As a result of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the following counties have been declared as major disaster areas, all of which are entitled to federal tax filing and payment relief:

In Texas: Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller and Wharton Counties.

In Florida: Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota and St. Johns Counties.

Taxpayers whose principal residence or a business’ principal place of business was located in one of the counties declared as a major disaster area are entitled to certain federal tax relief for the 2016 tax year. This federal tax relief includes: (a) the suspension of certain deadlines to file tax returns; (b) the suspension of certain deadlines to pay taxes; and (c) the ability to claim casualty losses incurred as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Continue Reading IRS Provides Tax Filing and Payment Relief to Hurricane Victims

Maritime contracts for services generally include clauses for performance, demurrage, deviation, termination, and suspension. Performance may be affected by an Act of God or Force Majeure clause and event. A typical Force Majeure clause reads as follows:

Except for the duty to make payments hereunder when due, and the indemnification provisions under this Agreement, neither Company nor Contractor shall be responsible to the other for any delay, damage or failure caused by or occasioned by a Force Majeure Event as used in this Agreement. “Force Majeure Event” includes: acts of God, action of the elements, warlike action, insurrection, revolution or civil strife, piracy, civil war or hostile action, strikes, differences with workers, acts of public enemies, federal or state laws, rules and regulations of any governmental authorities having jurisdiction in the premises or of any other group, organization or informal association (whether or not formally recognized as a government); inability to procure material, equipment or necessary labor in the open market acute and unusual labor or material or equipment shortages, or any other causes (except financial) beyond the control of either Party. Delays due to the above causes, or any of them, shall not be deemed to be a breach of or failure to perform under this Agreement. Continue Reading Hurricanes and Act of God Defenses

Environmental issues may arise relating to shut-downs, start-ups, and upsets, as well as spills or releases from operating facilities in Texas relating to Harvey and the massive flooding that resulted. Many operating permits and authorizations require notification to TCEQ and/or EPA for force majeure events, such as floods and storms. Verbal notifications followed by written notifications are typically required. Operating entities should carefully review their permits and authorizations for applicable notification provisions and procedures. TCEQ also provides outreach and technical guidance to facilities reporting spills, including from sanitary sewers and other waste water facilities in flood-impacted areas.

As a response to Harvey, TCEQ has requested and Governor Gregg Abbott has signed on August 28, 2017, a disaster declaration temporarily suspending certain specified rules and regulations that could prevent, hinder or delay entities regulated by TCEQ in relation to Harvey’s disaster response operations. See: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/response/hurricanes/Governor-response-to-suspension-of-rules.pdf and https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/response/hurricanes/suspension-of-tceq-rules-8.28.17.pdf.

EPA and TCEQ are notifying the public of potential hazards associated with flood waters, including bacteria and other disease agents. See: https://response.epa.gov/sites/12353/files/EPA%20Press%20Release%20EPA-TCEQ%20Statement%20on%20Water%20Quality%2008-31-2017%20.pdf.

Other useful information relating to environmental issues as well as guidance for response and cleanup following Harvey may be found on TCEQ’s Hurricane Response web page at: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/response/hurricanes.

We first published this article in the Louisiana Employment Law Letter the month after Hurricane Katrina. We republished it following last year’s catastrophic flooding in Louisiana and are publishing it again now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, as we believe its advice is timeless and as cogent as ever in the aftermath of any natural disaster.

A crisis in the workplace, whether the result of a natural disaster, terrorism, workplace violence, or other conflicts, can bring your business to a screeching halt and devastate the lives of the employees who are essential to your business’ existence. It’s only natural for business owners and managers to think immediately of the economic loss such a disaster can cause, particularly because the loss of a business usually translates into the loss of a livelihood for owners, managers, and employees. Your plan for responding to and recovering from a crisis must take into account the effect it will have on your workers and the ways you can help them become productive again, even in the face of personal loss.

Follow these guidelines to help your employees cope with the catastrophe and return to productive employment:

