s say $50 an hour, and the other $50 goes to the various expenses that the company has.

        These expenses include things like management of the company itself, project management (which is often not billable), the employee’s PTO bank and other benefits, etc. Whatever is left after all that is profit (or maybe endowment if the company is a non-profit). When an employee takes time off that is not budgeted into the contract/grant either another employee has to work overtime to fulfill those hours or they’re lost. Worse, if you’re paying the employee despite them not working, you’re not only losing that $100, you’re spending $50 to pay the employee. So every unplanned hour off could cost the company as much as $150, as a direct cost. I’m sure there’s a certain amount of fudge built into the contract/ grant, but not much because you want to keep costs in check.

        Theoretically you could renegotiate the contract or grant to compensate, but those things are usually years long. You can’t just renegotiate right now, when you’re losing the money. And if the contract/grant is competitive you risk losing it to a lower bidder if your costs get too high. OP says that the company has been eating these costs up until now, but it’s becoming unfeasible to do so as the occurrence rate goes up. Which makes sense.

        Traditional companies have more flexibility in this regard (though no company can keep giving away PTO forever), but for contractors and grant based non-profits, hours are often what they’re selling. They’re the only resource the company has.

      5. Observer*

        I strongly feel that companies have the power and ability to increase PTO for individuals and asking coworkers instead to give up their PTO is awful. A company can and should decide to take the loss and grant extra PTO for those situations,

        Many organizations actually CANNOT do this. As others have noted, this can get complicated very quickly.

        1. Sue*

          I was one of the newer remote worker teams for my company. The agreement was that if an employee was unable to work due to power, internet, phone lines (yes in the beginning I had DSL) for more than one day we were required to either go to a satellite office or location able to provide me with the necessary resources to access our systems. Management did provide assistance navigating the policy.

      6. NonProfitED*

        A non-profit is not a company. The writer said they are primarily grant funded. Grants cover projects not natural disasters or other reasons employees are unable to work. Also not completing or delaying grant funded projects can put the non-profit in jeopardy of losing funding and or not getting future funding. Increasing PTO is not that easy for nonprofits who do not have a lot of discretionary funding. I am an Executive Director of a nonprofit and while we are in a city that does not have a lot of natural disasters that keep people from working my organization is constantly at risk of losing funding due to my staff constantly calling out sick, taking medical/maternity leaves and other various reasons. I run a small nonprofit with 9 staff we are 95% grant funded. I currently have 4 staff out today. We are always short staffed and I can’t just bring in temps because our grants don’t budget for temps when we have to pay out the sick time and PTO as well. Unfortunately, even though we have to run non-profits like a business we don’t always have the same flexibility as for-profit businesses.

      7. ThisIsTodaysName*

        In a perfect world, sure. But non – profits/organizations that are fueled by grants and donations don’t always have the budget to just exend PTO indefinitely for multiple people. It’s certainly the compassionate thing to do, but we do need to remember that a job is WORK you are paid to do. Paying people out for potentially weeks following a serious event sounds nice in theory, but implementation could be a fiscal nightmare. Additonally, the LW mentioned that some people are affected more often/severely than others due to geography, so paying those same people over and over for not working is only going to cause resentment from those who can and do continue to work.

      8. Unkempt Flatware*

        I work for a local government (which means I understand about public funds vs private) and a sheriff was killed in action. HR still sent out the “donate your leave to his family to help cover expenses” and I really thought that was gross and sick and wrong and a word I can’t find right now. I mean, my god. Really?

      9. Rebecca*

        For things like natural disasters and emergency companies should offer grace – not penalize people by forcing them to use PTO (especially if it’s limited and only say, two weeks a year). Over all these events are rare and a little grace goes a long way when someone has just lost their roof to a storm or their home to a flood.

    2. JG Wentworth*

      While that’s nice, that shouldn’t be the company policy. I take my time off seriously as it’s part of my compensation. While I do feel for people in extreme situations, it shouldn’t be incumbent upon me to donate my compensation on behalf of a company.

      1. esra*

        Same, I think they need to focus on a more defined process around how much they can provide and when.

        Having worked for nonprofits, I was very strict around my boundaries on not donating money or time outside of work.

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        My workplace has leave donation also–it’s not mandatory. I don’t think your desire to keep your leave should prevent other people from donating some if they want to.

        1. JG Wentworth*

          Go ahead and donate. But that shouldn’t be the policy to make sure business can run without the people impacted in extreme situations. It’s for the company to figure out, not the employees.

          1. NeedRain47*

            Part of this whole “donation” thing that I don’t see mentioned- sometimes the leave that people are donating is leave that they would otherwise lose. Previous job had a max number of hours you could have at the end of the year. If you had more than that, and couldn’t use it, you could donate it but otherwise it was gonna go “poof”. So sometimes those who donate aren’t losing any time off really.

            1. ThisIsTodaysName*

              My company also has a minimum amount of leave that you must have and KEEP before you can donate. So, if all I have is 40 hours and I want to donate those 40 hours to someone, I can’t.

              1. Old-Fashioned*

                Mine is the same way. I have to have at least 40 hours left in my bank before I can donate vacation, and I think I have to have at least 40 hours remaining in my sick leave bank — that one might be 80, actually, I can’t remember. I have several months worth of sick leave banked, and it’s not paid out when I leave, so I’m happy to donate a day or two here and there for someone who has run out/doesn’t have any for whatever reason.

            2. Chief Bottle Washer*

              Sorry but this is still employees losing compensation, whether that’s because they were told they couldn’t take the time off or because they didn’t try to take the time off.

              1. BubbleTea*

                That’s sometimes their choice though (not always). My friend is often frustrated by her husband’s failure to submit his expenses within the six month window he has to get them reimbursed. You can’t really blame his employer for essentially reducing his pay by not repaying the expenses he’s not told them about.

              2. She of Many Hats*

                When you convert the PTO to one’s hourly wage, you can see exactly how much one is actually donating without the benefit of a charitable write-off. Figure a frontline employee earns $20/hr for an 8 hr day = $160 of PTO donated plus paying for the taxes on it.

            3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              Yes, I work in Government, in a jurisdiction that has an unusually generous PTO policy in general. Most of the people who end up donating their leave are people who have been with the jurisdiction for a long long time and have a significant amount of leave, far more than they could or want to use. (High up/executives come to mind here especially.)

              It’s primarily used toward things such as long term illness, however. We DO have a robust STD/LTD policy, but it is not full pay AND the time doesn’t count the same way toward retirement service (which, especially those that may be seeking out disability retirement in the meantime, is often MORE critical for these individuals to preserve!), so this helps keep that whole while allowing for days that would otherwise go poof, to not.

              Some people just don’t like using that much leave in any given year. Most of the people who I know that reguarly exercise this option are doing this fully of their own volition and not because they are barred from taking their leave.

            4. Mr. Shark*

              Yes, that’s true. But really, what you want is that everyone is using their leave on a yearly basis. That’s the whole purpose. People shouldn’t have to worry about losing their leave at the end of the year because they weren’t able to take it. As Alison has said many times before, PTO is part of your compensation. So if you as an employee are losing it, you’re just giving away money.
              To the subject at hand, for severe hardship (hurricane, tornado, etc.) I don’t think the company should be charging PTO to the employee. Or at least, there should be a certain number of allowable days for those type of emergencies before PTO comes into the discussion.

        2. JG Wentworth*

          To be clear, I am not saying that donating your pto days shouldn’t be an option for employees. Sure, that’s very nice and kind if you are 100% willing to offer it, not because you feel as though you should. I am saying that shouldn’t be the only policy that the company has. If it’s that important to keep business running, it should cost the company, not the employees.

      3. Slovenly Braid Cultist*


        I think at heart this is a kindly-meant idea and I could see doing it in a pinch. But making this the primary policy for emergencies puts a lot of pressure on other employees not to use their full compensation.

        I already struggle with my using PTO early in the year in case I end up needing it later in the year- if I had to factor in the anxiety of ‘what if something happens to someone else’ I’d never take a day off (and probably end up having a full nervous breakdown, eventually.)

    3. Twix*

      My company does this as well and I’ve always hated it because:

      1) For one-off events like major illness, it should not be other employees’ responsibility to foot the bill for the organization’s benefit. The organization should be able to offer discretionary PTO.

      2) For chronic events like severe weather, it should not be other employees’ responsibility AND it’s not a reasonable or sustainable solution. The company granting discretionary PTO may not be either, but that doesn’t change that.

      3) If employees aren’t willing to donate enough PTO to cover the need, the fallback plan is “Sucks for you”.

        1. Twix*

          For longer-term illness yes. I was thinking more of being hospitalized for a few days, which STD insurance generally does not cover.

    4. Dell*

      Yeah, I get such bad vibes from policies like this. This shouldn’t be other employees’ responsibility to bear, and it also means that less-liked employees (often happens to be neurodivergent, PoC, or other marginalized people) get less response. And it puts the employee in need is such a horribly awkward position.

      1. Twix*

        Yup. At my company you have to fill out a form with HR to apply for it, and I know for a fact that people have just taken the time unpaid because they were too embarrassed or uncomfortable with putting the onus to help on their coworkers to do so.

      2. Silver Robin*

        I was wondering when somebody would bring this part up. I mean, if the donation is for a group of individuals (everyone affected by the tornado/whatever) that can dilute the issue a bit, but what if it is just the one employee and nobody likes them?

        1. Texas Teacher*

          Our school district has an option to donate one day/year to a bank, and if you do, you would be eligible to draw from that bank if you got sick and needed it.
          If you choose not to donate, you wouldn’t get to use days from it.

      3. Msms*

        If a company asked us to do it, I would – as sincerely as possible – suggest that the best way to do it would be for executives to donate their days, since it costs the company 2-5x as much to pay an exec’s PTO vs someone in customer service or the warehouse.

        “Just think how much money we’d save!” I would enthusiastically exclaim. “I bet the company could do two days off for every one of the VP’s, too. Oh that would be so cost efficient!”

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      See I think this is a bad idea and can lead to employees feeling pressured by others to donate their time. And what happens if the employee says no they don’t/can’t donate time to another person? I can see some people taking that as a personal attack and causing work issues.

      1. SBT*

        ^This. I just had to convince a client not to go this route with their PTO policy. There is so much internal politics involved in donating. What if it’s your team leader who needs the donated PTO? Will you feel pressure/obligated to donate? Will those who donate be treated better by the person who benefitted? If you donate and then need time donated to you and you don’t get the same results, will you feel slighted? This is way too messy.

      2. Skytext*

        Haven’t we had letters about this? I seem to remember a LW who was being outright bullied in her office because she refused to donate PTO (which would’ve caused her to miss visiting family abroad) to a lazy coworker who had used up all her own PTO but wanted to take her kids to Disneyworld.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          There was a recent letter about being pressured to change approved leave time, but it was the specific days requested, not whether or not the last-minute “Disney vacation mom” had PTO. She just hadn’t put in for those days off and wanted OP to switch with her.

    6. AlsoADHD*

      I hate these kinds of policies. It’s so messed up to ask other employees to cover what the business won’t cover. If the business thinks people should donate to something, it should.

  2. bamcheeks*

    I don’t have an answer for this, but LW, whatever power your organisation has to throw this question up to legislators, grant funders, regulating bodies, insurers and indemnity providers– basically, anyone who has broader reach or more power than you to consider questions like this, please please please do that.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Thinking some more about this, you could do an audit of working days lost to disasters over the last 4-5 years, assume that will predict the future, and start bugging your grant bodies to give you a way to account for those costs in your next round of bids? Presumably, when you prepare a project bid and attach one FTE into that, you have a model for takes into account how much PTO they get, what the chances are that they will take parental leave or long-term sick leave, etc. Can you also offer a week’s emergency leave (or whatever your audit tells you is appropriate) and then transfer that cost to your funders?

      1. Momma Bear*

        This is a good start because you know it happens and it happens with x expected frequency. Most school districts create calendars that include a certain number of “crap hit the fan” days. If they don’t use them, great. But it’s better that they plan for them. If this is already built into your budget, then you have wiggle room for either routine project slip or just the wrath of Mother Nature.

        If you notice that ISP outages happen with certain people more often, ask which provider they use and see if there’s any kind of incentive program that could be used to switch. At one old job there were three of us using the same ISP that often had issues. I changed and stopped having that problem. In that case – no connection was no pay but if I’d had PTO I would have used it since it affected just a few of us vs a huge swath of the company.

        Many government projects have specific contingency plan/continuity of operations plan deliverables. Worth looking into to see what other entities do, craft your own, and have a tiered process. Aside from falling back to an alternative location (if necessary), these plans also usually involve making sure all employees are accounted for. If OP is seeing a lot of bad weather events, that part may be really important.

        I think that if a problem causes an outage for a large number of employees, you’re probably best to just eat the cost for those days. If it’s a small number, then use best judgement case by case. As I mentioned above, when it was specific to me, I used PTO. When it was specific to the company, they supported us. For a long term concern where the company cannot float people for the full time, consider a furlough. Not getting paid is not great, but having a job to come back to can be worth waiting, and some companies are still able to pay for things like health insurance while the company is on pause.

        1. Mockingjay*

          A COOP is a great thing; I’ve advocated that any business (profit or non) should have one. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; who does what in case of emergency, how much (if any) leave is available to cover emergency conditions, which business ops are essential, etc.

          On the other side, most businesses require remote employees to have reliable internet & power as a condition of WFH. When Hubby and I relocated and I requested remote status, my company made those inviolate conditions. So we looked only at houses in which reliable internet and power were available. We have good broadband; when it does go out there are sufficient cell towers in the area for me to run the laptop off my phone’s hotspot. We also have a generator for power. Power went out recently when a tree fell on nearby lines; Hubby started up the generator and I kept going.

          It’s a two-part issue: what the company should be responsible for and what the individual employee should do.

          1. had it, officially*

            That’s assuming employees have the money to afford to live in an area with fast internet/strong cell signal. My friend lives in a nice neighborhood and yet her house is a mobile deadzone.

    2. Lora*

      All of this. There may also be some government programs for infrastructure robustness available.

      Re: policy, for power outages you can include a UPS with people’s computers to cover at least some work time, if they are in an area that frequently experiences outages and they don’t have a backup. When my home router is out of power I can use my phone hotspot, but again this assumes I can charge my phone periodically. Phone with unlimited data is paid for by my employer. Is it feasible to look for a backup generator or solar company that would be able to provide discounts for backup power installations?

      For internet outages this is trickier, but…honestly I would look at whether it’s feasible to band together with other companies in the area and try to set up your own broadband for underserved regions. This is a thing that’s gaining popularity in rural areas without broadband, people setting up their own because the big ISPs just won’t ever find it economically viable to serve those regions. It can be a pain in the rear with the local monopoly filing a lot of frivolous lawsuits to delay you if they feel like it, but it can be done, people have done it, municipalities have done it. It’s called a WISP service, it’s not fiber fast but it’s still pretty good and better than nothing. There’s a USDA grant program called ReConnect to fund really underserved communities, if that’s what you’re encountering. I know this is probably A Lot more than you are looking to do, but if this is affecting your business that badly, it’s probably affecting others too, and participating in / organizing that kind of effort would long term pay off for everyone.

      To avoid getting a link stuck in moderation, google “Jared Mauch Michigan” and you’ll see some stories from NPR and Ars Technica about how a guy living in a rural area started his own fiber company to serve his house and his neighbors and got grant funding. I’ve read that there’s also a startup offering WISP packages to set up broadband in rural areas with towers that aren’t bothered by weather, I think they are called Necto?

    3. JR*

      This. If you have mostly government funders, you might not have a lot of flexibility. But if you have foundation funders, talk to them. I work at a foundation and our grants aren’t this rigid (just give us an estimate in the staff cost and call it a day…she worked 10% of her time on this for four months? Great!). But I’d be totally open to this discussion, and I know some of our grantees have been successful renegotiating grant terms with other funders when the economic context changed (eg, increased cost of delivering the service – which is basically what’s happening for you).

      1. Brain the Brian*

        The trouble here is that government audits often require that nonprofits charge both government and foundation clients using the same system, to avoid one or other other getting a better deal. So, if a nonprofit charges time and costs to a government project one way, they can’t charge it to a foundation-funded project another way, even if the foundation wouldn’t care. The accounting has to be precise, accurate, and equitable across all projects. It would be one thing to renegotiate the price of some items across all grants, but you can’t direct-charge one client for Internet and not another.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I think it’s important that government finders also hear that this is an issue, and if they hear it from your professional bodies, advocates or lobbies as well as from you, so much the better. It takes government bodies a very, very long time to react to slow-burning issues: the early and more frequently they hear that there’s a need, the better.

    4. Sun and clouds*

      I don’t know about such things but I agree, it sounds like there needs to be a policy change to allow the company to pay people/reallocate funds during a major disaster. People are also a valuable resource and paying to retain that skill could be more cost effective in the long run.

