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Carlos Kelly

“Let me get out my crystal ball,” says Fort Myers attorney Carlos Kelly when asked how businesses can prepare for blindsiding events such as hurricanes and pandemics. “By its very nature, the unforeseeable is really hard to plan for.”

Yet this doesn’t mean businesses should forgo planning, Kelly said. “There are some good fundamental practices that will stand any business owner in good stead in a time of crisis.”

His first piece of advice: Have a team of professionals already in place. This way, when the unforeseeable happens, a business owner knows where to turn for advice. The team should include a lawyer, a CPA, an insurance broker, a lender and a public relations representative. “It’s helpful to have other brains you can turn to,” Kelly says. “No one is going to have a perfect solution, but a team of people might come up with a better solution.”

The important thing, he emphasized, is to have these relationships already established. Business owners don’t want to have to search for an attorney or a PR rep in the middle of a crisis. It’s better to know in advance whom to call when trouble hits.

Kelly also suggests that businesses have a good insurance policy. It’s key to consult with a trusted insurance adviser when buying a policy, he said, because many policies contain fine print that stipulates exceptions. Should business owners turn to lawyers to read the fine print on their insurance contracts? No, says Kelly, “Do it with an insurance broker. Those men and women are the pros.” Still, he advised, be a smart consumer: “Get a second opinion from another broker.”

Scott Atwood

When it comes to HR considerations, Scott Atwood, chair of the employment law group at Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, said businesses need to plan ahead

for how to manage their employees during an unforeseen event. “It’s important to let people know what the expectations are,” Atwood says. “We saw a lot of pushback during the pandemic where employees said, ‘I’m not working from home.’ Well, this could be a situation where you either work from home or you’re fired.”

Still, he insisted that employers recognize that in a disaster-type situation, there may be other factors that hinder an employee’s ability to perform at peak levels. “Know there may be people without a house, without a phone, without a computer.”

From a legal standpoint, the best way to head off HR trouble in the event of an unforeseen crisis is to already have written policies in place. “Put into policy that this is an at-will employment environment,” Atwood explains. “Lay out to employees that what employees need to do is what their employers need them to do to keep the business operating, with the obvious exception of anything illegal like violations of OSHA regulations, or something that constitutes illegal discrimination or harassment.”

And when the unforeseeable does happen, don’t let business higher-ups go silent. “Have a meeting to let employees know what the plan is,” At- wood says. “Let people ask questions. Put it all out there.”

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