Disaster Relief: Don’t Let Your Good Intentions Turn Sour

by | Mar 8, 2012 | Blog

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or info@integrityhr.com

It’s almost been a week since the deadly tornadoes tore through the Midwest leaving communities with broken homes and broken hearts. Towns just 20 miles up the road from our office in Louisville, KY were destroyed.

Henryville High School was ripped to shreds with students being released just 45 minutes before the tornado touched down.

Stories started pouring in; stories that would make even a Hells Angel biker tear up. One story was about a 15-month-old girl who was found in a field near her family’s home. She was the lone survivor of her five person family. Two days later, she passed away at Kosair Children’s Hospital.

There is also the story of Stephanie Decker whose dream home crashed down on top of her and her kids. She used her body to shield her children, breaking seven of her ribs and severing both of her legs. Her children didn’t have a scratch on them. She doesn’t want to be called a hero. “I call myself a mom,” Stephanie said.


There are also the stories that give us a glimmer of hope. A woman found Lori Lynch’s Silver Creek High School diploma in Cincinnati — more than 100 miles away, WAVE reported.

There were 45 twisters confirmed; the strongest EF4 tornado hit Henryville, IN which stayed on the ground for 49 miles and had maximum winds at 175 mph. By the time the calm returned Saturday, 41 were dead: 23 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia.

As communities struggle to get back to “normal,” the last thing on their minds is getting back to work. But for some families, they have no choice.

Local employers have asked us what protocol they should follow to support their employees who lost everything in the tornado. Many employees have approached supervisors asking what they can do to help their co-workers.

At one local company, employees asked if they could transfer their vacation days to a co-worker whose house was destroyed in the tornado and needed the time off more than they did. Now that’s teamwork.

But sometimes things aren’t as easy as it seems. In any crisis, you have to be careful on how you react. Suddenly your disaster relief efforts turn into a disaster! We’ve outlined steps you can take to make sure your company knows you care, but you don’t over step any boundaries.

Don’t let your good intentions turn sour.
Integrity HR suggests you pay attention to the Three C’s:

Concern: This is the time when employees are going to be looking to you to see how you react. You need to show that you are aware of the situation and taking steps to help the cause. Gather your employees into a meeting, send out an email or post a note in the break room—whatever way you choose, you need to get the message out that you are working on a way to give back. Also, be considerate. Maybe none of your employees lost their homes or family members in the storm, but they may know people who did. In a crisis like this one that hits a small town, everyone knows someone who has been affected. Make sure your employees have an outlet for their emotions (such as an EAP).

Consistency: When deciding what steps you want to take, you need to make sure you are consistent. While it may seem like a great idea to collect money for Joe Smith who lost his house in the tornado, this action may come back to haunt you. Did you collect money for Jane Doe when she had a heart attack, couldn’t pay her medical bills or mortgage and lost her house? As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. You need to make sure you are consistent in your policies as well. As we mentioned before, some employees may ask to give their vacation times to a co-worker in need. You need to outline your policy for this and stick with it or it will look like you are playing favorites. And what about your solicitation policy? Do you have one? If so, does accepting donations in the break room or passing out flyers about a certain cause negate this policy? The last thing you want to do is to be inconsistent. Employees will get confused and you will suddenly be in hot water.

Communication: Once you have looked over your policies and figured out what you can and cannot do to show your concern and be consistent, you need to communicate your plan to your employees. Integrity HR believes the best way to give back in a crisis is to let the experts handle it.

Just as you look to the HR experts at Integrity HR when you have an employee crisis, look to the disaster relief experts when you experience a storm like last Friday’s. In this case, the disaster relief experts are the Red Cross, local food banks and local churches. If you cannot collect donations due to your solicitation policy, let your employees know where they can donate. Send them information about food bank locations or links to the Red Cross website. Also let your employees know if you have a matching policy (which states if the company will match the donation amount). By giving donations to an organization instead of an individual, you greatly reduce the chances that employees will think you are showing favoritism. As always, make sure that when you announce that you are either taking donations at the office or encouraging employees to give to certain organizations, you stress that this is completely voluntary and no employee should feel pressured to contribute.

If you are still unsure of what your company should do in a crisis, look at what others are doing. Many companies have reached out to donate money to assist in the tornado-relief efforts. Smaller, local business have announced days where a portion or all of their proceeds will go to the efforts. Larger companies like the Humana Foundation and the Verizon Foundation gave sizable donations, $150,000 and $50,000 respectively.

Questions about what policies you should follow during a crisis? Contact the experts at Integrity HR today. We’re here to take care of all your human resource needs.

To give donations to The Red Cross to help with the disaster relief in Henryville and other towns hurt by the tornado, go here. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those communities.


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