    5. Snarky McSnarkerson*

      Government funders (federal) have Circular 21 which governs things like longer term leaves for employees. it specifically states that leaves of less than 90 days do NOT require any changes to the effort reported for that individual. So yes, they may be using up grant funds and the project doesn’t move forward much, but since the org can still use the funds for payroll, the person in a disaster One should be paid. state grants are different.

  3. Spearmint*

    I really think it depends on the severity of the weather. For example, suppose there’s a blizzard or minor flooding (but no internet loss) in a place where that kind of weather is somewhat normal. In that case, I think you can just go easy on the employees and let them know that they can take it easy and just do the bare minimum that day without being charged a PTO day.

    For more extreme events that qualify as natural disasters that might knock out internet or force evacuations, I think you have to find a way to give paid leave without charging PTO for at least a week, even if it’s hard. Now, outside of truly extreme circumstances (such as losing one’s home), I think it’s fair to tell them they have to figure something out at that point.

    1. Spearmint*

      I realize this is unclear. It’s reasonable to tell them they have to figure out how to work, or be charged PTO, after about a week (outside of extreme circumstances). But you gotta give them at least some paid time or you’ll tank morale.

    2. Willow Pillow*

      I think it’s more nuanced than knocking out internet or forcing evacuations. I lived through that heat dome on the west coast in 2021, for instance – I was working from home full-time and so was my partner. I am trying my hardest to avoid central A/C for environmental reasons, which has been fine aside from that historical event.

      My partner and I basically lived out of our basement for a week. I went from a dual monitor setup to a 12″ laptop on a folding table – and I’d had to beg for said laptop for months instead of using my 10-year-old desktop. The internet was fine, and no one in my area was forced to evacuate, but that doesn’t mean everyone was able to work. Even for me, one of my east-coast coworkers responded to my update about working a slower for a few days that I should invest in a bunch of extra equipment (either to be able to power my normal setup away from any outlets, or to get A/C).

      1. GreenCrayon*

        Yeah. The only natural disaster that really affected me in my working life was the Texas Blizzard of 2021. My immediate group all live in the city and the variance in what happened to whom for how long was all over the place. Almost all of our government agency lived in the same city. HR thought they were being helpful to suggest getting snow before it melts to have water to bathe. And to count the time getting snow for our toilets for the fitness competition we had going against other government agencies.

        Of my group of 10, we had a mix of people who lost power but still had water. Some lost power and water. Some lost power, and technically had water, but their pipes burst. Some had power, but lost water. We were under a boil notice as a city and that was getting cleared in batches.

        But we were still expected to work as normally as possible. Everyone was expected to telework, since it was still a pandemic. Even though other government bodies shut down in part to let people do what they needed to do, but also to try to minimize power consumption during a power emergency.

    3. JSPA*

      I think you can say that, after a day or two or three (depending on the severity of the crisis), and unless they risk serious problems (e.g. taking care of a baby in an evacuation center) they should make a strong attempt to get to internet and be on internet for [whatever is a reasonable number of] hours, for [whatever is a reasonable number of] days per week.

      You will obviously be able to float people a lot longer if you get (say) three solid hours of work from them, 3 or 4 days a week, than if it’s zilch and nada.

      before the next set of crises, have them do an exercise (privately!) where they can use work time to come up with several sorts of contingency plans: what if they have to leave the house? the immediate neighborhood? the county?

      And then put energy into making your essential pages and web forms as streamlined as possible, so that two people using one cell phone with two bars of signal as a router, can still get work done.

      Having people focus on “how will you be able to do some amount of solid work, so that we will be able to keep paying you in your time of distress” won’t cover all bases, but it will help ensure that “keeping some work time going” is somewhere on their list of essential calculations.

      Otherwise, if they can say, ” Oh I know work will be cool with it,” work can stay on the low priority list for longer than it strictly needs to.

      Which is great if you actually can cover it… But nobody will be well-served if your organization goes under because you can’t actually cover it.

  4. Colette*

    My organization requires us to book slots to work in the office, so if you’re at home and there is a power outage for less than a day, they eat the cost. If it’s more than a day, you’re expected to go into the office or find another appropriate location to work. (Last year the power was out for a week, and I worked from a friend’s place that had power).

    If it’s a bigger issue (e.g. you are actively filling sandbanks to stop your house from flooding/ your house got leveled by a tornado and you are dealing with the aftermath), I’m pretty sure there is special discretionary leave for that.

    1. WellRed*

      This is an important point. Power and internet outages shouldn’t be a lengthy emergency, depending on the size of the outage. Though of course there will be extenuating circumstances. Sigh. No easy answers.

      1. Pink Candyfloss*

        They shouldn’t be, but after Hurricane Sandy I had no power/internet for 16 days. As you said, though, that’s an extenuating circumstance/100 year storm event.

        1. Observer*

          Covid was even worse – in NYC office locations were shut down for a loooong time. Made Sandy look live a short vacation.

          1. Bee*

            Office locations were shut down during covid, but most of the people who worked in offices could still do their jobs from home. The stress was obviously huge, but I didn’t even have to miss a day of work. After Sandy, they had to rewire whole parts of the city – my 30-story Financial District office building didn’t have power for over a week and didn’t have internet access for a month. If you lived & worked in one of those areas, there was just nothing you could do.

            1. Observer*

              but most of the people who worked in offices could still do their jobs from home

              It was a much broader problem than a lot of people realized. I was involved in helping a lot of our staff make it work. For some, there wasn’t anything I could do. For others, we were able to help but if that hadn’t been the case, these staff would not have been able to make it work on their own. A lot of people missed a lot of work.

              You’re lucky that you didn’t even have to miss a day of work. That wasn’t the case for a lot of people. NYC still has pockets of shockingly bad connectivity.

              Believe me, I know very well about the impact of Sandy. It took us weeks to get most of our office staff into alternate sites. And 14 months to get our main site back up and running.

              How you can work around these issues is not always obvious.

              What this conversation sidebar should make clear, though, is that it’s not a good idea to assume that any give kind of emergency could never last more than a few days.

          2. NeutralJanet*

            Did Covid have a significant impact on people’s power/Internet, though? I imagine that if you lost power, it might take longer than usual to get a technician to help fix it, but at least in my area, there wasn’t a big problem with people’s power.

            1. Observer*

              In some cases, that didn’t matter – if someone was having a problem prior to covid, then not having a location to go to meant no way to work. In other cases, it was an indirect issue. There was a reason that restrictions on evictions happened – a LOT of people got evicted before the moratoriums went into place. There was also an apparently not insignificant number of people whose living situation shifted sharply due to the covid closures and forced them into unstable housing situations. And in some situations, the living space had power and a connection, but that didn’t mean that everyone had enough access / space to be able to work reasonably well.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                Yeah, when Covid hit, my good friend had just moved to a place that would be considered a suburb, but was a bit woodsy. They had one option for internet and it wasn’t great. That was fine for a living situation – until suddenly he and his partner both had to work from their studio apartment in video/graphics jobs that involved a lot of meetings. I don’t think I had a single call with him that didn’t drop at least once for the first 6-8 months of Covid, until Microsoft Teams got less demanding and his ISP retrofitted their area for better connectivity. Even so, he still had to drive into town on occasion to render and upload video files.

            2. annonforthis*

              The challenge is that not everyone had/is able to pay for high enough speed internet at home. Not everyone could carve out a workspace either, and many people didn’t have work laptops.

              My org quietly paid for internet for employees in that situation, and got laptops out to everyone as quickly as possible, AND kept even the people that had no work to do as their work was 100% in person fully paid for a year (think mail delivery or catering). Very proud of that.

        2. Splendid Colors*

          A friend of mine in East Palo Alto lost power for TEN DAYS after some storms in the Bay Area earlier this week. They ended up renting a motel room somewhere. Funny how PG&E got Atherton’s power back ASAP and the poorest neighborhood in San Mateo County just happened to get theirs last…

    2. WheresMyPen*

      That wouldn’t work though if employees aren’t local to the office. If they’re permanently remote they could be hundreds of miles from the office.

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        Yeah, it would be a problem for me – I live in Wisconsin, and we have two corporate locations, one in Texas and the other in North Carolina. My guess is I’d just go to the library (assuming they had power and I could score one of the private study rooms for calls) or just get a hotel room.

        1. CanRelate*

          This recently happened to me in Texas. I work for a pretty flexible tech company remotely. They are in another country, so my weather events only affect me.

          My basic rule of thumb is:

          – If its dangerous for me to seek accommodations elsewhere, work is off
          – If Its a short outage (within few hours) and I am still reachable in an emergency, work is off
          – If its going to be more than one business day, and it would not be dangerous to find a place to work, I need seek a place to work

          This covers conditions like our terrible ice storm, it would have been dangerous to go out, and impossible to find accommodations.

          I also dont go scrambling for the same sort of basic outage that most offices occasionally experience when the WIFI goes out or the building has a fire alarm or something. Every 8 months or so there may be a condition that disrupts work briefly, even when you aren’t WFH.

          Recently, though, a storm took out internet at just my house by the nature of the damage, and so I went to our public library for a few days. I am lucky to be in a town with large enough infrastructure to accommodate that, but I think having a back up plan is part of responsible WFH.

        2. JSPA*

          Some of our local libraries have strong enough internet that you can park your car outside (or sit on the sidewalk). It isn’t particularly fast, and a variety of sites are blocked. And you need your library card number to use as a password. But it’s still a lifeline for a lot of people.

      2. ferrina*

        This would be my concern. Especially if it’s a situation like flooding- they may not be able to safely get to the office.

        I think this is a great option in some cases, but they need other plans as well.

      3. Colette*

        That’s why they could find another appropriate location – a friend’s place, a co-working location, a library, etc.

        1. constant_craving*

          Having lived in northern CA, I have particular experiences coloring my idea of what these scenarios might look like, but in the cases I’ve witnessed this isn’t normally an option either. Things like the Camp Fire meant entire towns evacuated into emergency shelters. With OP talking about “extreme events,” I’m imagining incidents more like this where there’s not really going to be anywhere the person can work from and it’s more an issue of how to handle the inability to work rather than how to get them the ability to work.

          1. Colette*

            Sure, which is why that solution is only if the problem is a power outage. If there’s a widespread natural disaster, that’s where the company can approve extra discretionary leave.

  5. Mrs Peaches*

    I can’t speak to policies, but I think a change in your funding strategy to pursue more unrestricted grants might be need to be part of the solution.

    1. Clever Alias*

      Mrs. Peaches, I’m curious if you’re in this space and if you’ve had success in pursuing unrestricted operating grants. My experience has been that this is easier said than done, and I’m interested to hear your perspective.

      1. Skippy*

        I can’t speak for Mrs Peaches, but I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector my entire career, and in my corner of that world, most places have diverse funding streams precisely so they are not entirely beholden to the requirements of grant funders.

      2. Mrs. Peaches*

        I know this varies a lot by field and I don’t know what field LW is in. In the space I currently work in (education/youth development) about half of the grant funding we get is unrestricted, and the restricted grants have varying degrees of flexibility. I agree that it’s easier said than done – shifting toward less restricted revenue streams would be more of a long-term strategy for sustainability than a quick fix for a single problem.

    2. Bird Lady*

      I came here to say exactly this. Depending on the type of service the NPO offers, there might be a limited number of unrestricted grants out there. However, that doesn’t mean that general operation funds cannot be raised through donations or corporate sponsorships.

      But any policy this NPO decides upon in a way that is fair to the employees will cost money probably not accounted for in the budget if the primary source of funding is restricted grant funds.

    3. cabbagepants*

      This feels a bit icky to me. If I’m giving money to a nonprofit then I want that money to be spent on the cause, not subsidizing employees who happen to live in disaster-prone areas.

      1. JMR*

        I disagree. Not every dollar I donate to a non-profit ends up in the hands of a starving orphan or whatever. Much (most?) of it goes to the boring behind-the-scenes parts of running an organization – paying employees (including for their healthcare or PTO), paying the electric bill at corporate headquarters, paying some guy to fix the printer, etc.

        1. Goldie*

          Agreed – money that goes towards making sure the employees can do their jobs is just as important (if not more so) than money directly spent on services. Nonprofit employees cannot do their best work and provide the best services if they are overworked, underpaid, coming in sick because of no PTO, stressed because they don’t have the time to handle the fallout of the natural disaster they just experienced. Employees are such a valuable resource when it comes to helping the cause, so it’s a good thing that donations/grants pay for all of that as well as more “direct” operations.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Sorry, that’s just not realistic. “The cause” is furthered by the org’s workforce. They will lose that workforce if they can’t pay them. (Not to mention, framing paid leave as “subsidizing” feels more than a bit icky to me! These are human people working full-time for the causes you care about, and you want them to lose pay because of natural disasters?)

        1. cabbagepants*

          I don’t want people to lose pay due to natural disasters, but I also think that the org has an obligation to use grant money for the thing the nonprofit is designed to support.

          It’s not reasonable to expect your employer to pay you indefinitely when you’re not able to work. LW says it’s multiple people for multiple weeks a year. She wouldn’t have written in if it weren’t impacting her organization already.

          1. Be Gneiss*

            If the organization doesn’t have employees, then the organization can’t do the work to support whatever they’re designed to support. Employees of NPO also like to eat and pay bills and stuff.

          2. JMR*

            “The thing the nonprofit is designed to support” includes the employees that actually execute that work, and they deserve PTO if their ability to work is impacted by things beyond the control, including natural disasters.

        2. Bird Lady*

          Exactly! Somewhere, somehow “overhead” became this vile term and every org tried to cut overhead and many brag that they have little to none. Overhead is paying staff, ensuring the staff has a living wage and health insurance, fixing the printer, and buying actual office equipment for the staff. And yes, that means when a natural disaster takes out electricity and internet for a few days.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Yup, same as people who freak out when non-profit execs are making 6-figure salaries. As high as they may be, they’re almost still dramatically lower than for-profit company salaries would be, and talent (both in the literal sense and in the synonym for employee sense) costs money.

      3. Pink Candyfloss*

        But the employees are actively working for the cause, and therefore money supporting their ability to work is funding the cause.

        1. cabbagepants*

          If the letter was about a few days per year I’d feel differently, but in the letter it says multiple employees, multiple weeks per year, in a small nonprofit.

          1. Dahlia*

            So do you like not want people who live in places with extreme weather to work for non-profits?

            Since January, my area has had THREE blizzards. They didn’t knock out the power, thank god, but travel was shut down for days. It was dangerous and basically no one was working. The last one was severe enough that the grocery store *was running out of food*. There were at least 5 days where travel was impossible.

            It’s going to be summer soon. That means wildfires and tornadoes. If I had to be evacuated, I don’t think a tornado would care that there was already a blizzard and I’m out of PTO.

            1. cabbagepants*

              I think that your employer should not be expected to be your only safety net. Giving weeks of PTO above and beyond industry norms because someone has no way to cope with blizzards otherwise would be a misuse of funds the same way it would be if the company gave frequent large bonuses to repair someone’s car because they drive it off the road every blizzard.

              1. anon in affordable housing*

                I don’t think your analogy makes much sense, but let’s consider what happens if a nonprofit follows your advice to ditch people who are stuck in areas with extended infrastructure damage. They’re free to lay people off (in the USA at least) for any reason, so sure, let’s do that. Get rid of those freeloaders who didn’t have a Plan B to pay their bills during a natural disaster when they can’t get to work or work from home!

                The nonprofit is already short-staffed and needs to do multiple job searches to replace all these people who were trained and up to speed before the blizzard or wildfire or whatever. That’s going to eat up overhead hours on the hiring process, and then the new employees need at least some training to learn the details of their jobs. They’re not going to be 100% as effective as the people they’re replacing for a while, but they still need to be paid.

                Is this process really better than just keeping the current staff afloat while they get shoveled out, power/internet restored, etc.?

      4. Curious*

        Is it that black and white?

        The employee is working on the “cause” but if there’s inclement weather, they should not be paid at all?

        1. DadBods_are_FatherFigures*

          There is certainly somewhere, a gray area, but I know for me, as a govt contractor who lives in a state where lots of snow and ice storms occur in the winter and the occasional tornado in the spring and summer, I work when I can, and when I can’t I take PTO and if that runs out, I either go in the PTO hole or I use LWOP. The reason for the PTO is irrelevant, whether I blew it on a vacation or I was sick, or we had a blizzard. So, should ONLY non profits working for a good “cause” be providing unlimited PTO for “natural disasters” or should everybody? Because that sure doesn’t sound like it’s sustainable to me.

          1. Curious*

            My reading of question leads me to the conclusion that the leave policy in place needs some nuance or more options. Based on what you’ve written your job has an explicit policy.

            I don’t understand the “non profits working for a good “cause” vs. everybody” aspect of your question.

          2. pnut*

            I take issue with the term “blew [PTO] on vacation,” which suggests vacations are frivolous and optional.

