Tornado Warnings: Can You Make Employees Stay at Work and Shelter?

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Tornadoes often pop up with little or no advance warning. That’s why having a written emergency action plan that includes what will happen in the event of a tornado warning, or worse, a tornado touching down, is so important. 

This Monday marked the start of Severe Weather Preparedness week in Kansas and Missouri. With many businesses and residents participating in the Statewide Severe Weather Tornado Drill on Tuesday, our Safety and Health Consultant, Randy Clayton, was asked to share his expertise with local Kansas City area business owners on what to do with employees during a tornado warning. Can a business retain an employee and prevent them from leaving the workplace during a tornado? Find out in this Ask the Expert post. 

RELATED: Can Employers Require Attendance During Inclement Weather? >>

Can Employers Prevent Employees from Leaving the Workplace During a Tornado?

The sirens are going off, but can you require your employees to stay onsite and shelter for the duration of the storm warning? While you can certainly insist they stay, you can’t force your employees to stay. If a tornado is forecasted to touchdown, or actually does occur at your workplace, employers should certainly warn them about the consequences of going out into a storm from a practical standpoint and they should know that you are directing them to your “shelter in place” location. If they refuse to go, it can become a disciplinary matter. This advice goes hand-in-hand with having a written emergency action plan, covering tornadoes and hurricanes, that has been communicated with all employees prior to the severe weather outbreak in question.

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What Is Your Employer Liability Under OSHA if an Employee Leaves the Workplace During a Tornado?

As an employer, you may be worried about your level of liability and responsibility to ensure the safety of your workers under OSHA in the event of a tornado or other severe weather outbreak. If you can't force your employees to remain in the building sheltering, are you responsible if they get hurt?

According to OSHA, as an employer, it is expected that you ensure your employees' safety while they are in the course and scope of their job and anytime they are on your property. That said, it’s likely not possible to physically restrain your employees from leaving the workplace. Once again, this is why it is so important to have a written Emergency Action Plan that gives specifics as to how your employees are expected to respond in various emergency situations (fire, tornado, earthquake, etc.) and that this action plan is reviewed periodically (minimum of annually). It’s also important that employees are required to sign off that they have received it and understand it. 

If you have done this and an employee still refuses to follow the action plan and leaves on their own accord, that would usually be considered employee misconduct and that would be your defense to any OSHA follow-up. Additionally, it would warrant some sort of disciplinary action to be taken against the offending employee. It is always a good idea to enlist the input of your employees in developing your action plan. When they have some ownership in the plan they will have confidence that it is a good plan and worthy of following for their safety.

RELATED: Human Resources Disaster Preparedness - Is Your Workplace Ready? >>

The Axcet HR Solutions Difference

At Axcet, our safety team includes a risk manager, claims manager and a safety and health consultant - each with decades of experience to serve you. Working together they support your business with safety and risk best practices. Together they work to create custom strategies to enhance safety and mitigate claims losses.

Our safety consultants work hand-in-hand with you and your team to provide best practices for avoiding and managing any unfortunate accidents.  From mock OSHA  inspections to CPR training and individual safety training, we take a very personal approach to making sure you and your employees are safe. Find out how our experts can help your stress level go down. Contact us today.

RELATED: When Disaster Strikes - 8 Steps To Prepare Your Business >>

For more on how Axcet HR Solutions can help your business with workplace safety, visit our website

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Written by Randy Clayton

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