  • Communicate with employees as soon as possible after a disaster. When disaster strikes, your employees may suffer the loss of their personal possessions, homes, friends, and family. Even a temporary inability to return to work can compound any sense of loss or emotional trauma your employees may experience. Locate and contact your employees immediately after a disaster, and tell them the company’s status and plans. If employees know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from the company, they can take the company’s plans for them into consideration when rebuilding their personal lives. For example, if a leave of absence, relocation, or layoff is inevitable, employees should be told as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly. Don’t leave them in the dark about their employment.
  • Keep the company’s leadership visible, and stay firmly in charge. Let employees know who is in charge of each aspect of your response or recovery efforts—and what those efforts are. You might lose loyal and valuable employees if they sense the company is disorganized or lacks leadership and a plan for the future. Don’t react rashly or without thinking through all your options—for example, calling for a facility closure or mass layoff may not be the most economical or practical response to a disaster. That isn’t to say that the company’s leaders and management can’t show emotion or compassion, or make mistakes. Your employees know you aren’t superhuman, and they’ll respect you for acknowledging and correcting your mistakes. But restoring order and direction will give them the confidence to stick with the company and work together while it responds to and recovers from the disaster.
  • Give managers and supervisors the tools they need to help employees cope with the effects of a workplace crisis. Don’t forget that your managers and supervisors are the people who deal directly with your employees. Educate them about the possible effects of a crisis or disaster on employees and how to spot indicators of emotional or behavioral conditions that need attention. You may need to hire a consultant to meet with your managers and supervisors, or you might take advantage of free booklets and services provided by the government or private relief organizations. At a minimum, your managers and supervisors should know to refer affected employees to an employee assistance program (EAP) or HR for the identification of other sources of professional assistance.
  • Cut employees some slack. That doesn’t mean you should replace order with chaos, but you should treat employees fairly and with compassion when it comes to getting things back on track. Your employees will likely need some time to get their personal lives in order, whether they need to grieve for loved ones, make housing or financial arrangements, or seek medical attention. Revisit your leave policies and benefits to determine whether the nature of the crisis warrants a revision or extended leave or benefits. Make sure you apply your policies uniformly, and avoid jumping to conclusions if an employee misses work, makes a mistake, or just doesn’t seem herself. Natural disasters and other crises can adversely affect your most unflappable superstar, so consider EAP referrals or other benefits if an employee appears to be slipping in his performance or behavior. You don’t have to lower your standards, but you should understand that it might take some time and assistance for employees to fully recover.
  • Help employees tend to their personal affairs so they can regain their productivity. Employees often have to spend a great deal of time during business hours getting their personal lives back in order after a disaster. For example, they may need to meet with or talk to benefits providers, claims representatives, bank officials, medical professionals, attorneys, and so on. Consider setting aside time during the day for employees to use the telephones for personal business matters, or consider inviting representatives and/or consultants from insurers, EAPs, legal aid organizations, and crisis management services to meet with employees at scheduled times. You might even set aside an office with a telephone and Internet access to allow employees to take care of private personal matters during breaks. The sooner your employees get their personal lives in order after a crisis, the sooner they can get back to business as usual.
  • Get involved in community relief efforts, and allow employees to participate. If the disaster or crisis is one that affected others outside your workplace, consider becoming involved in relief efforts and allowing employees to participate. Becoming productive again and helping others can be rewarding and therapeutic for employees and can help the economy. You might organize a blood drive, volunteer services after hours, or contribute to relief funds. Becoming part of a larger response and recovery effort will help employees put their personal losses into perspective.
  • Develop or update your disaster response and recovery plans. Finally, take the time to develop a disaster response and recovery plan if you don’t already have one, or update your plan with any lessons learned from your own experience.

For more information, please contact H. Mark AdamsJennifer L. AndersonVeronica Rivas-Molloy, and Stephanie M. Gilliam.

A federal disaster declaration has been issued in Louisiana for Orleans and Livingston Parishes following the tornadoes and severe storms that hit South Louisiana on February 7, 2017. The declaration was issued on February 11, 2017, by President Donald Trump upon the request of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

FEMA individual assistance will be available for residents and homeowners in Orleans and Livingston Parishes, including grants or low-cost loans for temporary housing, home repairs, and uninsured property losses, among other programs. To register with FEMA, visit DisasterAssistance.gov, call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-FEMA (3362), or download the FEMA mobile app.

Homeowners may be eligible for up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary residence through the Home and Personal Property Loans program administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Homeowners and renters may be eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Businesses of any size and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace real property, machinery, equipment fixtures, inventory, and leasehold improvements through the Business Physical Disaster Loans program administered through the SBA.

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster, regardless of property damage. The SBA’s economic injury program extends beyond Orleans and Livingston Parishes, to the contiguous Louisiana Parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.

More details on the SBA programs, including loan details and interest rates, can be found at the SBA Fact Sheet for Louisiana Declaration #15045 & #15046.

FEMA has provided a summary of key federal aid programs that can be made available as needed under the disaster declaration.

A Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) is opening in Orleans Parish effective February 13, 2017, at East New Orleans Public Library, 5641 Read Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70127. Homeowners, renters, and businesses can visit the DRC to apply for or seek information regarding federal disaster assistance. Representatives will be on site from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration, the City of New Orleans, and other volunteer groups and agencies.

FEMA can be reached by phone at (800) 621-FEMA (3362).

The SBA Customer Service Center can be reached by phone at (800) 659-2955.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) has issued another extension to policyholders under the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”) to file a proof of loss with supporting documentation for claims related to the August 2016 flooding.

Under the new extension, announced by FEMA on December 2, 2016, policyholders will now have a total of 180 days from the date of loss to provide a completed, signed, and sworn-to proof of loss to their insurer.

A proof of loss package should include an itemization of damaged items, with photographs, receipts, and other supporting documentation evidencing the value of the damaged items. A proof of loss is necessary for the NFIP to make payment on a claim. You can read more about a proof of loss here.

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has denied relief to more than 2,500 disaster victims from the August 2016 flooding in Louisiana because of insufficient proof of homeownership. “Thousands of people live in homes that they don’t own outright because properties were passed on to family members without successions,” the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) explained in a press release.

BRAF hopes to reverse this trend through a program that aims to clear property title on flood-damaged homes so disaster victims can become eligible for FEMA funds and other federal grants to rebuild. “This free program will find all potential heirs to the properties and ask them to sign over their ownership—typically small amounts—to the person living in the home,” the BRAF press release stated.

The program will benefit from the use of a smartphone app, which allows homeowners to streamline the data collection required in the title-clearing process. BRAF collaborated with the American Bar Association Center for Innovation and Stanford University Law School to create the app.

Applicants will have to meet certain income eligibility levels, and the property must be the applicant’s primary residence and be located in the qualifying parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston or Ascension.

The BRAF program, supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is being overseen by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a civil legal aid organization that serves the state’s low-income population. The program is a collaborative effort among the Baton Rouge Bar Foundation, Baton Rouge Bar Association, Louisiana State Bar Association, Louisiana Bar Foundation, Southern University Law Center, LSU Law Center, Louisiana Appleseed, Equal Justice Works, and East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, the Capital Area United Way, the Greater New Orleans Foundation.