      5. MJ*

        And that donor attitude is one of my pet peeves. Not a dig at you cabbagepants for not wanting to support “disaster area” employees, it’s just a sentiment I come across frequently at the charity I work for.

        Yes, it would be wonderful if every cent could be spent on programs, but a charity has running costs that aren’t directly program related and almost no one wants to support those. If the support infrastructure isn’t there the programs can’t be run.

        I acknowledge some charities may overspend on support, but a lot of people seem to expect charities to be run entirely by volunteers paying expenses out of their own pockets – and that’s just not workable. It’s reasonable that charity employees make a fair wage and receive similar benefits to for profit employees.

        /rant over

        1. Bird Lady*

          Or employers paying expenses out of their own pockets. Because yes, that has happened to me more than once and some of the expenses really needed to be part of the org’s budget.

        2. Curious*

          My empathies to you. I also do non profit work.

          I always surprised at how often “operating costs” have to be explained only to see my explanation dismissed.

      6. Non profit worker*

        Actually I disagree. We (workers) are the heart of so many non profits and frankly I’m tired of seeing my talented and dedicated co workers leaving after putting so much time and energy into our work because non profits pull petty shit with compensation / PTO. I assure you that actually compensating people well and retaining them is much better for the “cause” than having constant burn out and turn over – just as it is in for profit companies.

      7. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

        I also disagree. When I donate to organizations, especially during my area’s annual Day of Giving in November, I SPECIFICALLY donate to ‘operating costs.’

        I have served on library boards where people ask for donations to be made to the library in memory of a deceased loved one, which is great! And then those all come in earmarked ‘for book purchase,’ which is also great! Except we need to keep the lights on and keep the place heated and save to replace our roof and etc. etc. etc. And also we need to replace computers or buy licenses for audio books or do a million other things that are related to our mission but that aren’t specifically buying books.

        There’s always more to a non-profit behind the scenes than just their mission.

        1. workswitholdstuff*

          I’ve always said if I won the lottery, (with a big enough jackpot) I’d set up a museum related funding pot that was for non glamourous, but vital bits.

          We never have enough specialist manniquins for costume displays, for example – a pot that museums could approach to pay for one or two, and have them as a ongoing resource, without jumping through hoops or having to invent huge projects? I want to support that.

          (SO much assumption outside our sector that museums have loads of money, when, outside the big nationals, most of the sector is scrabbling to pay the bills….)

      8. Observer*

        If I’m giving money to a nonprofit then I want that money to be spent on the cause, not subsidizing employees who happen to live in disaster-prone areas.

        You do realize that paying your employees IS spending “money on the cause”? And that if the organization is well run, there is a reason why they have a mostly remote and dispersed staff? Which means that paying the costs, whatever they are, for these staff is part of supporting “the cause” by hiring appropriately and enabling good staff to continue working for them.

      9. Katara's side braids*

        The attitude that “the cause” and “subsidizing employees” are mutually exclusive is one of the main issues with nonprofit funding. The demonization of “overhead” has led to unsustainably low salaries for most nonprofit workers, to the point where the only people who can afford to take those jobs are independently wealthy or have significant external support.

        That’s a problem, because “the cause” is usually MUCH better served by employing people from the client population. That includes people who live in disaster-prone areas, who may need to take more unexpected days off. In fact, poverty IS associated with living in areas more prone to certain kinds of disasters, and will become even more so as climate change progresses. I’m not saying that’s the case in the LW’s org, but it’s important to consider if we truly want to advance “the cause” in a non-patronizing way. But we’re never going to get there unless our society gets over its irrational distaste for “overhead” and starts paying a thriving wage for this kind of work.

        1. anon in affordable housing*

          I agree 100%.

          The problem with “overhead” for the general public is that too many charities were run by grifters who just used “the cause” as a way to solicit funds they could spend for themselves (or their buddies they hired). Because of them, the rest of the nonprofits can’t have nice things like a living wage or good benefits or equipment that functions well enough not to interfere with doing their jobs.

      10. Samwise*

        Giving money to a non-profit does include funding the various expenses of said non-profit, which can include salaries, benefits, overhead, supplies, rent…. As long as the nonprofit is upfront about it, I see those expenses as legit.

        Now, if the nonprofit represents donations as directly buying llamas and giving them to farmers, rather than paying office expenses that indirectly support the purchase of llamas, I’m side-eyeing them.

      11. AVP*

        I think this depends! If their service area is, say, Northern California, you’re either going to subsidize this somehow or the org will need to hire people who live in different states and are remoting in – which means they don’t have local experience. Could work for some orgs but not everyone and there are certainly tradeoffs.

      12. Nell*

        The cause is driven by the employees. Without the employees, there is no cause. How do you expect an organization to run without employees?

        1. Tedious Cat*

          They should be working for free, so my donation can go to whatever makes me feel good!

          1. Tedious Cat*

            The sarcasm tag disappeared when I posted, so just pretend it’s here. *siiiiigh*

      13. Starbuck*

        If you want dedicated, professional, effective people doing the work for a cause you believe in, people who can build long-term community relationships, this is part of the cost of that.

        You might consider donating to mutual aid networks instead, if you don’t like funding that sort of overhead.

      14. t-vex*

        How do you think that work gets done? You have to pay the people to do the thing.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Urg, welcome to my life. It’s pretty hard to get new unrestricted grants these days, but you can try to get unrestricted funds from individual donations (like online giving), membership, events, and corporate partners. I agree that an organization can’t survive long on only tightly restricted grants.

    5. Ahdez*

      Sadly, this is a bit unrealistic. Unfortunately, thanks to attitudes like the one expressed below, there aren’t many unrestricted grants out there. Some awareness raising is being done in the philanthropy space about restricted/unrestricted funds but particularly if they are government funds, there are pretty strict restrictions – and often with private funders as well.

    6. Lizzo*

      That’s a nice idea, but getting unrestricted grants/grants that are not for programming/grants that are for operating costs are pretty darn close to nonexistent. At least in the US. If they do exist, competition is fierce.

      1. pnut*

        Could you clarify what “unrestricted grants/grants that are not for programming/grants that are for operating costs” means?

        1. BubbleTea*

          An unrestricted grant is money than can be used for whatever is needed (the best kind!). A grant that is not for programming is money that must be used on something other than programming. A grant for operating costs is money specifically for the overheads of employing staff, having a building, paying bills etc. They’re all much harder to get than grants for specific, fancy-sounding projects. I got a grant that was specifically for anything other than paying me for my time. Which is great but the net result is that I’ve not been paid for any of my work on the project because that’s the only funding I’ve got so far.

      2. Snow*

        Yep. My local public transit agency is desperately trying to get funding to hire more bus drivers. That is their stumbling block. They need to pay these people enough to live on, we’re in a HCOL area, and they just cannot get the money. There’s grants to upgrade to electric-only buses and there’s grants to extend lines to cover underserved areas and there’s grants to switch to electronic card readers, but they cannot find a grant that will let them use the money to hire people to drive the buses.

        Which is why service on weekends is about every hour, for eight hours. They can’t pay people enough to get them in for more.

    7. Observer*

      Still very limited, for a group that’s grant funded or has performance based contracts. Like we are *required by contract* to provide X number of hours of service and to be open for service Y number of days per year. So even if there were money to pay the extra time, it would be a problem for us.

    8. JSPA*

      I have seen fundraising campaigns that I guess you could call “restricted unrestricted”? They explained that all of their staff flexibility in times of crisis depends onhaving a pot of unrestricted money–and was never enough. So they were asking for donations sent with the restriction of, “staff crisis flexibility.”

  6. Firecat*

    This is called workforce contingency planning. You can Google that for some examples but if you are starting from scratch you may want to look into hiring a contractor who specializes in setting up these plans. A comprehensive plan should cover everything from natural disasters, to national security, and cyber threats. It covers your people, places, things, and data.

    1. AFac*

      This is why the SEC is requesting companies supply a climate/environmental risk plan along with all the other disclosures for investors.

    2. C in the Hood*

      I also add: look for force majeure clauses regarding business interruption in your company’s liability insurance policy and see any costs can be recouped.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        It would actually be in the organization’s property policy, which covers the organization’s property and cash flow. And it might have names like “business income” and “extra expense” and other terms under those headings. I have never seen a policy that would cover business interruption away from the regular business premises and for less than 24 hours, though.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Probably the single most helpful piece of advice here. Most people seem to be spinning around with no good solutions.

          1. Sharon*

            Right! The core issue is that you have your employees working from offices which do not have adequate business continuity plans in place to cover contingencies that can be reasonably expected to occur. It might be helpful to reframe the problem as “our Florida office has to close frequently during hurricane season” even if that office is somebody’s house.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Second this suggestion – our building was subject to a nearly week-long power outage after the transformer/substation/whatever that serviced it was severely damaged by a fire from a nearby structure. Our building was not damaged, but it’s impossible to run a modern business with no power or internet, and we were not set up to work remotely at that time. I had to submit a bunch of numbers for the business impact analysis/claim. I’m sure this is complicated by remote work and is entirely dependent on the specific insurance policy, but I’d look into to some sort of business interruption coverage to help fund this sort of thing.

  7. Kimberly*

    For minor interruptions, like a shorter stint without wifi, can you establish an expectation that employees use a hotspot on their phones to continue working? You could cover the cost of any data overages and still maintain some productivity

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        It won’t apply to everyone every time, sure, but sometimes having 3-4 policies working together can be better than a catch-all leave policy. I’ve had days where we’ve had power and cellular but no wifi, because power and cellular are prioritized to keep emergency services running but wifi is not a priority. A few days of data overages are generally a lot cheaper than paying extra PTO.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      This was something fairly simple that my employer implemented during the spring of Covid nobody goes anywhere times here. We had a couple of times where so and so had an internet outage (and it was at the infrastructure level usually), and its not like they could go to the office or even an internet cafe.

      The “never use your phone as a hotspot without prior written authorization” very quickly became “drop your supervisor a note that your internet went to Mars with an uncertain return date and use your phone as a hotspot”.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I feel I should edit/add: “Company owned phone as a hotspot”. There was no expectation of using our personal equipment, and if we did have to use our personal equipment for whatever reason, we were instructed to put it on an expense report (and were provided the forms and instruction to do so).

    2. Cyndi*

      Not all mobile plans allow for this–I would have to pay more per month just to be able to hypothetically use my phone as a hotspot. Would the employer cover this as well in this scenario?

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This. I work from home and rarely go anywhere, so I have a very small amount of data on my plan to keep my costs down. If my workplace is saying that I have to use my personal phone as a hotspot, I would expect them to foot the difference between the high usage data plan I would need, and the low usage plan I have now–which is a difference of about $40 a month. Over the course of a year, that’s two car payments for me.

      2. Cyndi*

        I don’t even work remotely and have no horse in this race, but just for reference for people discussing hotspots–I currently pay $35/month for phone service, and if I upgraded to a plan that allowed hotspots it would be $55/month. It also says “compatible phone required,” so I might need to replace my personal phone as well if I was asked to make this workable.

        1. JSPA*

          There are little “hotspot only” devices, smaller than a cell phone, that one can commonly add to a cell phone plan, sometimes on a month by month basis.

          In many areas crises tend to be seasonal (whether that’s hurricane season, tornado season, snowmelt flooding season, fire season etc). It might make very good sense for the organization to either supply a wireless router or cover the extra costs for employees, for months where disruption is predictably likely.

          When you include the cost of not only people’s paychecks but their retirement / tax withholding/benefits, the additional cost of add a wireless router has got to be minimal,

          1. anon in affordable housing*

            Our library loans out the AT&T hotspot devices. I borrowed one while I was between internet providers, and I was surprised how well the service worked–almost as fast as my AT&T DSL line. Definitely better than my voice service and 4G with T-Mobile. My neighbor qualifies to have one long-term and uses it for Zoom calls every day.

      3. Observer*

        They should – it’s generally a lot cheaper than added PTO or not providing needed services.

    3. H3llifIknow*

      Our company provides hotspot pucks to those in more rural or “iffy” service areas. They use them when needed, and they aren’t that expensive for periodic use.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        My org works overseas, and we provide a lot of our overseas staff with such devices — whether they connect to mobile or satellite networks depends on the location — because of widely variable Internet speeds and reliability. I suggest that the nonprofit look into this; it won’t solve all cases, but it would help vastly in situations where the Internet is out but the electricity is on.

    4. Jenga*

      I’ve been able to continue working via Hotspot through several power outages. It’s a great temporary option. I have a few external batteries so I can keep my phone charged, and I have an adapter for my car’s cigarette lighter so I can charge my laptop when it is running.

      However during the last hurricane, the cell service was too spotty to use the Hotspot, and if I were without power for days, I’d eventually run out of gas and my batteries would be drained. If I had to evacuate, that would be a whole other set of issues, but I’d definitely take my laptop in hopes where ever I ended up would have wifi, cell service, power etc.

      I live in an urban centre and the municipality sets up comfort stations where people can charge devices, so I’d use that option if it was available. There might also be an option to go over to a friend or family member’s place to work if they have power or a generator.

      It might be a good idea to have staff think about these options ahead of time so they have a plan, knowing that not everyone will be able to work around extreme circumstances.

      I can’t imagine this is a daily occurrence, and the upside of having staff scattered around the state is not everyone will be affected by one disaster, so others hopefully can pick up the slack.

      1. JSPA*

        twenty years ago I made it through a few days on portable solar, which was pretty dodgy back then. By now, it should be fine for a few hours of wireless router and phone (unless the disaster has also taken out the cell towers… And even then there are satellite phones, though that’s a pricier proposition.)

  8. Report Payee*

    The term of art in some parts of government is “Report Pay”; I suspect there might be various policy on the public web.

    This changed a lot recently; before COVID, snow days were a notable perk of working at several national labs. Now folks are expected to WFH or use vacation (which is often necessary if the schools are closed).

  9. No Tribble At All*

    Okay, brainstorming, if the local government declares a State of Emergency, people shouldn’t have to use their PTO.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Yes, I was about to suggest tying the different levels of accommodation to an external marker like State of Emergency, mandatory evacuation or shelter-in-place orders, school closures, etc.

      One if the reasons officials issue these orders is that they trigger certain legal or funding policies that are exceptions to normal operations for schools, emergency workers, and government contractors. Using official declarations as a benchmark makes it less arbitrary and more uniform.

    2. Beth*

      Second this.

      And the essential criterion should not rely on whether the boss with the fancy generator still has power and internet access (cf. the boss who lives a few flat blocks away from the office and can get in no matter how heavy the snow is).

    3. ferrina*

      I don’t think this is the right way to go about it, because a State of Emergency declaration is a bureaucratic act, not intended as an accurate assessment of what is happening on the ground.

      As RagingADHD rightly points out, the State of Emergency declaration frees up additional funding and removes certain bureaucratic hurdles that allow more flexibility. It’s not unusual for a state to declare a State of Emergency in anticipation of an event. It almost always lasts longer than the event itself (usually a couple months) to help facilitate any aftermath clean-up (including stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t think of, such as archivists helping recover families’ possessions after a flood or landslide).

      If you said there wouldn’t be PTO charged in a State of Emergency, you might as well put an unlimited PTO policy in place.

    4. Gal Friday*

      Yes! Disaster declarations also bring additional government resources. If you are a small business, there is a full Small Business Association program that kicks in for the affected areas.

    5. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Too broad in a lot of the US.

      If, hypothetically, a tornado goes through the town I live in, and the town declares a state of emergency, can I get all the time unpaid until that is dealt with? What if I live on the outskirts of town and the tornado doesn’t really affect me?

      What if the tornado goes through the next town over, and my town doesn’t declare a state of emergency, but the route DOES affect me, because that is the only viable way for me to leave town, or the direction my power comes from?

      What if there’s disagreement between levels of government about whether you’re in a state of emergency?

      and above all… the company didn’t decide to locate in that town. Why should they be beholden to the decisions of it’s local government?

    6. Long time lurker*

      My org’s policy (also non-profit, but we are larger than OP’s with more access to unrestricted funds it sounds like) is to use local school districts as the trigger for providing admin leave in emergencies. If schools close for an emergency/natural disaster, then employees in that county/district get administrative leave. (usually a hurricane in my state)

  10. Jen*

    I would say let them use a bucket of “Disaster Leave” (without pay) but say that a power outage doesn’t qualify and regular internet access is a requirement of the job. If you know something is going to happen (i.e., your town is going to lose power 2-3 days a year when it gets too hot or cold) then it’s not a disaster. I would also say that a power outage without more (a weather event rated as a thunderstorm or higher, for instance, or something that causes damage to your property) doesn’t qualify.

    1. Spearmint*

      I disagree re: losing power due to hot or cold not being a disaster just because it happens every year. Losing power during very hot or very cold days severely disrupts routines and can be very difficult and uncomfortable to work in since you lose climate control in your house. Plus, you may have to deal with related issues, like losing water due to freezing or going to a public building with power to cool off if it’s too hot.

