Without a plan, hurricanes and other extreme weather can cause payroll headaches.

Can Your Payroll Handle Natural Disasters?

Know your obligations to your employees before inclement weather strikes.

After witnessing the catastrophic effects of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, there’s a good chance you are thinking “What if a natural disaster disrupted my restaurant operations?”

Certainly no corner of the United States is spared from natural disaster, including tornadoes, earthquakes, or wildfires. But is your business ready to handle what Mother Nature could throw at it?

Following a natural disaster, mopping up mud in a destroyed kitchen, reviewing spoiled food supplies, and determining what kitchen equipment is functioning will be at the top of your recovery to do list. But what about your employees? What are the rules for paying employees during this difficult period? Are there better ways to manage your payroll to avoid disruption to your valued staff?

How DOL rules apply to disaster recovery?

The DOL rules still apply even in times of disaster. For non-exempt restaurant employees, you need only to pay them for hours worked. Be prepared to pay them overtime for recovery tasks or for taking on additional hours to cover other employees who can’t come in to work.

Exempt employees—those who have a regular salary—must be paid for the entire week, if they work any part of the week, even if your restaurant is closed.

You can safeguard your payroll before a disaster strikes?

One way to ensure that your employees will be paid during a disaster is by using electronic payroll methods.

Electronic payroll can happen in two ways—directly deposited into bank accounts or loaded onto a debit or pay card. And, if your state allows it, you may be able to eliminate printing altogether by using online payroll tools where employees can access their pay statements, W-2s, and 1095s.

What are the benefits of electronic payroll for your employees?

Using electronic payroll gives your employees immediate access to their pay, which is critical if they cannot physically pick up or cash their check. In the case of the recent flooding, some employees may have fled to safer ground and could be hundreds of miles away. Pay cards are safer than carrying cash and eliminate check cashing fees. They are also accepted wherever VISA and MasterCard are accepted. Pay cards can provide cash through many ATM networks, allow 24/7 access to account information and can be easily replaced if they are lost or stolen.

Electronic payroll also makes your life easy too.

Setting upelectronic payroll systems can save you money by either reducing or eliminating postage for shipping pay stubs and checks. While you’re busy managing clean up at your restaurant, you or your overburdened staff won’t have to drop everything to give off-duty employees their paychecks. This is also a significant benefit for any time of the year, not just when you’re in the middle of a recovery. Online payroll systems also help minimize unclaimed property reporting for checks that aren’t picked up and cashed. When evaluating electronic payroll systems, find out how much access employees will have to their salary and wage information. Again, one less thing for you to have to deal with while you are in recovery mode.

A note of caution:Laws differ by state, with some states allowing employers to mandate electronic payroll while others do not. Before moving to electronic payroll, be sure to research the laws of each state in which you do business.

Carol Casale

Carol Casale, a CPA/ABV, CVA, and shareholder at Mize Restaurant Group, consults with restaurant clients on valuations, tax and estate planning, restaurant sales and acquisitions, and succession planning. The Mize Restaurant Group provides accounting, payroll, tax and consulting services to restaurants, breweries and brew pubs nationwide. The firm has received recognition as a “Firm to Watch” by Accounting Today as well as Inside Public Accounting’s Top 200 list.

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