After a disaster like Hurricane Florence, your employees may face legal and financial matters for days, weeks or even months as they work to recover and rebuild.
Help your employees face common challenges by sharing these five tips for dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Know your rights and responsibilities regarding property damage.
After a disaster, you may have issues with your home, ranging from determining who is responsible for cleaning up to knowing when to keep making payments. ARAG Network Attorney Bryan Fears knows most of us don’t read our homeowners policy to know what’s covered and what isn’t. “Now is the time to read that policy and take steps to ensure you’re getting all the help you’re due,” Fears says.
Beyond your individual policy, you’ll want to understand the laws, which vary by state. But in general assume if you’re a homeowner that:
- You’re responsible for clean-up and disposal;
- Your insurance company may be obligated to pay for clean-up and removal if fallen limbs or other debris cause damage to your home, fence or driveway; and
- If debris came from your neighbor’s yard, you’re still obligated to pay for clean-up unless you can prove that your neighbor’s negligence led to the damage. In general, your neighbor’s policy covers his/her house and property, and your policy covers your house and property.
If you lease and don’t own the property, your landlord is most likely responsible for repairs but is not liable for any personal injury or property damage resulting from a natural disaster.
Watch for consumer scams.
Price gouging, refinancing schemes and home-repair scams are common after natural disasters, says ARAG Network Attorney Cecilia Armenteros. People struggling to afford the necessary renovations “are prime targets for fake contractors that may swoop in and promise a very low fee to help them recover and then disappear with their money.”
To help guard against these incidents, make sure you:
- Never pay any money without reviewing and signing a contract;
- Ask for references, proof of insurance and licensing as required by your city and/or state;
- Resist any pressure to make quick or uninformed financial decisions;
- Don’t let anyone convince you to borrow more money than you know you can afford or make false statements on a loan application; and
- Research all lenders, contractors, appraisers, etc. with the Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau.
Protect against identity theft.
If your home was severely damaged, your belongings misplaced or you were required to leave your residence, you may be at risk for identity theft. Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report so creditors will follow specific procedures before opening new accounts in your name or making changes to existing accounts. To activate a fraud alert, call one of the three main nationwide reporting companies at the numbers listed below or use the link to submit it online.
Avoid a contractor dispute.
If your home or property was damaged, chances are you’ll be working with contractors. To help things go smoothly:
- Make sure a contract is in place before work begins–and have it reviewed by an attorney beforehand;
- Ensure the contract itemizes all costs for labor as well as supplies, along with a defined timeline for completion; and
- Choose a reputable contractor who can furnish references, licensing and proof of insurance.
Before choosing a contractor, you’ll also want to watch for common red flags, including:
- Door-to-door solicitations;
- Estimates that are much lower than competitors;
- Contractors that require immediate decisions;
- Answering service only: no direct contact with contractor;
- Contractor not from your area;
- Entire payment required upfront; and
- No insurance or references.
Manage insurance disputes smoothly.
You’ll probably be working with a combination of insurance companies (home, auto, medical, etc.) to get your life back in order. Filing claims and getting reimbursed for lost or damaged items can be a lengthy and frustrating process. To help you work through it:
- If possible, review your policies so you are familiar with the terms, deductibles and provisions;
- Make sure you track the times and dates of all phone calls, who you talked to and the subject;
- Save all emails and documents you receive;
- Respond quickly to all written and electronic correspondence; and
- Do your best to remain patient and informative.
If your clients’ employees are experiencing problems, be sure to remind them of any voluntary benefits you offer that might help them, such as legal insurance, which can connect them with attorneys who can provide advice and representation.
Nothing can make the stress of recovering after a hurricane go away, but these tips will ensure that employees know their rights and don’t add to their financial and legal stress.