CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If last Friday's storm resulted in your business being closed and you've lost revenue, you need to find your insurance policy and read it.
If an employee coping with the aftermath of the storm requests a day off to deal with issues at home, it's probably better to grant them a vacation day rather than trying to interpret the finer points of federal employment law.
And how you treat or mistreat customers and employees now will likely be remembered for months -- even years -- to come.
These are just a few of the points made by experts Tuesday at a Charleston Area Alliance briefing on storm-related business issues.
Frank Baer III of Commercial Insurance Services delivered what may have been the most surprising news at the briefing. He said that if your business is closed because there's no power and you have business-interruption insurance, the policy wouldn't pay unless there's been a physical loss to the building.
"That's shocking to people in this room," he said.
On a similar note, "if you have homeowner's insurance and a tree falls in your yard but doesn't hit anything, you're not covered for the clean-up. But if a big tree falls and cuts your house in two, the cost of the removal of the tree and to fix the house is covered, less the deductible," he said.
Another current issue is spoiled food.
Baer said he hasn't had power at his house for four days. He has a $500 limit in his homeowner's policy -- after a $5,000 deductible. "So I don't really have any coverage," he told the 33 people at the briefing.
Every claim is different so it's impossible to address insurance questions with generalizations, Baer said.
When disaster strikes, "Act as if you don't have insurance," Baer advised. "Do reasonable things: Call the repair person. Take pictures. Keep receipts. It could take days for an adjuster to get out to you."
Mychal Schultz of the law firm Dinsmore and Shohl urged businesses to dig out their insurance policies, read them, and ask experts for help interpreting the language.
"Use an event like this as a wake-up call to make sure your policy covers the sort of risks your business may have," he said.
Eric Kinder, a labor law specialist with the firm Spilman Thomas and Battle, said, "One main takeaway all employers should be aware of is this is not the moment to be a stickler on the fine details about leave, absenteeism and tardiness.
"If you have employees unable to get to work or who are addressing a crisis at home, give them the time off," he urged. "Don't worry if it technically fits as leave under federal law. Give the time off. People remember employers who treat them well and an employer who doesn't. This is a small community and word gets out.
"Under the law, hourly employees who do not come to work, you do not have an obligation to pay them," Kinder said. "But don't be a stickler about this. This is an opportunity for you to say, 'If you need a couple of days off with pay, we'll give you those vacation days.'
"If you're a business with employees working overtime, obviously keeping track of your employees' hours is vitally important," he said.
"You have an obligation to make sure your employees are working safely and getting enough rest," he said. "I know that there are employees who want to go out and help their neighbors. They want to work. But you don't want to be dealing with a fatality because someone worked too hard and pushed themselves too far."
Kinder said that even if you own a business that has been forced to close, "it is your obligation to make payroll under your normal schedule. It's very important. Even if your computers are down, there is a way to make estimations by hand calculation. You've got people who need that money. So try to get money in the hands of your employees on your regular schedule. The state takes that obligation very seriously."