      1. Jen*

        When it’s a totally foreseen event, then my opinion is that it’s on you to manage it. Get a desk fan or a space heater, get a generator or portable battery just for your laptop. Working from home is something that should be afforded to the maximum number of people possible, but the flip side of that is that it’s now on you to control your environment and not your employer. Obviously there’s a threshold-no one should be expected to work through a major storm or tornado-but barring a weather event that could put you in actual danger, you need to be responsible for providing a reliable connection if you want to WFH.

        1. Spearmint*

          You could use the exact same logic to say employees shouldn’t get sick time. Everyone gets sick sometimes, it’s on you as an employee to deal with it.

          And also, I think what you’re expect of employees is simply not reasonable. During these sorts of power outages due to extreme temperatures, many/most offices close, so why are you holding employees or a higher standard than a corporate office? And it’s not so simple to deal with as you suggest. If my powr goes out during a freeze, I’m not in life-threatening danger, but my house will be very cold, I may lose running water, etc. And no, I can’t get a generator because I live in an apartment (and that’s a huge expense to expect someone to shoulder for a couple days a year).

          I live in a major city, not some remote mountain town, and yet I lose power due to extreme temperatures a couple times a year. I’m not choosing to live somewhere sketchy infrastructure. To me, employees having limited or no availability due to weather a few times a year is just a cost of doing business.

          1. Frenemy of the People*

            The circumstances YOU are citing as yours — a few days a year– are very different from the LW who said “weeks”. HUGE difference in a company saying, “hey we know NYC is in a brownout/blackout/blizzard situation right now, so consider yourselves on administrative charges for the next 3 days” vs. “hey so yeah you’re in Florida and have experienced the 3rd hurricane in 3 months and are asking for yet another 3 weeks.” Days and weeks are not the same and can’t be treated as equal in terms of “the cost of doing business.”

            1. constant_craving*

              But Spearmint is responding to the comment thread Jen started, which specifically is about handling a few days.

    2. go_away_man*

      Is the company going to subsidize generators and business-class redundant Internet links for the employees? Because otherwise, what you’re suggesting feels very hand-wavy.

      My feeling is that an organization that accepts telework as a primary way of doing business needs to assume the risk that people will occasionally be unavailable due to circumstances beyond their control. My employer mitigates this risk by being relatively generous with the PTO. We have 35 days per year and can roll over a portion of them. It’s not really a problem for employees to keep a few days in the bank to handle unforeseen circumstances.

      1. WellRed*

        My generous company doesn’t subsidize business class internet now. I work from home so I have it. It’s preferable to going to the office ever day.

      2. Frenemy of the People*

        “n organization that accepts telework as a primary way of doing business needs to assume the risk that people will occasionally be unavailable due to circumstances beyond their control”
        To play devil’s advocate: When an employee seeks out a remote opportunity and chooses to live where they know that significant weather events are common and often cause power outages or worse, they will have to assume the risk that occasionally they will have to take unpaid time off to account for that choice.

        I mean it works both ways. Employees are LOVING working remotely and many want to keep it up. I actually have more sympathy for those who have to go into the office and are PREVENTED from doing so by, in our area for example, a Level 2 or 3 snow emergency which makes it illegal to be on the roads unless you’re “essential personnel.” But choosing to apply for a job that’s based out of like Arizone, while living in maybe Buffalo, and then expecting the company to give YOU paid “blizzard” PTO and subsidize you not contributing during that time, while the employees who can continue to work because they’re local don’t get that… seems wildly unfair unless extra PTO was negotiated up front.

        1. Spearmint*

          I don’t de show it’s unfair. If Arizona’s power grid had blackouts due to extreme heat, I’d also support giving those employees PTO to deal with the issue. Both Buffalo and Phoenix are major cities, it rural mountain towns with sketchy infrastructure. Almost everywhere will deal with extreme weather occasionally, it’s not a choice. It’s part of being human on planet Earth. In fact, I’d say the responsibility is on the employer: after all, they chose to hire someone who lives in Buffalo, they could have chosen not to.

          1. Frenemy of the People*

            Seriously? You focused on the 2 random locations I picked versus the overall general point I was making? People looking for remote jobs shouldn’t expect to be paid not to work if they choose to work remotely from locations that suffer frequent and extended (IMPORTANT DISTINCTION) weather disruptions that affect the ability to work. The entire onus should NOT be on the company for a choice they both made. I don’t get paid when I don’t work. The “companies owe us for everything all the time” attitude is very entitled. A few days here and there? Sure. Why not. But when a few employees who’ve CHOSEN to work from a disaster zone prone area are being paid NOT TO WORK over and over and over again for up to weeks at a time, while others are working, that’s just wrong and unfair. Period.

            1. Spearmint*

              Ok, you’re shifting the goalposts here. If you’re talking about someone living in a remote mountain area that has frequent issues, sure, but you chose to mention losing a day or two in a major city as an employee’s responsibility.

              1. Frenemy of the People*

                I actually specifically said “weeks”. I believe someone else, (Jen maybe?) used a day or two. Hence my emphasis on “freqent and extended).

            2. constant_craving*

              What locations are you aware of that are free from the risk of extended disruptions? I’ve lived in CT, Pittsburgh, the SF Bay Area, Arizona, etc. and every place has been subject to extended weather/disaster disruptions. I really can’t think of any places that are free from that risk. Where are people supposed to live?

              1. Frenemy of the People*

                Of course nowhere is “Free from” all weather events, but it’s silly to equate living in tornado alley or a hurricane magnet state with places that sure occasionally get a bad Tstorm or a freak weather event. But that isn’t what the original letter or any of MY replies have been about. They’re about the OPs concern about pretty frequent events that may last WEEKS.

            3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              uh…that sounds odd. In Memphis we have ice storms that cut electricity and transport every year. once all our software went down because our main office was iced in..

      3. Jen*

        I would counter that with the fact that when you WFH, you represent yourself as someone able to work in that environment, which is an environment your employer no longer controls. And when you experience a brown or blackout as a regular occurrence and it doesn’t involve putting you in physical danger, it’s no longer an emergency disaster that justifies excused absences.

        1. anon in affordable housing*

          I’ve lived in Silicon Valley since 2010. We only started having these extended power shutdowns a few years ago. If someone had no problems with their power when they bought a house last decade, should they be required to move to an area they guess will have fewer power issues? Two neighborhoods in Santa Clara, which has its own electrical utility, lost power for a few days because trees fell on the power poles in 80MPH winds after record-breaking rain. This is a city that isn’t subject to PG&E “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” like the rest of Northern California. I live in downtown and somehow my power has stayed on while City Hall two blocks away has had multiple blackouts that disrupt Council meetings, committee meetings, and operations of departments that serve the public.

          When it’s just wildfire season PSPS events, sure, people can go work at the community centers set up for people whose power is off. Assuming they don’t have privacy requirements, of course, and that the WiFi has enough bandwidth for everyone trying to do Zoom meetings from the community center.

    3. Sloanicota*

      I agree that you probably need to budget two “disaster days” to each employee and figure out what that math looks like – I disagree that the disaster days should go unpaid, but perhaps it can come out of a pool so you don’t have to use them if they’re not needed. If the math comes out to literally more than you would be able to budget, at least you’ll know the gap you’re dealing with.

      1. Jen*

        I would recommend hours rather than days, because some events like power outages may only affect someone for an hour at a time. Forcing them to take an entire day seems harsh.

        I would also suggest that (to the extent possible) employees be allowed to flex their schedule or make up time on days where there’s a disaster or weather event. This works really well for my company when it comes to sick leave and might also be a good idea here.

        1. Kaya*

          Comp/flex time is a great idea! However, it becomes tricky if we are talking about weather disasters that might last for a week at a time, such as if a hurricane takes out power that can’t get restored within a day or two. So I think flexing some time is a very smart part to a more comprehensive plan.

  11. Tio*

    Nothing is going to be a one-size-fits all solution, but perhaps you can link it to weather alerts? That’s at least somewhat official, and would give a clear point of demarcation so employees know what they can expect. Obviously the best option would be to give everyone time off when there’s outages, but taking that that’s not an option based on the letter… it’s something.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Where I live, if there is a local State Of Emergency declared, we are not charged PTO for missing work, but we are not paid, either.

      1. H3llifIknow*

        Here it’s a little different as a govt. contractor. If the military base is closed, we can telework if we have that ability, or we take PTO, or we can take LWOP and choose to not be paid for that day. For the civilians who work there though, they get “administrative leave” which is paid time that doesn’t get charged against PTO.

  12. MissMary*

    New policy. No paid time off for power outage or severe weather. However, all employees will receive additional pto to be used at their own discretion. Those that live in frequently impacted areas can plan accordingly.

    1. Helewise*

      This seems like the simplest solution.

      Also, if an area is impacted frequently and severely enough that this is causing a real problem, I’m questioning whether that area is compatible with telework. There are areas of our county where broadband internet isn’t available, so remote work just isn’t viable there (as we discovered during COVID). That might not be popular here, but it’s similar to requiring reliable transportation.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I do agree that in general, consistent internet is a reasonable job requirement; we’ve seen letters here where a new employee didn’t have good enough internet to join zoom calls without being disruptive, and the advice was that you could fire someone over not fixing this. If someone lives in a remote place with frequent disruption to the internet due to natural disasters, I think it’s reasonable to say the job requires a higher standard. Unfortunately, as I know this sucks for the person.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > Also, if an area is impacted frequently and severely enough that this is causing a real problem, I’m questioning whether that area is compatible with telework.

        Yes, it seems similar in spirit to “we can’t have employees in state x and y because we aren’t set up for that and it wouldn’t make financial/practical sense to do so”.

        1. Anonariffic*

          That was my thought too. It’s one thing if these are wide-spread issues that are regularly affecting large numbers of employees in multiple areas, that’s something that will require policy adjustments. But the company isn’t automatically required to subsidize Fergus’s decision to build his dream home on the slopes of Mount Tinderbox where he’s going to have to evacuate multiple times every fire season.

      3. Peanut Hamper*

        Well, yes, “must have reliable internet” service is already a clause in many WFH agreements. But we are talking about EXTREME events here.

        If we restrict WFH to locations that are 100% free from floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, chemical plant explosions, hurricanes, alien invasions, and train derailments, then basically nobody will ever be able to work from home.

    2. Frenemy of the People*

      Well on the face of it that SEEMS fair. BUT, if you and I are both given an extra 10 days of PTO a year, and I live in say, Florida and have 2 major weather events that use up that PTO, while you live in a temperate location near the home office, and your extra PTO is being used for a cruise….I dunno. This feels like those who live in “danger zones” are punished or else those that do not, are rewarded. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that bothers me about this…but something does… kinda like saying we’re going to pay EVER engineer in the company what the highest paid engineer is paid. Sounds GREAT!! But, if the highest paid is the highest paid because she lives in San Francisco or Seattle, and an engineer in LoCOL Central is paid the same, it SOUNDS fair on the face of it, but the one living in LoCOL is actually being paid MORE… Meh. I don’t know what the answer is TBH.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        To me this is where you hit the question of whether or not it’s reasonable for a company to subsidize employee living decisions, and at that point I’d say that the employer has more of a responsibility the more they require an employee to be in a specific location. IE, I’m officially required to be within reasonable driving distance of my home office right now unless I specifically request an exemption, even though I’m hybrid. Therefore, if I lived in a higher risk area and had been actively hired for an office in a higher risk area, I’d consider it reasonable to have more ‘disaster days’ subsidized, if they became necessary. If I specifically obtained an exemption and moved to, say, the side of the Hawai’i volcano, then I think it would not make sense to allocate me more disaster days than someone in Seattle, since I actively chose to move somewhere with a higher risk. That move might have been for any number of reasons (military spouse, family, COL reasons, etc), so it might be a ‘choice’, but at that point you start getting into companies evaluating the reasonableness of someone moving to a specific location and to me that’s over the boundary line of the invasion of privacy.

  13. Glacier*

    What about a “disaster” policy that mirrors, but does not replace, sick leave? Basically, the employee themselves get to decide whether the event constitutes a disaster in their lives, the organization can plan for it each year, and employees know exactly how many hours are available to them each year.

    1. Kate*

      This potentially end up with even more people taking leave because now it’s a “benefit” they need to use up.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        You can could say the same about sick leave, though, and I’ve rarely seen offering that play out that way in reality.

        1. danmei kid*

          Agree. My organization offers a policy like this and we don’t have people stuffing their calendars with unneeded days off. It’s understood that regular/core PTO has different rules and the discretionary fund we have for emergencies is a perk for specific circumstances.

    2. Frenemy of the People*

      I once had an employee call off for the day because, “I haven’t had time to do laundry and I have nothing to wear.” I would never give the power of determining what is a disaster to the employees. I mean I think it’s one of those “we know it when we see it” things. Major Tornado? Yep. Hurricane? Yep. House fire? Yep. Tstorm and only a localized short term loss of power? Meh. 2 kids home with flu? Not IMHO, but some would say “YES”…

      1. had it, officially*

        2 kids home with flu? Not IMHO, but some would say “YES”…

        If the employee doesn’t have anyone else to watch their kids, then yes, having a sick child at home is absolutely a valid reason to call off, and I say that as someone who is childfree by choice.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Out of curiosity, how many sick kids does it take to warrant a call-out? Feel free to factor in that kids cannot go to daycare, drop-in care, or school sick, that many people do not have relatives in the area, that single parents exist, and/or that generally responsible people prefer not to expose grandparent-type people with or without known health issues to a viral contagion.

  14. sofar*

    I live in TX, and about half the company lives in TX (although parent company is HQ’d in New York). So I’ve had several experiences over the past few years of our entire TX workforces internet/infrastructure being wiped out by weather issues for a week at a time.

    We do have an office in TX that sometimes still has power during these incidents, but the idea that anyone would be able to get there when roads are impassable and nobody can even shower is laughable.

    Luckily, our leadership has been great about “closing” our TX office for X days, meaning everyone located there is off, without having to use their PTO. They sent out an email officially closing the TX office. Similarly, when NY had that flooding a little while back they closed the NY office for 2 days. That means a lot because nobody is stressed about being expected to be online. I had a big external-facing presentation that I still managed to make work (by getting to the home of a local coworker), but it was so nice that, after that, I wasn’t expected to “make it work” and could deal with navigating the disaster.

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      We’re also in Texas and for management employees (nonmanagement is unionized so they have a contractually based contingency plan) the company unofficially handled the multi day massive ice outages with a general “do what you can” flexibility. It removed a ton of stress from a really crazy time.

      A prior employer would force you to use PTO which led to unintended consequences since a bunch of people ended up trying to drive into the office on icy roads and got into car wrecks (ironically it was an auto insurer).

  15. Bobette*

    The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) should have some guidelines it uses for federal workers that may be useful in starting the planning process.

  16. Chairman of the Bored*

    Two suggestions:
    1) Use some objective external metric to determine whether a given event qualifies for whatever policy ends up in place. For example, if an event is officially declared a “disaster” by the state or FEMA etc *then* the policy kicks in. This keeps your org from having to make the call on who qualifies on a case-by-case basis.
    2) Look at how companies handle this with on-site rather than remote staff. If an traditional in-person office has to evacuate due to a fire or hurricane etc, how do they address pay and work during the disruption? The “remote” part here complicates things a bit but perhaps doesn’t fundamentally change the question of how to pay employees when work is rendered impossible by weather.

    1. Diatryma*

      I was going to suggest using the ‘governor declared a disaster’ metric as well. And your 2 is a great idea too!

  17. KHB*

    This doesn’t seem like a problem that’s specific to remote work. If everyone were working in the office, and the office had to close for a week due to a weather event, you’d have the same situation (except that it would be affecting everyone at once rather than different people at different times). Did you have a policy for how to handle office closures in the Before Times (whether “Before” means “before COVID” or “before technology made telework feasible”)?

    1. Mouse*

      I think the difference here is equity: I could understand concerns over treating employees fairly when some choose to live in more emergency-prone areas than others.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        This is a great question, but I don’t know that framing it as “choosing to live” somewhere is that helpful of a framing?

        Personally, I think where we live is bound up in a great deal of privilege and/or lack thereof, and I think trying to judge the worthiness of a person’s ‘choice’ re: where to live is a helpful framing, when that ‘choice’ is so often bound up in so many other factors that aren’t really under our control. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head is a coworker whose spouse is military, so they have literally zero ch0ice over where they go, and a coworker who had to move back to their rural hometown to care for a terminal relative.

        I think it comes down to companies needing to understand that weather is a thing, severe weather is a thing, and will become only more of a thing and is already starting to affect people in more places and more severely than it has before.

