As businesses try to get back to normal in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, employers and employees have different takes on whether workers should have been paid for scheduled work during the evacuation and the long re-entry process.
For Katie Hopkins and her husband, who own Nick’s Steak and Seafood on Hilton Head Island, their first thought was how their employees — a lot of them tip earners — would make things work. They decided to start a gofundme account to help employees pay for expenses during evacuation and wages lost while the restaurant was closed.
“We knew that, financially, this would be a hardship for them,” she told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette when contacted Tuesday. “And it was really our first priority.”
To help her employees in need, Hopkins started her first gofundme account with a goal set at $10,000, never thinking they would get anywhere near that number.
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As of Tuesday afternoon, the Hopkinses had raised $3,200 — including an anonymous donation of $1,000 from one donor — to help their 12 employees.
Other large businesses, such as managed health care benefits firm eviCore in Bluffton, paid all employees through the evacuation, gathered donations and offered free child care after their employees returned to work, but before schools reopened, by renting out the Station 300 bowling alley for employees’ children.
But some employees lost pay because of the hurricane.
Interviewed Tuesday by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, Al Wilson Jr., a part-time stocker and cashier at the Dollar General on May River Road in Bluffton, said before evacuating, he was scheduled to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the week of the hurricane. But the store closed because of the storm, and he didn’t receive pay for those scheduled hours, he said.
Wilson said he returned to work the Saturday following the storm after evacuating to Saint George, Ga., and had about $200 worth of expenses and damages from the hurricane.
He hopes he’ll be able to make up the lost hours.
“(I’ll) just work hard, keep working,” he said.
Dollar General did not return a call from the newspapers Tuesday afternoon.
An employee at a Bluffton grocery store who asked not to be identified said Tuesday he evacuated north to stay with family for a week but knew before leaving he wasn’t going to get paid for scheduled work.
The employee, who works a 40-hour week, said a week without pay has been a major disruption to his finances.
“I’m probably going to have to borrow money from family,” he said.
Other companies asked employees to use paid time off to cover any days out of work caused by the hurricane.
At Beaufort Memorial Hospital, employees were offered a few options to make up for lost wages, according to an email from President Russell Baxley, including the use of their paid days off, “borrowing” paid days off from the hospital to make their paychecks whole, the ability to “cash out” paid time off to cover expenses, and access to the hospital’s Compassionate PDO Program, a policy that lets employees donate paid days off to other employees in need.
According to the email, the hospital will include compensation from its “HOPE Fund” for employees’ disaster-relief expenses, including groceries, bills, clothing and household items.
For workers who went without pay during the evacuation, government help could be available. The first thing workers seeking lost wages should do is apply for unemployment insurance benefits through the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, said Bob Bouyea, the department’s director of communications.
If a worker is ineligible for state benefits, the state office can refer them for disaster unemployment assistance, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor, Bouyea said, though those funds cover expenses only beginning the day after the storm hit on Oct. 8.
Self-employed individuals and business owners who lost income as a direct result of Hurricane Matthew can also apply for that assistance, he said.
To be eligible for FEMA funds, workers need to show that lost wages were a direct result of the hurricane, Bouyea said. The minimum assistance for a week of wages through the disaster fund is $127; the weekly maximum is $326, he said.
FEMA unemployment-assistance funds will not become available to the state until three weeks from now, however, so workers should anticipate some wait time, he said.
“People should apply as soon as possible,” Bouyea said. “That will give you the best chance of getting some assistance soon.”
To apply for unemployment insurance, visit dew.sc.gov and click on “My Benefits” in the top right corner, or call 1-866-831-1724.