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Employers, Workers Affected By Wildfires Deal With Pay And Leave Issues

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 photo, people visit the Pine Ridge Vineyards tasting room after it reopened following the wildfires in Napa, Calif.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

In the wake of devastating wildfires, some California employers may now be dealing with the effects of having to close or employees needing time off.

Anthony Zaller is an employment lawyer with Van Vleck & Zaller in Los Angeles. 

He said if exempt salaried workers only worked a portion of a week and then the business was closed, they must still be paid for the full week.

"If they're working from home during a natural disaster, they're still required to be paid for that work week,” he said. “The only time exempt employees don't have to be paid is if they don't do any work for the entire week."

Wage workers must be paid for the hours worked.

Employees dealing with fallout from a fire may be able to use sick leave or family leave if someone is sick, or child leave if a child's school is closed, he said.

Employees who no longer have a place to work due to a disaster may apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance from California's Employment Development Department.

There are no legal leave options for people who might get evacuated or are dealing with a destroyed or damaged home, but employers may grant it anyway in the interest of a workers' well-being, Zaller said.

California employment lawyer Michele Haydel Gehrke said she doesn't receive a lot of calls regarding natural disasters.

"And my take on that is that most of the time employers just do the right thing,” she said. “And if employees need time off to take care of their families and deal with the natural disaster, employers are going to give them the time off and figure out the compensation and the leave issues later."

California labor law requires employers to grant time off to volunteer emergency responders.


Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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