        Now, that being said, I did have a coworker who moved to a house that had terrible internet, and did exactly nothing to try to fix it, so we spent half of every remote meeting with her waiting for her to unfreeze or reconnect, and it was a giant PITA because she never bothered to try to do anything about it.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Choice is… complicated and ugly, sometimes. Taking care of a relative is a choice – it may be the only humane choice, but it is one. Relocating with a military spouse is a choice. The alternative of not relocating is highly unpalatable due to being separated from a spouse, and if you’re living in base housing, may become prohibitively expensive… but it does exist.

          Sometimes, the alternatives we have when making a choice will be limited. Or even non-existent. But that is our personal burden to bear, not our employer’s.

          If we start saying employers must bear the burdens of whatever befalls where we live… than the logical choice for an employer is to restrict where we can live. Maybe that won’t be as horrifically exploitative as the company towns of old, but I’m loathe to take my chances on that hope… because I’ve had to do the calculus about it.

          I regularly see employers in the library field with residency requirements. And I say nope to everyone one of those job postings, because I refuse to give my employer that level of authority over my life. It isn’t just because I am a contrarian due to upbringing – I know firsthand how tenuous a job that is based on the local municipal cycles and who gets elected this year can be. And I know firsthand how expensive relocating can be, if it is something I have not planned for.

          In most smaller municipalities throughout the country, I do not have a second employer to chose from in my field. When I think about accepting a job, there is a very real calculus that I have to do, where I worry that if I lose that job, how many more institutions are there I might work at in 20 minutes driving? 40? An hour? What about potential employers outside of my field? Because if I lose my job, and I have a year left on a lease, that will be catastrophic.

          What’s a viable solution? I wish I had answers – I don’t.

          But if we make employers take on the risks of where their employees live… well, we only need to look at the lending industry’s history to see how problematic discriminating about who lives in specific neighborhoods can be. They’ll call it risk mitigation – “can’t afford to take a chance on THAT person, because we’re too likely to lose too much productivity based on where they live.” – but the damage done by redlining will be a drop in the bucket if employers begin predicating whether they’ll hire you, or continue to employ you, by what your address is.

      2. Isben Takes Tea*

        “Choosing to live in more emergency-prone areas” is an interesting mindset to take. Considering where I live (and grew up for my entire life) is suddenly subject to more and more intense wildfires than ever in colonizer-recorded history, am I just supposed to leave my entire family, community, and support system to go . . . where? Where are there not a sudden and drastic increase in fires, flooding, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, and heatwaves?

      3. mreasy*

        Areas that weren’t so “emergency prone” 5 years ago are much moreso now though. And this is only increasing.

      4. anon in affordable housing*

        Some “emergency prone areas” are also trendy and it’s definitely a lifestyle choice to move there. I grew up in the LA broadcast area and my mother and I couldn’t figure out why anyone would live in Malibu because it was always having either mudslides or wildfires.

        But where I live in Silicon Valley, some places in the mountains are fancy and a “lifestyle choice” and others are “affordable.” A friend of mine lost her art studio in a wildfire in one of those communities. Further inland, the town of Paradise was well-known for inexpensive rural living… and now it’s well-known as the town that was completely destroyed by wildfires. (I know people who lost everything there.)

        A nonprofit is more likely to have employees who pick “affordable” villages at the urban-rural interface where they’re more vulnerable to disasters than employees who have the local equivalent of a mansion in Malibu because of the natural beauty. Or people who don’t realize the flood hazards at their home in the valley because there’s been a drought as long as they can remember (Gilroy, Morgan Hill) and they just thought it was cheap there because the commute is longer.

    2. Kate*

      I think the difference is for employees that have chosen to move to rural areas and have greater number and length of outages than an urban office would have. It’s an interesting question – when an employee is given the option to live anywhere they want because of remote work, do they have any obligation to ensure they aren’t disproportionally affected by natural disasters? Or figure out a workaround or suck up the lack of pay if they are?

      1. danmei kid*

        Having the option to in theory live anywhere you want doesn’t mean that housing everywhere is universally accessible to all. In theory in the US we all have equal access to health care but that doesn’t mean we can reasonably use, quickly receive, or even afford what we have “access” to. So do you then say those people aren’t “choosing” to get health care in the same way you are saying some people “choose” to live in areas prone to severe weather? It’s a privilege we all need to examine more before we just say things like this.

        1. Kate*

          I guess if you’re saying the OP’s company isn’t paying their employees enough to live within commuting distance of the office (which is a big assumption!), then yes, I guess that would be an issue, and then it probably is on the employer to give their employees more time off when they lose power, etc. in rural areas.

          To be clear, I’m talking about the difference between living in an urban/suburban area and a very rural area (rural areas being generally more prone to disruptions and taking longer to come back online). Not about trying to choose which region of the country has more or less natural disasters.

          If employees are being paid a fair wage to live in an urban/suburban area, and they choose to live in a rural area and work remotely because they like the lifestyle, can save more for early retirement, etc., then it seems like they should take steps to make sure they’re not being disproportionally affected by natural disasters (get a generator, hotspot, hotel, whatever).

      2. Random Bystander*

        If you’re looking for a place that might not be affected by natural disasters (or even non-natural caused power outages), good luck.

        I mean, when I was in the office, my office was physically located in a hospital, which meant that we pretty much did not have power outages ever (hospitals have generators that are more than sufficient to run everything the hospital needs + the office workers’ needs). Where I live (less than 2 miles from where my office was), I have lost power because of thunderstorms (usually short-lived) and once because someone rammed their car into the utility pole closest to my house (they were fine, but power was knocked out for a 4 block radius).

        I also live near a fault line and while I have yet to experience a power outage due to earthquake, I could see a larger one disrupting power lines.

        Recently, there was a tornado that came through near enough to affect people I used to work in-office with. Tornadoes are a known risk, but it’s considered to be a fairly low risk in the sense that the odds are against being in the path … but sometimes you end up being that 1 in [large number]. Fires happen pretty much anywhere (some places are much more prone–but I recall a few years ago when some drunk guy plowed into one of the apartment buildings near here–unfortunately, he impacted where the natural gas came into that building and the *entire building* (32 families) was destroyed.

        No, you do your best to find the safest affordable place to live, knowing that sometimes crap outside your control is going to happen. Compassionate employers are going to figure out a way to balance how much ‘off’ time they can absorb before expecting the employees to use PTO for the outage.

        1. Kate*

          Oh completely – anything can happen anywhere. I don’t think anyone cam or should be responsible for choosing a place to live with zero disruptions, that would be impossible.

          I’m thinking of the more extreme cases – like a coworker of mine who chose to move from the suburbs out into a super rural area once remote work became possible. She had a lot of problems with power and internet connectivity this winter, often lasting for days at a time, because rural areas are generally last priority for getting reconnected during storms (like you mentioned – 2 miles from the hospital and your power outages are usually short lived). But living in a rural area was entirely her choice that she made for lifestyle reasons. She could have stayed in the suburbs and probably had next to no issues. And to her credit she made it work – battery power, generators, hotspots, etc. But if someone in that sort of situation was asking for lots of days off for power or internet issues, that’s where I feel a little like, you need to take some responsibility for the living choices you’ve made.

        2. anon in affordable housing*

          Speaking of tornadoes, they’re common in some parts of the US… but I’m sure folks in Compton, CA weren’t expecting one. Every place I’ve lived in California has had a tornado or waterspout while I’ve lived in the area even though we’re not a tornado-prone area.

    3. Anon for This*

      I disagree – it is related to remote work. Using an example from above, if the office in Texas closes, there is no reason why remote employees in New York cannot work. Conversely, if I were based outside of Texas and had some workers who wanted to move there and work remotely, given the repeated power outages I think I would ask for/require plans for how to handle them – e.g., will they have a generator?

      I agree with you that if everyone works in/around New York City, and the office closes for in-person work due to a weather event, it should apply to everyone who lives in that area – I really hate the move toward not closing due to snow, but expecting everyone to work from home. (As if they won’t have the kids home from school, need to shovel the walk/driveway, etc.)

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I can add, in a lot of regions, the infrastructure in the business center district is much more hardy than the suburbs or rural areas. Outages in San Francisco, especially in the Financial District, are very rare, but now routine in Bay Area suburbs. Some of that is the physical infrastructure. Power lines are underground in the Financial District and can’t blow down. Some of that is that core areas are prioritized for restoration if there is a huge outage.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yup! We had a very, very unexpected severe summer storm a few years ago, and I happened to be living in a neighborhood that was the only one with underground power lines in our city, and we were one of the very few neighborhoods who didn’t lose power throughout the storm. Some streets were out of electricity for close to two weeks. I live in a wealthy suburb outside a major city, but we have lots of old growth trees and above-ground power lines, and we get outages pretty frequently any time there is a storm or high wind.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        That’s also a fraught question, because then we get into the “but what about people who don’t have kids??” (I don’t) thing about who gets to not work when there’s a snow day.

        Personally, while it kind of sucks that the special magic of a snow day closure is more or less gone, in my opinion it’s a fair trade for the flexibility of working from home regularly.

        I kind of look at it as a policy that more or less says “if a severe weather event prevents you from working, you can’t work, and if it doesn’t, you can” seems pretty fair. I would rather not have my house being carried away by a flood or be stuck inside with kids, and I think it’s kind of a weird stance to take someone being affected by a severe weather event as a perk they’re getting.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      It is different. In that the the organization can spend money on backup generators and more robust internet for it’s office, but it is less realistic that it provide each of these for individuals who work from home.

      Also the office is more likely to be in the city or suburb which will get faster restoration of service than some remote / rural users which can have a signifigant impact if the employee is unable to work for weeks at a time.

    5. Rana*

      I think another big part of why this is coming up more is that the disasters are happening more frequently (thanks, climate change!). So where it used to be localized and infrequent, it is now broadly spread and approaching regularity. So the systems that worked when it was a once in 10 years event (i.e. they had no policy but usually ate the cost) is no longer functioning now that it is happening multiple times per year. It’s a tough problem.

  18. Fieldpoppy*

    I’ve read through all the comments so far and have yet to see anyone mention climate change. This question comes directly from the many disruptions we have just started to see related to climate change. This is the kind of policy question we should be raising not just as a labour issue but as an environmental issue. This extra labour cost is a climate cost. And policy (and grant contracts) need to reflect the reality of the world we are now living in. It’s the tip of the iceberg.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s true, but I’m not sure it’s actionable advice for the OP, who clearly knows this issue isn’t going away. It’s good to elevate the fact that we should all be thinking about this, but for people working under heavy restrictions like grant funding they need to find a way to work within or around the systems while the systems change. These things don’t fix themselves overnight.

    2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      You’re right, but OP is asking for practical advice. “Fix climate change” is certainly an excellent long term solution, but not something OPs company can implement after approval at next month’s board meeting.

    3. danmei kid*

      You’re right, but how does this help the OP’s immediate question? I think we’re all (including OP) aware of the “why” (esp since OP is saying in their letter they’re trying to plan ahead for this to continue/worsen). What action can OP or any of us take regarding helping the employees & the organization *now*?

    4. Book lover*

      I think the original letter did mention climate change, but I share your larger concern. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it: I’m terrified. It’s become very clear that the people who are going to bear the brunt of the exposure for natural disasters are the ordinary workers. Sorry! Your house got hit by a tornado and you’re out of PTO? Your coworkers also have no PTO left to donate to you? Then no pay for you!

    5. Gigi*

      While it may not be of immediate help to the OP, this is an excellent point and should be a part of the larger conversation. The intersection of pure capitalism and climate change is going to be brutal. We should be thinking about how we’re going to deal with it as individuals and leaders. For example, the midwest is looking more and more like an excellent place to retire…

    6. Turquoisecow*

      Yes and this is why you can’t just tell people not to live in areas subject to floods/storms/excessive heat/etc. as those “once in a lifetime “ extreme events are happening more often and in more places. Just in the last 20 years I’ve seen places flood where flooding had not ever been a concern before, and places that did worry about flooding got it worse than ever.

  19. cabbagepants*

    I think a tiered structure would be reasonable, similar to what is done for sick time.

    1) a bucket of no-questions-asked leave days that covers an average need (say, three days per year of “emergency” leave)
    2) freedom to use PTO to cover additional days
    3) unpaid, job-protected time beyond that (analogous to FMLA)
    4) lastly, unpaid, unprotected leave

    Climate change sucks and is unfair but it’s not your responsibility as an employer to be your employees’ primary support network through it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The FMLA point really makes me think that there needs to be state or federal protections for this kind of thing. This stuff is going to keep happening and small businesses and NGOs and all of these low-resource organizations are not going to be able to keep up with employee needs.

      1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        This is absolutely correct. Some problems are so systemic that you need federal intervention to really solve them and this is one. Emergency response during disasters relies on volunteers and neighbors helping neighbors; there should be workplace regulations to support creating the space for people to do that without jeopardizing their housing and food security.

  20. MM*

    I went through a natural disaster last September. We lost electric, therefore internet, as well as cell for a week.

    It happened on a Wednesday. Thursday I was able to get ahold of my supervisor and owner of the company. (Thank you Big box store that had great guest Wi-Fi that reached into the parking lot)

    My supervisor told me take the time to clean up. He was more worried about us, than taking a few days to get back to work. I told him I’d check periodically.

    Thursday and Friday we spent cleaning up. By Monday we had very bad cell service back, so I went out to a local pub at lunchtime that did have Wi-Fi and got a couple hours of work done. Same Tuesday. Wednesday we had electric and Wi-Fi back.

    My point is even in the middle of a significant natural disaster, there is always some place a few miles away that does have Wi-Fi. A few days for clean up is appreciated, and honestly needed. But unless your place is totally destroyed, and you are trying to find a place to even sleep, most people can find somewhere to do at least some work.

    And honestly getting a few hours of work in that Monday after, it felt good to be doing something “normal”.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, this is how it’s supposed to work, but I do take OP’s point that this is fine for a limited number of employees within in a year, but not when it becomes more widespread and frequent. What if another storm had come Friday night? What if such storms, or comparable fires or widespread internet outages, became nearly predictable by season?

    2. Observer*

      My point is even in the middle of a significant natural disaster, there is always some place a few miles away that does have Wi-Fi. A few days for clean up is appreciated, and honestly needed. But unless your place is totally destroyed, and you are trying to find a place to even sleep, most people can find somewhere to do at least some work.

      You sound pretty lucky. Because it’s really just not true that there is “always” some place *reachable* that has wifi.

      1. MM*

        Yea I’ve been through 2 major hurricanes – what I’m referencing above was Hurricane Ian.

        And yes there is Wi-Fi a few miles away from the hard hit area. It’s just a matter of finding it.

        1. Observer*

          FOR YOU, it was just a matter of finding it and driving over.

          For a lot of people that wasn’t an option or it wasn’t the case.

          1. MM*

            All I did was describe how my company and I handled the last natural disaster.

            There is no need to attack me.

            1. Observer*

              I’m not attacking you. I’m pointing out that your claim that there is “always” wifi accessible if you just look is not accurate. And thus, it is not a good idea to base policies on this assumption,

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think avoiding all-caps will help; I’ve noticed you use it a lot and people read that as much more aggressive than I think you intend.

        2. Ginger Cat Lady*

          And getting there. Which may not be possible for many people. Public transit may not be functioning. Your car may have been destroyed in a flood or earthquake.
          Not to mention not all natural disasters have a path like a hurricane does. They can be much more widespread. I currently live out west, in the mountains, where a bad storm might cause landslides that cut off mountain towns – several years ago when my son was in college, he worked summers at a ski resort and he was trapped there by a landslide for about 48 hours. They had power but no internet and limited water.
          I’ve survived earthquakes living in CA where bridges we out and travel was hard.
          WiFi may or may not be a few miles away, and getting there isn’t always possible. Your experience is not universal!

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      I’m sort of assuming from the word “pub”, that like me you’re in the UK, which I think colours the “a few miles” comment. There’s a very limited number of disasters here which take out the roads, and unless you’re snowed in up in the highlands or watching the valley below fill up with flood water, you can usually walk to the nearest population centre in less than a day over the fields (obviously, not going to be an option for everyone). We’re not dealing with hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes etc – the kind of disasters which take out infrastructure as well as utilities, even if they leave your neighbourhood physically untouched. We may yet do, though, with climate change, which is going to be a challenge because the fact that everything is so close together here means the trail of destruction is going to affect proportionally more people than less populated areas, and it’s much more dangerous to try and make your way between collapsing buildings with fallen electricity pylons than it is open land.

      1. MM*

        No I’m in coastal Florida. The Pub is a British style bar/restaurant called the British Pub.

        We just all call it The Pub.

        And yes I’ve dealt with hurricanes, what I referenced above was Hurricane Ian.

    4. DataSci*

      There’s really not. And even if there were, if the roads are impassible and public transit is down (in a city) or nonexistent (in a rural area) asking someone to walk “a few miles” through floodwater or three-foot snowdrifts or earthquake debris just to log into work is a bit much.

      1. MM*

        This is a good point, and one I forgot that not everyone has a car, or public transportation.

    5. Squirrel*

      This works for some people, of course. But there are businesses and gov’t offices that for security reasons will not permit employees to use anything but the office’s own network. Therefore, wifi from a cafe or store etc. would be out.

    6. pnut*

      “even in the middle of a significant natural disaster, there is always some place a few miles away that does have Wi-Fi.”

      Even in rural areas? I don’t live in one, but I’d be surprised if Wi-Fi is as easy to come by as you say, particularly in the middle of a significant natural disaster.

      I recall reading NYC didn’t have internet for about two weeks after Hurricane Sandy.

    7. constant_craving*

      The thing is, plenty “extreme events” mean that your place is destroyed or behind mandatory evacuation lines and you are trying to find a place to sleep. And everyone else who got displaced along with you is also trying to find places to sleep and use wifi, etc.

      OP was asking about how to handle people being unable to work due to extreme events, so I think they’re looking for advice on how to handle the time people are unable to work rather than looking for ways people might be able to work in less severe scenarios.

  21. HailRobonia*

    I used to live on a peninsula and one year there was a really bad storm/flood that knocked out our power and cut off access across the only road connecting to the mainland. It took about a week to get normalized.

    My work told me that because the organization was not closed for the emergency that I would need to use my PTO to cover it, and because I was not sick I couldn’t use sick time – I would need to use vacation time (great vacation – shivering in the dark and eating peanut butter sandwiches).

    Luckily my manager was far more reasonable and just reported in the system that I was at work.

    1. anon in affordable housing*

      Humboldt County lost all internet for about 3 days when a highway worker cut the fiber optic cable for ALL internet. This was back around 2009.

  22. Grace*

    You probably need some kind of tiered system. Like, if someone’s under an evacuation order, the company covers it. If there’s a locally declared state of emergency (so things are serious but people aren’t being forced to pack up), X number of days are covered, with the assumption that if the employee can work, they will, even if it’s every other day or some weird schedule. If it’s an ongoing power or internet outage issue, the company covers day 1 with the assumption that will give the employee time to find somewhere to work.

    I don’t know what your infrastructure/office space looks like, but could you offer workspace for those without power/internet to come in when it’s an ongoing issue? Even if you don’t have nearby locations for everyone, having them for some would help lessen the burden–plus I know in the rare cases where my house didn’t have power but work did, it was kind of a relief to go in, knowing there would be a/c, I could charge my devices, and I could use the office microwave/fridge for that day’s meals.

    Also, if you can provide flexibility in *when* people work, that might also help–someone might not be able to work a regular 9-5 shift because of an issue, but maybe they could do a split shift or change the days they work? I realize if you’re in California that could get difficult, but it’s worth looking into.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Workspace, and maybe someone unaffected to support with booking hotels and transport for employees to decamp (potentially with their families) if they live further afield.

  23. FleetwoodMacFan*

    I work for a state agency as a full-time WFH employee. For individual connectivity issues, like my internet going down or my electricity being out, there is a two hour grace period. I coincidentally live very close to my assigned work building, so I can spend an hour and forty-five minutes of my grace period trying to get back on the network and then run to the office in the last 15 minutes. If I decide not to go into the office, then anything past the initial two hour grace period is charged to my vacation balance.

    For connectivity issues that span the entire agency, like VPN being down or hacks, we are paid as normal until we are given the all clear to sign in.

    For natural disasters, each employee is assigned to a work building that is near their registered working address. When I started working for the agency I gave them a specific address, my home, where I would performing my work from home. I’m supposed to be there during working hours. If work is canceled due to a weather issue, it is done by building. So they will send out a message saying, “Everyone that is assigned to buildings A, X, and Z is on disaster leave for the following times.” In more rural areas, several counties can share the same work building, but there is generally a work building within an hour of every person in the state for this agency. If I’m not affected by the weather issue, I just get extra time off. However, if I’ve chosen to go to my parents’ house (against the official work address rules) and that county has weather issues, I have to take that as vacation. Which I think is fair since I’m not where I’m supposed to be.

    The work building assignment plays into personal connectivity issues because if I’m not where I’m supposed to be, then I have to make a decision much earlier on driving back to my work building. Say I’m at my parent’s and they lose internet connection. They live 1.5 hours away from my assigned work building. So I have thirty minutes to figure it out and if I can’t make it work, pack up and drive to my assigned work building to log on or take those hours in vacation time.

    We have a mix of workers within our agency, including a fair amount of WFH phone bank employees who have to be connected to be in the queue for calls. I think the policy gives people time to figure out personal connectivity issues and to make their own decisions about going in if they lose connectivity.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      This is what my work does and IMO it’s a pretty reasonable policy.

  24. Pink Candyfloss*

    During a long outage after a hurricane some years ago our company allowed remote workers to expense jet pack/mobile hotspots which allow internet access via mobile network during the day.

    Internet access is a requirement of our job and employees are responsible to either use PTO, unpaid leave, or find a way to be able to meet the requirements of their job.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I did not know what jetpack was and this was a wild comment to read with no context lol

      1. Silver Robin*

        +1 I had to look it up because I was genuinely imagining people purchasing jetpacks of the rocket backpack vareity

    2. mreasy*

      This seems pretty awful for employees who lose internet access unexpectedly. If the whole area is out they won’t be able to go somewhere nearby, and if weather is bad enough to knock out power/internet, it’s likely not safe to travel to the office. Supplying hot spots/etc is great when those are a viable option, but remote work is a benefit to employers just as much as to employees. The latter shouldn’t be unilaterally punished when it’s impossible due to external circumstances.

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      My org did the same during a hurricane but it was only partially successful because many staff, like me, live in an area without cell service or with such limited cell service that it was unusable during the disaster.

      Proactively providing hotspots for emergencies is a good policy, but it needs to be just one piece of the solution. And besides, expecting people to show up to work during an event where people should be working together to meet basic needs not just for themselves but also their neighbors is bad policy.

      1. anon in affordable housing*

        Many parts of Silicon Valley lost cell service during the atmospheric river storms with 80MPH winds.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      Has anyone found that some staff members are way more resourceful about working around tech and internet issues? I had colleagues that, if their internet had problems, they were just done for the duration, and other colleagues that were way savvier about being able to use hotspots, find other wifi sources, etc., and it kind of seemed to track with how comfortable they were with using tech overall.

      Also, do you have a responsible IT team or helpdesk?? I’ve had issues with my computer that I could have solved, but I don’t have admin access to my own laptop, so I was at the mercy of whenever the helpdesk decided to get back to me. Do they do things like push major updates at the end of the day on Fridays before a 3 day weekend, causing mass havoc and not responding for four days (true story)?

  25. Ms. Chanandeler Bong*

    Part of my role involves crisis and issues management, mostly from a communications perspective, as part of business continuity process planning. I don’t have all of the answers from an operations perspective, but here are a few things that might help:

    1. Start with an objective scope of the problem: how many days have been lost, and why. Map out the events and business impacts first, so everyone knows what you’re facing. This seems obvious, but many orgs skip past this. (And, as other commenters have mentioned, this data could support future grants/operational budgets, etc).

    2. Figure out what people need to do their jobs, on a spectrum from “absolutely cannot work without” to “workarounds available but not ideal” to “inconvenient but happens”. Again, try to be as objective as possible. This may feel icky, but when you’re looking for objective criteria, this is a good place to start. You’ll add empathy and flexibility back as flesh things out.

    3. Start building a list of things you can do. Not just in terms of PTOs, but other supports: do you have satellite offices, or a list of co-working spaces in your area that you would be willing to pay for? Is there a flex-time policy that you can employ, where people can work when and where they’re able, when they want to? Can you deploy technology/IT support quickly if someone finds a safe spot with family, but had to leave their laptop behind. Be creative and brainstorm, then work through what you can actually do.

    4. If you can, talk to some of the people who’ve had to be away to learn more about the barriers to working/returning to work for them. Ask what you as an employer might be able to do differently next time. As much as possible, be transparent about why you’re asking and make sure that they’re safe to be candid as well.

    5. Whatever you decide, communicate it with honesty and transparency, in advance and as in person as possible. Acknowledge the framework that you’re working within, why the policy change is happening, and what the path forward looks like. People will be worried, angry or discouraged – you can’t avoid that initial emotional reaction, but you mitigate the risk by being up-front and compassionate about the policy, instead of dropping it on people ad hoc on their worst days.

    And optional #6: is there someone in your organization, in a leadership role who is willing and passionate about advocating for the people in your area. Someone has already mentioned climate change here. If you have a leader who is willing to talk to the media or advocate to government on behalf of businesses who are demanding climate action, please encourage them to do so (with the proper media/presentation training, of course).

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      This is absolutely beautiful and so well thought out. OP, do this!! And publish your process – if I was an employee who saw these steps and knew that my leadership was working through them, I’d feel really reassured.

    2. ferrina*

      This is a great process!

      One more thing to add- do an brief after-action report for each time this policy needs to be implemented. This will help you spot gaps in the policy and adjust as needed. It will also help ensure you are implementing the policy in a consistent way.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      This is a really useful perspective, with really good action steps – I wonder if it would be possible for Alison to sticky it at the top, or highlight it in some other way.

  26. Spearmint*

    One other possible thing you could do, and admittedly this is a grey area and it couldn’t be official policy, but could you give employees living through a natural disaster your blessing to just check email a few times a day but otherwise not work but still mark on their timesheet that they did work that day?

    I used to work in state government and my boss did this for my team during a major disaster when it was unclear if the state would grant extra PTO for it or not (they eventually did grant extra PTO, but it wasn’t obvious they would during the event).

  27. Observer*

    One thing that might help is a policy on getting people internet access, which would make it easier for people to continue working (even at reduced capacity) while they are displaced and / or their primary access is down.

    To take a real world situation that we encountered, as an example. One of our staff wound up in a shelter during covid while their primary office location was shut down. The shelter offered no internet access, nor did they have access to a coworking space. So we got the a cell based hotspot to be able to log into our office along with a decent laptop.

    Now obviously that’s not a complete solution. But it’s going to cost you a lot less to provide this to staff than to pay them for not being able to work. It’s also going to be a lot less disruptive than essentially putting people on unpaid leave because they can’t work. And it will probably pay off in morale – as long as you’re being reasonable and realistic about how much you can do and what you expect of people, they will appreciate that you are trying to make things work.

  28. Twix*

    This is tricky. My company’s solution is to say “If you’re unable to work from home, you need to come in to the office unless you want to use PTO.” However, my company was 100% on-site pre-COVID, so most employees live close enough to the office for that to be feasible. What happens if one of our more recent remote hires in another state is in that situation is an open question that nobody wants to address.

    My thought would be that for one-off events like a major illness requiring hospitalization, if the company can float discretionary PTO then they should. But for things that are emergencies but are also pretty regular, it’s understandable that’s not be a sustainable solution. If working in-office is a possibility, it may make sense to require that and to expect temporarily displaced employees to commute or find nearby accommodations. (Although that would be a much more reasonable ask somewhere like my home state of CT tham somewhere like TX.)

    If the major issue is stable internet access, one thing to consider would be putting together a couple of mobile hotspot kits (basically a Wi-Fi router connected to a mobile data uplink, often inside a solar battery backpack) that you can loan out to employees as needed. You would have to pay for a data plan for each one.

  29. mreasy*

    If they can’t work due to extreme weather leaving them without power and/or internet access… I don’t see how it’s justified to not pay them. Can’t the assumption be they’ll start work as soon as they’re able, so they should be on the clock as “engaged to wait”?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Engaged to wait is actually fairly complicated, and I may be wrong but I don’t know of a federal case that has set strong precedent for things like power outages and disaster displacement. So for example, typically if you’re free to do other things and aren’t confined to a specific geographic area by your job, engaged to wait can be easier to overrule. It’s a gray area that makes this very difficult to set consistent policies around.

    2. ferrina*

      We still charge people PTO when they are too sick to work. They aren’t “engaged to wait” even though they’ll work as soon as they get better- engaged to wait means that someone is actively ready and able to work and is waiting as stipulated by the company for the company to assign work. If someone is not working in the time regularly assigned for non-company reasons, the PTO policy kicks in.

      It’s actually pretty normal to charge PTO for a power outage. Every company I’ve worked at charged me PTO when I couldn’t work due to a power outage/transportation issues at my home due to natural disasters (some companies charge PTO for issues in the office building, but that’s a bit rarer). But that system only works when it’s 1-2 days per year. When it becomes a week or more, a dedicated policy is needed, or you won’t have time for things like the flu and regular vacations (which benefit the company as well as the individual). But the company can’t be asked to pay for unlimited time- the work still needs to be done, and companies hire based on a certain productivity expectation. If only 70% of the work is getting done, the company needs to take steps to protect its financial viability (which is often extra important at non-profits that have tight budgets.

      1. mreasy*

        That makes sense re “engaged to wait,” and with anything that mushy I’m sure it’s tough to enforce anyway! And yeah on power outages – I’ve been charged PTO in the past, but that was a one day thing. During Sandy, when my office was closed and nobody could work, we were paid as usual. As a previous commenter said – we are clearly not ready for how an increasingly volatile weather system is going to affect our workplaces and economy.

  30. AsterRoc*

    I’m in academia. We originally said that if campus is closed due to weather, people working from home (and online synchronous courses) would continue. But then we realized, that if campus is closed due to weather, there’s probably other things going on too, like K-12 schools closing and children needing care, or driveways that need to be shoveled. So now if campus is closed, everyone gets the day off, whether working on campus or remotely.

  31. Biff*

    Previously, I worked at a company were each employee was entitled to (at the Manager’s discretion) up to two weeks of PTO for extreme circumstances. But at the same time, it was understood that the employee had an obligation to work to resolve chronic issues. For instance, I had a coworker who worked quite remotely, and often suffered power outages. He had a backup generator. I suffered from chronic internet outages for a year and was obligated to have a hot spot. Anything that’s chronic and predictable the company expected us to figure out a go-to solution for. (With the understanding that sometimes, there’s no good solution. E.g. the power has been out for 5 days and I’ve run out of propane for the backup generator, and can’t get anymore because everyone has been running everything on propane for five days, so here we are….) And that expectation was different for different people. I think this is a good approach.

    But I also realize it’s an approach that is costly and doesn’t scale well. There’s also the issue that as our weather events encompass larger areas, it may be infeasible to “escape” them, or even effectively mitigate them.

    I would have been fine with a policy that said there were two weeks of emergency leave, paid out at 50% of rate, and maybe even two more weeks that could be had at either 25% of rate or unpaid. This supports a wide variety of scenarios, too.

  32. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    I’m suggesting this without any kind of expertise, but would these losses qualify for reimbursement under your org’s insurance policy? I’m in municipal government and we do have payroll loss coverage for natural disasters since we’re in a hurricane/flood zone. Also during some natural disasters we have applied to FEMA and been reimbursed for some lost payroll.

    I’m sure both of these things are complicated and very narrow and may not work for you, but they’re avenues to consider!

    1. Canonical23*

      My partner works for FEMA. It is extremely difficult to get payroll reimbursed for most disasters under a certain threshold; and usually payroll for “non-essential” employees is denied. I.e. if you’re a local government and need reimbursement for all the overtime that your linemen worked to re-establish electricity, you will probably get it. If you’re a non-profit that’s trying to get your legal assistant’s payroll reimbursed because they couldn’t work due to the office being closed….highly unlikely.

      That being said, if you are an organization that has positions that would likely qualify for FEMA reimbursement, that saves you money that could be put towards “eating the cost” of non-qualified positions extra PTO.

  33. Phony Genius*

    If you are going to develop a written policy, I would be careful about only including weather events. It should be worded to include any type of disaster, such as earthquakes or chemical plant explosions requiring evacuations.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Ours is called an Adverse Event Leave Policy. It was expanded after the pandemic hit from just weather events.

  34. NW Mossy*

    A great starting point for defining “what is a disaster?” is looking at federally declared disaster areas – FEMA has a spot on their website where you can look up by state, time, and/or incident type.

    Once you find the disaster in question, you can click on it and see a map of the specific areas that are designated. You could set an objective rule where if an employee’s primary residence location is in a declared disaster area, they’re eligible for whatever support you decide to offer.

    Also, employees being in a federally declared disaster area also opens the option for you (the employer) to offer disaster-relief distributions and loans from the organization’s retirement plan. Obviously drawing down retirement assets is not anyone’s first choice, but they can be a valuable offering to employees with limited other resources.

  35. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I agree with an administrative, non chargeable, disaster leave option. Is that not possible with restricted grants?

    I would also look into what my organization calls Continuity of Operations (COOP). It’s not a complete solution for your situation since it doesn’t address pay/leave status, and is a little different than what I’m thinking of for you (in that COOP identifies only essential personnel who plan an alternate site to go to in the event of their existing site being untenable for any reason, and you’re talking about all employees), but it may be helpful to have employees identify a COOP site nonetheless.

    We practice going to our COOP sites on a recurring basis just to make sure radios still talk to each other and computers plug in correctly and you still know how to get there and you don’t need special adapters or new software or any number of those dumb things that trip you up (for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost and all that). Perhaps your employees could do that as well.

    (Obviously you’re not going to tell someone who just survived a hurricane to stop picking up their house and get back to work, but this is more like the power is out in their neighborhood and your office for an extended period and offering folks options to continue working.

  36. Coverage Associate*

    I think this is one benefit of unlimited PTO. It does smooth out some of the possible inequities about where specifically people live. I didn’t know that my neighborhood had poor electric infrastructure until this winter, which had the worst storms in 25 years. I wouldn’t want to be penalized at work because the felon corporation maintaining the power lines still can’t do it well.

    I also think that employers have to make the tools to do the job available to employees. My employer does that by having an office in a business center with very resilient infrastructure. If there are connection problems in surrounding areas, we can go to the office. But rent is their second biggest expense, after payroll, so a fully remote workplace already has a huge cost savings.

    During some of the recent power outages, cell networks were also overwhelmed. I don’t want to do the “sandwiches” thing, but my experience is that hotspots are good for individual disruptions, like maybe a very local power outage, or an employee that needs to temporarily relocate to a home without broadband, but I don’t think it would work for regional outages.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I think we might have the same power company. When recruiters contact me about positions there, I tell them *exactly* why I won’t consider that company.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I should have mentioned Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which are kind of the California equivalent of snow days in that you at least know when they’re likely, unlike earthquakes.

  37. Canonical23*

    I would recommend having a policy that if it’s something that is only affecting a small area (i.e. a power outage at an employee’s house) there should be a policy about coming into the office OR, due to wide geography, all employees having an off-site location they can work from, like a local library, college, or coffee shop. Yes it’s not ideal but unless there’s a huge weather event going on, you give the employee a choice to either use a less-than-ideal set-up for a day or two (and their managers being flexible around not performing at the highest levels during that situation) or use their PTO. For larger events, the org should either have a pool of PTO that is just FOR extreme weather events – especially since this sounds like a fairly common occurrence for your organization – or keep eating the cost.

    There’s a huge difference between “there was a bad thunderstorm that took out my neighborhood’s internet line” and “I had to evacuate my home due to wildfires.” As a manager, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect staff to do their own problem solving on the former situation. The latter situation is something that organizations should extend as much flexibility, grace and help as they possibly can.

    1. Lily Potter*

      I really like your last paragraph, Canonical23. Employers shouldn’t be expected to figure out the routine stuff for their employees but they should have some grace for the truly unexpected.

      An analogy would be that parents shouldn’t expect a “free” PTO day to take care of sick children (since employees can 100% plan that they’re going to have a sick kid at some point) but an employer should have at least a couple of days’ worth of grace if a employee’s child is unexpectedly hospitalized. The first scenario is foreseeable, the second is not.

  38. JenLP*

    Perhaps a policy similar to bereavement leave might work – have a certain number of days people can use for specific types of events.

    So it could look like 3-5 days off for events that are declared natural disasters or damage to individual property (ie house fire because that’s not gonna get declared anything but should get this type of leave). PTO/unpaid leave for additional time needed. We also do half-pay for system issues in general. It might be offering partial pay for situations like disasters might be an option.

    We’ve also had gofundme pages set up for disasters that the company puts money into but then everyone in the company (100k employees across almost 100 countries) can also choose to support their co-workers if needed. These have been successful – I think it works for us because the company is also giving money, but with a non-profit/grant-funded institution, that may not be an option. Just sharing the idea.

  39. loons*

    When my internet goes out I use my phone to create a hot-spot for my computer so I can keep working. I do this using my cheap (for the US) $40/month pay-as-you-go cellphone plan, so I would argue that it’s a pretty basic service that most people who can afford a smartphone can access. I see this as my responsibility not my employer’s.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      $40 a month is not cheap for me. My cell phone bill is $15 a month.

      If my employer expects me to have it available as a hot-spot year round, I expect them to make up the difference.

      Plus, this only works if you still have cell phone coverage. If a hurricane or earthquake take out the cell phone towers, you still have no internet.

      1. loons*

        Do you have a smartphone with data? Are you in the US? If you have truly managed to find to find an *individual* smartphone plan for $15 a month, I’d love to know what it is so I can switch.

        If this is a family plan, this is priced very differently from individual plans and it might be worth looking into how your cell phone plan would cost if you had to pay for it individually!

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          It’s Mint Mobile. I have to pay for an entire year at a time, which is $180 and about all that I can afford.

          1. loons*

            Thanks! I’m not interested in signing a contract/paying for a year up-front, but that’s nice to know. I saw your post above and I think you’re a bit of an outlier in having this plan (most people do leave their homes somewhat frequently, even those of us who wfh), but it’s good to know for the future :)

            1. Fluffy Fish*

              I also have Mint. About a third of Americans have prepaid which is no small amount so I’m curious what you mean by outlier?

              You don’t have to pay for a year upfront but it does get you a cheaper rate when they have a sale – Mints max plan monthly is $30.

              I have the cheapest at 15/mo – after I use all my data I still have access its just throttled but I have never gotten even close to using all my data.

              1. loons*

                I have prepaid! See above :)

                As for outlier, I meant that above they say they work from home and rarely go anywhere (paraphrasing) and I interpreted that to mean they rarely leave the house and I feel like most people even wfh do leave at least to do basic errands like grocery shopping! but I do know that the US is a little different as far as how much it’s possible to get delivered to your house without ever even needing to leave for basic errands, so idk.

                1. loons*

                  oh I’m sorry, I thought the website ate this comment somehow so I posted another one :(

              2. loons*

                pay-as-you-go = prepaid. sorry, called different things in different places but the same thing :)

  40. New Senior Mgr*

    If we start work and experience a power outage, the company pays for the first hour while you wait. If longer, you have the option to take PTO or no pay.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      That seems like a logical and fair policy to me. Also may give you the opportunity to drive to a nearby place that has power and internet even if it is not as condusive to work as your home office is.

  41. Janeric*

    This probably depends on your state (and HR staffing), but I’d include an option for unpaid leave and help processing unemployment — especially if there’s a federally declared disaster in their area.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I used to work for an automotive manufacturer that shut down for two weeks every July and every December. Employees were laid off and were able to apply for unemployment and also (sadly) food stamps.

      So I would imagine that the employees would have to be temporarily laid off or furloughed to make this work, but it is a possibility, at least in my state. Of course, the organization faces the potential of losing employees at that point.

  42. The Person from the Resume*

    I don’t have the answer, but I think you need to implement a policy (based on WFH technology your company provides) so people understand their options when in some kind of crisis.

    I live in a place impacted by hurricanes. I grew up in this area and lived in a bunch of other hurricane prone places so I am not overly worried about them. I know how to deal with them and the news media provides way too much advance warning about them. I am growing concerned that climate change is now bringing more tornados to my area ’cause they just come out of nowhere. You can’t evaucate for them.

    But a hurricane hitting an area can leave weeks long power outages. Restoration times are uncertain and your employee may be in the area that’s the last to get restored. Also our power lines, internet, cable tv lines are usually on poles so restored power may not bring immediate restoration of internet. Keep in mind that for at least the first days or week after a disaster the employee may be taking care of impacts to their homes and family.

    I think the policy could be something along the lines of for a major disaster that’s ended the employee can have a week off of uncharged diaster leave (or if it’s frequent 2 different instances of a week of uncharged disaster leave), but they must return to work or use PTO after that. In that case, that’s when I’d would go stay at a hotel or with family or friends somewhere with power or internet so that I could continue to work. If your employees are within driving distance give the option to work from your office even if they have to pay to stay in a hotel to be near enough to get to the office everyday. I know it’s distracting but if they evacuate because of wild fire, can’t they evacuate to a place where they have power and internet and continue to work.

    For just frequent internet outages that aren’t related to disasters that may be something to take up with your employee. Them having reliable internet is a requirement to work from home and that can’t be an regular excuse to not work and not to take leave. Can you provide them a mobile phone or hotspot for outages? Can they find a more reliable provider or get a mobile hotspot themselves.

    My POV comes as a federal employee. The federal government provides a laptop that I must use to log into the VPN they provide, but I have to pay for/provide my own internet and home office. Some higher up employees may get a government provided mobile phone and may be able to use the data on it for a hotspot in emergencies which is a potential mitigation for internet outages. But if I don’t have power, internet, or a place to work for an extended period of time, that’s my problem to solve and not the governement’s.

    Based on the letter the LW’s can not afford to be totally and completely generous as a large for profit company might be able to be …

    We are mostly grant funded and cannot charge paid leave to the grants, so floating weeks at a time for multiple employees multiple times a year is becoming increasingly difficult. That said, I don’t love exhausting PTO for events that aren’t the employee’s fault. I also think we need some objective criteria as to what constitutes a disaster (e.g. regular power outages vs wildfire evacuation)

  43. Random Bystander*

    I am hourly, and here is the policy in place for me.

    1) Short outages (under a half day) … paid time (normal), no expectation to put in PTO because the power went out (which means my router is gone which means no internet–I’m on a laptop with work now, so I would have time that I could still work without power but no internet means I can’t get to my work).

    2) Longer outages (half a day or more) … use PTO but log as “planned” vs “unplanned”.

    Granted, I haven’t had longer outages that can’t fit into that, although I know there is a co-worker who lost everything to a tornado (so replacement equipment will have to be sent before she can work again), but I don’t know the full details on how that is handled.

  44. Harried HR*

    We have an Emergency Leave Policy, which is up to 40 hours paid leave per Disaster.

    Disaster definition – When a State of Emergency has been declared by the Government (Federal / State / Local)

    Example – Hurricane hits Tampa the employee needs to prove they are in the official Disaster Area to receive the Emergency Leave Pay so an employee in Jacksonville wouldn’t qualify.

  45. Old sea hag now but still scary.*

    I live in a disaster prone area and have plans for fire, snow, hurricane, flood, and local plant explosions including how to get to work, how to move animals, where to go. An event about planning for disruptions might be helpful. Hurricanes are rarely a surprise. Wildfire evacuations are something that may be planned for as hot, dry weather signals fire weather. Floods usually a day or three warning ( greater Houston area) Power outages are usually a few hours long unless accompanying a disaster. Tornadoes are relatively local issues. There are those who take advantage of these situations and setting some expectations about managing life so you are not constantly disrupting coworkers is in order.

  46. Brain the Brian*

    A few suggestions, some of which have been offered elsewhere already:
    1. Immediately, make sure you have a central office available with space to work for employees who are close enough and whose commute would be safe enough to come use them if their Internet is out. (Short-term rather than immediate addendum: If you have a cluster of remote employees who live 100 miles away from your main office but might be well-served by a hub in their local town, try renting a small space there [you can provision it over time, as long as the basics are there] and asking employees to work there if needed and possible.)
    2. Short-term, provide employees whose Internet goes out more regularly than others — as well as those who travel for work frequently to such locations — with hotspot devices that have mobile and / or satellite connectivity to use when they have power but no Internet.
    3. Medium-term, separate out an “admin / disaster leave” category from regular PTO. Let employees who cannot work use this leave category.
    4. Run an analysis across the organization to determine whether it’s best to charge the cost of that admin leave directly to the grants on which each employee works (e.g. splitting Jane’s 10 admin leave hours on June 1st proportionally among the grants on which she worked during that pay cycle) or pool it as part of your general indirect costs (e.g. using NICRA or a similar system) that are applied to all grants and factored into pricing. You’ll probably need to obtain approval from your largest finders to do this and simply tell your smaller finders that it’s a new policy to account for increased time off after natural disasters.
    5. Long-term, seriously consider whether the quality of staff that full-WFH-with-flexible-living-location policies attract is worth the cost of all this. If it’s not, you may need to revisit that policy. It pains me to say that, since I strongly agree with Alison’s mantra that employees should be given as much flexibility as possible — but the key here is *as possible*, and you seem to be right up against the line of what’s possible in their jobs. That doesn’t mean that you need all employees within 20 miles of your office — but it might mean that the allowability of them living farther away than that is contingent on them having reliable Internet / electricity and minimal weather disruptions. This will be case-by-case, I suspect, but you’re right that you can’t allow the organization’s work to be subject to so many unpredictable delays.

  47. Inkognyto*

    This is called a Business Continuity plan.

    You need to put things in place to keep the business running. It’s a LOT harder when everyone is remote all over.

    If you have an office, you have a secondary location (or working remote) or a backup generator to work through if there’s an event.

    So do research on these types of plans and enact one.

    When I have assisted in these, we had it setup so Jane could not work and it was a critical asset, then Jack would take over and do that critical work.

    The key is you cannot have Jane and Jack do the same critical work at the same time so they do not have the bandwidth.

    You are going to have a bigger challenge because it’s all remote. So expecting individuals to have backup generators/internet etc is not feasible on their dime.

    I’m not sure where you are that there’s a major increase in events that are happening all year every year. Maybe you need to hire people outside of state, so you always have part of the business working. Or train part time staff that can contract and assist on short notice to help.

    If you cannot get this to work then your overall business plan will not succeed.

  48. Gan Ainm*

    I’ve never seen such a policy but a ome thoughts off the top of my head:

    Could you offer a severe weather pto day, say accumulate one day per year up to a max of 5 business days (or 7 or 10…whatever you decide you can afford), that people can accrue and carry over?

    You could set specific situations when it could be used (fema emergency declared, or house destroyed by tornado or flooding, or power loss, etc). It would be additional days so that is a hit to the budget, but, they are accumulated slowly, so folks who never need them have a cushion if an unusual event happens, and it’s limited exposure. Folks who need them every year would only get 1 day a year or so which is not enough but is something.

    Also, if the accounting/tracking doesn’t get too crazy, you could allow folks to borrow from future years with the caveat they are paid back out of pto or paycheck if the person leaves before they are earned. This way if a new person is unlucky and a tornado hits their house they could still take a few days.

    This way people who are with the company ten years and are very reliable and suddenly have an emergency have some support – which I think is the intent here. You want to help people who have life-changing events happen, but on the other hand you can’t afford to give the same person an extra week off every year because they decided to live on the edge of a volcano or something. The limited purpose use ensures it doesn’t become just a Pto gift that the organization cannot afford.

    Days beyond the allowance could be regular pto or unpaid.

  49. Maggie Moo*

    What about having a bank of work ready for those people to do offline? Putting them up in other accommodations that have access? Having remote wifi available for those in commonly impacted areas?

  50. Snooks*

    Emergencies can be a few hours or much, much longer; therefore, policies need to be developed to cover emergencies of different types. Begin with an initial 2 days PTO for evacution, then develop policy for longer situations. Whatever is decided, maintain employees’ health insurance.

  51. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    I am wondering if you could have a discretionary leave option in place for these circumstances – limit the number of days per employee per year, and it’s only if you need it. (I am thinking something similar to professional development leave – most places have it as an option for employees, but not all employees utilize it.)

    It might not cover every instance for every employee, but if you allowed for 5 additional days for this particular bank, that could really make a big difference to someone!

  52. AmberFox*

    Having experienced it twice – two more times than I wanted, trust me – when we have a major disaster in an area where there are remote employees, they have an automated system that will try to contact you by phone or text and ask if you are able to work; if you aren’t, or if you do not respond, then they do not make you use PTO to take however many days off it takes to get things back to normal. (I know there’s some extra steps if they cannot reach you, but not sure what’s involved there as I’ve been able to answer each time).

  53. Problem!*

    I work for a large international corporation so I acknowledge my company has a whole lot more money to throw around than a smaller organization.

    That being said, we have a designated bucket of money set aside for stuff like this (it has a very corporate-y name but I won’t say what to preserve anonymity). When our Florida offices were getting smashed by Hurricane Ian last year they sent a charge number to all affected employees to use instead of PTO for the days without power. Employees can also apply for financial assistance from this same bucket of money for lodging and food and gas for evacuations, home repairs post-disaster, child care, etc. Theres an advisory board who handles the applications and determines if it’s a legitimate use of that funding or not.

  54. Lizy*

    I read about halfway through the comments and didn’t see this – what about somehow tying it to if local schools or businesses are closed or not?

    I do think you’ll need multiple options, because if schools close for cold weather, that may not nessitate weather-related leave, but if there’s a blizzard, that would.

    Might also tie it to how long electrical (or whatever) is out. If out for 1-2 days, use weather-related leave. If out for 5+ you need to figure something else out (assuming it’s reasonable).

    I think so much of the policy is going to come down to “within reason”.

    1. Sunshine*

      I worked a job like this – if either the local community college or nearby university closed for weather, our offices closed too.

  55. Just*

    I have a large battery that can be used to power my computer, internet, etc. It is the size of a car battery.

    As long as it is just a power outage (as opposed to wildfire evacuation or something like this), such a battery (two would be better – my internet WiFi is not in the same room as my laptop) could be used to do work. Would the company be able to supply such batteries to workers? Might need a couple of long extension cords as well for convenience. Employees would have to charge and maintain the batteries. I also have a battery powered light source, extra batteries. A supply of packaged food that can be eaten out of the package and 3 days of water.

  56. Dreamingofthebeach*

    Several things to consider — usually the weather is the driver to the impact not necessarily occurring the whole time the – say internet- is affected. I live rural, and have to rely on satellite for internet, so wind storm…bye bye internet. Knowing this I pay for $20/month mifi that uses cell service as an emergency option. When that doesn’t work, after the storm passes, I head to my local library, McDonalds, Starbucks, or Panera so I can work — and assuming all of those are likewise impacted (never has occurred) I drive to the office to file, sort, or gain internet.

    So – weather incident – during, please have consideration for people.
    Once over, they should take some responsibility to locate locally an alternate source for work productivity.
    Or secondly – they **or the organization** make a minor investment to get access to mifi units and that expense will be MUCH less than a PTO day or twelve….even if the employee pays it – they get to work and not have to burn PTO.
    Or three they are welcome to commute to the office and work there….which puts fuel expense and vehicle usage (and environmental concerns) out there for those that typically would not have to budget for those things being statused remote.

  57. DefinitiveAnn*

    I don’t know how a small non-profit could be expected to bear the expense of continuing to pay people who are not working for six to eight weeks after a disaster. (Hurricane Katrina wiped out my area for over three months. Our house was fine, but we relocated because my husband’s work, a local university, was under water for six weeks). For a week, give them special PTO that doesn’t affect their accrued vacation and sick leave. Continue their health insurance and put them on an approved leave without pay after that first week.

    My husband’s employer is not a wealthy institution. They secured grant funding for a semester for their faculty. I honestly don’t know what they did about staff.

  58. I have RBF*

    IMO, if there’s an official disaster declaration for the area and they are affected, it’s a disaster. After that, it becomes a matter of degree.

    However, if it is simply a matter of lack of internet but not power, and the cellular networks are up, you could probably make do with a few hotspot devices. That’s what I use when my ISP flakes out.

  59. EmergencyPlanner*

    This is almost exactly the type of work I do on a daily basis. And you’ll quickly find that there is no great answer. Workforce contingency planning, business continuity planning, or any of the other flavors all sorely lack good answers for how to keep employees working when you can, and what to do when you can’t. Most organizations default to “employees can use PTO or unpaid leave” if impacted because it’s perceived as the ‘most fair’ since not everyone lives in a disaster-prone area. But that feels disingenuous to me because not everyone can afford to move and live in a place that’s less impacted. Employees donating time off or the organization establishing an “emergency PTO” bank that people can apply to use are other solutions.

    A lot of this boils down to organizational culture. Do you want to pay your employees if they aren’t working, and do you want to start setting expectations that your organization will “do something”. The second point is tricky to me because then you need to start establishing thresholds for how bad is bad enough that the company is going to do something? Does the organization make decisions on whether or not to act equitably?

    All to say that this is a tough area. It’s easy to plan for employees being absent from a business operations standpoint, but it’s not so easy to plan for employees being absent from a culture aspect. Whatever you do, I’d encourage your organization to try and get as much employee input as possible as to what is actually useful for them. Maybe it’s cheaper, easier, and most beneficial to have a negotiated rate at a hotel where you can put folks up for a week instead of dealing with money, PTO, or other items in that vein.

  60. Coverage Associate*

    I am not a first party expert, but lots of people have mentioned insurance for this, and while a possibility, I don’t think it will economically solve OP’s problem.

    So, yes, there’s business interruption insurance that covers costs associated with natural and certain man made disasters that can pay salaries while the business is interrupted. There’s also coverage for power outages. All the policies I have seen are tied to a physical location, so the organization would have to give the insurer all the relevant addresses and keep that list up to date. Most policies have a waiting period between the beginning of the interruption and the insurance kicking in. The shortest I have seen is 24 hours.

    The premium will depend on lots of factors, like the length of that waiting period. Also, if any of the addresses are in that urban/wilderness interface, insurance may not be available for those addresses. The premium will have to take account of the likelihood of a claim, so if there’s an address that has had several days of outages each of the last, eg 5 years, so the insurer can see there will be a claim for that address, the premium will likely be just as much as what the organization would pay the employee, just for that address.

    But maybe it’s easier for the OP to get funding for insurance than paid leave.

  61. merida*

    I don’t have answers but I’m glad this question is being asked. I live in Minnesota so dangerous snowstorms are the main severe weather threat here. Most of the time I am allowed to work from home instead of going to the office during severe weather – I’m grateful for my ability for remote work, but if it’s especially severe weather (which happens probably a couple times a year, more this year) that isn’t always enough. Even if I still have power and internet, there are sometimes still weather-related issues that inhibit my ability to work. For example, at some point I will need to shovel myself out in order to try to get to work tomorrow, and shoveling out/scraping off my car/removing the fallen branches/etc. can be an all-day task and not something that can be completed in an evening after work! I can’t really “plan ahead” since I need to wait for the snow to fall before removing it, and often storms end up being worse than forecasted so I didn’t know that I should’ve woken up at 3 am to start work and have time to shovel later. I’m sure these kinds of post-storm clean up tasks are applicable with other types of weather/natural disasters too. I just wish companies could be a little more understanding of why it’s not always possible for me to put in my 8-10 hours a day during a bad storm.

  62. nooneinparticular*

    I wonder if it could be helpful to have each employee create an emergency plan for times when they lose power or are unable to access the internet, but are otherwise able to work. Many commenters have left good suggestions for things that employees might want to include in their plan- wireless hot spot, going into the office, working from some other location like a cafe, library or a relative or friend’s house, etc. Having everyone set a plan in advance would make expectations clearer and mean that staff wouldn’t need to spend time coming up with a backup plan after the problem has already started.

    For situations where an employee is unable to work because they are dealing with other things, it seems to me that PTO should be used for that BUT that you should make sure your PTO policy is generous enough to allow for unexpected time off if something like this comes up. If my home was impacted by a natural disaster, I wouldn’t expect my company to give me extra PTO to deal with that, but we also have a very generous PTO policy. I would probably feel differently if I only had two weeks and dealing with a natural disaster meant I wouldn’t have enough time for a vacation this year.

  63. Thomas*

    Don’t do anything that pressures people into putting work before their own safety.

    During a disaster event, if the nature of the work makes it feasible then I think the best option is for staff to make up the work later, so there’s no impact on either their monthly pay or their PTO entitlement. If that’s not possible then I’d say let staff choose whether to take it as paid holiday or unpaid leave. If someone’s used up their paid leave maybe allow them to “borrow” from next year.

    Once the disaster has passed and it’s safe to travel, I think you can reasonably expect people to work. If they need to travel to somewhere with connections or power because they don’t have it at home, and that would not be an excessive travel distance, then they need to do that.

    Flexibility and understanding is needed though. Rigid unthinking policies will be unfair; there’s bound to be a situation when an employee can’t work for a reason that’s outside their control and the company never thought of.

  64. Rock Prof*

    I don’t have anything to add about the PTO side of this, but I was really struck by the idea of taking this into account particularly wrt climate change! I might have to start using this as an anecdote for my climate classes, particularly some of my sustainable management courses.

  65. constant_craving*

    I have been told that Waffle House has some amazing policies for how they handle disasters that impact employees. I don’t know the details, but apparently this is pretty well known in the business continuity world. Might be worth looking at their policies to see if anything would be useful.

  66. Boolie*

    With talks here about funding government grants, honestly the priority should go to those with fewer benefits. Fewer PTO, retirement, remote work options; higher turnover. Daycare employees come to mind. I’m sure there are other examples. But as a white collar remote worker myself with high student loans I hesitate to shed tears for anyone in my position before others.

  67. John*

    This is not something that would apply in most workplaces, but I think it’s an interesting policy so I thought I’d share it here. I work for a university that owns and operates a couple of on-campus hotels, and on evenings when inclement weather is predicted, employees are offered a steeply discounted room rate — like, a third of the rack rate — if they feel uncomfortable driving home. There were a few nights this winter when the weather-related cancellations were totally offset by weather-related reservations. Obviously the discount means we’re taking a loss on those rooms, but then we’re not really motivated by profit and some money is better than none, right? Not to mention the employees who end up taking advantage of the deal are really grateful not to have to drive home through the bad weather, which to my way of thinking makes it worthwhile.

  68. nnn*

    Various thoughts without a specific conclusion:

    – Do you have an office? If yes, how easy or hard is it for employees to get to the office at times when they are unable to work from home? (For some situations, “Come into the office if you don’t have power at home” is reasonable. For other situations, it’s physically impossible)

    – What proportion of your organization is generally affected at the same time? (If it’s only a small percentage of employees, often others can informally cover for them. If it’s the vast majority of the organization, this calls for a business continuity plan rather than individual use of PTO)

    – What are the consequences in your organization if one or more people don’t get any work done on a specific day, or for several days, or a week? In some organizations the impact is felt immediately, in others things are more fluid and you can catch up later. If you have more flexibility, maybe you can just leave things be and let people catch up informally.

    – How does the proportion of your employees affected compare with the proportion of your clients/end users/people expecting deliverables affected? If your clients are also affected in large numbers, they might not be expecting as much from you. (Although if the nature of your organization is that they need more from you in times of disaster, then you need a more robust business continuity plan)

    – Can you provide multiple options, e.g. you can use PTO or unpaid leave or catch up on your work over the rest of the month?

    1. nnn*

      Also, some things to look at if you’re making a business case for covering for employees during these kinds of emergencies:

      – If you have an office, how often is it affected by these issues? Does the employees’ geographical diversity buy you resilience?
      – If you have an office, how do housing costs near the office compare with employees’ pay. Is their geographical diversity allowing you to save on your payroll budget?
      – If there are areas that are less prone to these kinds of emergencies, how does housing cost there compare with your employees’ pay?
      – If you don’t have an office, how much is your employees’ geographical diversity saving you in real estate costs?

      It’s possible that the very factors that are making employees susceptible to these issues are also saving your organization money and/or making it more resilient.

  69. Beth*

    So to some extent, companies have always had to factor in these risks. A company headquartered in Florida has always been at risk of losing time and money in hurricane season, just like one in California might have to deal with wildfires and one in Nebraska might be impacted by a tornado. On a smaller scale, anywhere with summer storms might deal with power outages, and anywhere with winter weather might be shut down by a blizzard.

    I see two main differences with remote workers. First, a disaster won’t necessarily shut down the entire company. Odds are there will be some members of a remote team who are unaffected. That’s a benefit to companies–that offers some insulation against events that might have forced them to close completely for anywhere from a day to a few weeks in the past. But second, their employees being in a range of locations does up the odds of at least one person being affected by any given natural disaster that happens. The whole team is less likely to be shut down at once, but there will probably be more frequent times where at least one person is unable to work for a day to a few weeks.

    I feel like companies should handle that like they would have handled a local disaster in the past. Pre remote work being the norm, it was considered pretty stingy to force employees to use PTO for a snow day, and it would have been absolutely terrible press to force someone to use PTO if the business was shut down for a week for a hurricane evacuation. I think the same standard should apply to remote individuals affected by weather now. I’m betting that having a handful of people out occasionally will still be easier for companies to handle than being forced to shut down entirely for a local disaster used to be.

  70. WS*

    During major floods earlier this year, I had to look up what the workplace laws were on this in Australia. It turned out that if the workplace is open, and staff can’t work remotely for whatever reason, they are supposed to use their leave, even if a state of emergency is declared. We’ve had this happen twice during the floods – one employee whose work can’t be done remotely couldn’t get to work due to flooding. Another employee who could work remotely lost all internet and mobile phone capacity when a landslide caused by the floods took down their local mobile tower, and both the roads into town. In both cases we paid them and didn’t make them use leave, but we weren’t required to do that, and I know several other people who couldn’t get to work and had to use leave. The year before, a 19-year-old local woman was swept off the road and drowned while trying to get to work, and yet the law hasn’t changed.

  71. misspiggy*

    It could be worth looking at what humanitarian organisations do for their staff overseas to enable them to work.

    In consultation with staff and managers, it’s a good idea to list the situation of each member of staff with respect to power, water, heat/cooling. food and family care needs.

    Managers can agree individual plans for a few major scenarios with staff. Who’ll have good comms and what could they do to manage their own work and coordinate that of colleagues? Who will need to spend more time on survival and logistics? Those people will need more time away from work, but could agree to check in with input on work issues at fixed times.. Others may only able to be online at unusual tines, and the work must adjust accordingly.

    It’s also useful to have an amount of satellite Internet equipment available for key staff whom you know will need it. Plus supplier agreements ready to go if the number of devices needs expanding.

    Those kinds of arrangements should mean that at least a proportion of staff are able to get some work done throughout a crisis. The organisation should track what is getting done through each crisis, and develop metrics to plan productivity each year. How much is realistic to do given the average number of crises happening each year? Delivery targets for grants should be set at that level.

  72. Just working*

    Our team works almost entirely remotely, in various disaster prone stress, and all of our work is grant funded. Beyond the issue of leave policy, I’d strongly encourage you to revisit your grant requirements and budgets because there are many legal/ethical ways to structure grant budgets to cover paid leave. I’m really surprised that you don’t have paid leave coveted by your grants.

  73. PX*

    My company has a bucket of PTO called Personal Leave. Its separate from sick days and vacation and is meant to be used for some of these ‘life’ events that just happen. Its 10 days and could be a good addition to any policy you already have.

  74. ijustworkhere*

    We give remote workers a cell allowance which they are supposed to use to buy a data plan so they can work even if their internet is off –as long as their computer still has juice or their power is on. (Yes in rare instances the cell and power service goes down too–but it’s extremely rare). It’s really helped. We also have hotspot devices that people can take home if we have a weather event that we can forecast. And we do have times we just ‘call it’ and tell people we don’t expect them to work.

    And if the cell is down, and the power is too, well then we just suck it up and pay people. Salaries are budgeted so it’s actually not an actual increased monetary cost to the org–it’s a decreased productivity issue. Still an issue, but not a financial one. People seem happy with that.

    You might want to consider increasing the amount of overhead you charge to your grants. I know some of them have limits–but if you have room to increase it, do so.

  75. Lex*

    I think we actually may need more info here to be able to give a meaningful recommendation.

    Because there’s a big difference between say, one of our staff lives in California and has had to evacuate twice in two years because of wildfires, vs. one of our staff lives in Northern Vermont and loses internet access for 3-4 days at a time once a month all winter.

    I would argue, that at this point in the world of adjusting expectations due to climate change, the first is still an emergency for which there should be a lot of grace, and the second is the routine and predictable impact of a lifestyle choice (assuming you operate on a tiered pay structure where your pay has a relationship to your cost of living and you do actually have some choice about where you live as a result.)

    So I’m not sure if we really have enough info about what exactly the problems are here. I will say that my own company (staged all over the country) has a policy in place similar to FMLA for unpredictable events impacting X square miles around the employees home that kicks in pretty much automatically granting paid leave when needed. We maintain a budget line to cover it.)

  76. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    I’m late to the party and someone might have said it already… has a slew of resources, from policy templates that you can tweak to other considerations and what the FLSA says you must do to get people paid (and if you’re in California, it gets more complicated, so SHRM is a good resource for that). If someone in your org has access to SHRM (or a friend!), see if they can put something together using those resources. That is… if you don’t otherwise have an HR or a consulting firm facilitating your HR function.

  77. climatechangeishappeningnow*

    LW here!

    A few clarifications
    1. Our state has experienced over 20 federally declared disasters in the past 5 years. These are the issues I’m most concerned about – wildfires, severe storms, and flooding, primarily. Routine power outages are not the problem at hand (we pay for hotspots already, and employees are expected to have a backup plan, flex their time, or take PTO, depending on the length of the outage – though this assumes it’s routine and not due to a major disaster).
    2. We have a small office that staff are welcome to work in, but many of our staff are hours away. Many of our staff live in rural areas, where travel may be particularly dangerous in a disaster event, even if they could get to the office.
    3. Our grant budgets do account for paid leave, but we did not budget for additional paid leave beyond our current employment benefits. We could change this for future grants, but many of our current grants will stick around for years to come and would be challenging to adjust.
    4. Unrestricted funds are on the radar, but not easy to come by. It is certainly an area we consistently work at, but not an immediate or necessarily dependable solution as of now.

    Thanks for all the ideas – you’ve given me a lot to think about. Will investigate the insurance aspect. Also, I like the idea of a leave bank *if we can afford it* (working on the analysis for past business impacts) tied to declared emergencies. That seems like a reasonable criterion and is something we are already discussing.

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