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ACC Houston Reflects on Lessons Learned from Harvey

Volume 36 , Number 9 , Page 84-87

Photo: An aerial view of Houston showing the extent of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Source: AMFPhotography via Shutterstock

I n recognition of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, the ACC Houston Chapter hosted a CLE on "Lessons Learned from Harvey: Compassionate Compliance in Disaster Response" to cover various disaster-related issues for employers. During the event, speaker Jackie Ford, partner in the labor and employment group at Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease, LLP, provided the following analysis:

In 2017, the wettest cyclone in US history hit the fourth largest city in the country. Nearly 60 inches of rain fell on Houston, Texas over a four-day period. Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated US$125 billion in damage and brought many businesses to a standstill.

When the rain finally stopped, those businesses faced a different storm: a seemingly unending list of legal, logistical, and humanitarian issues. As just one example, businesses might be legally permitted to stop paying their employees until and unless those stranded workers were able to return to the workplace or the workplace itself was out from underwater.

But when faced with multiple legally compliant options (pay all workers; don't pay any workers; pay workers for the duration of the company's closure; pay for those whose workplace is shut down but not those who can't access safe transportation across water-logged roads to reach that workplace; etc.), how should businesses make those choices? One answer: Use "compassionate compliance" to apply existing company values and priorities to each unique scenario.

"Compassionate compliance" is useful not only in times of crisis but in numerous scenarios in which organizations must choose between multiple options, all of which meet the minimum standards of applicable law. It is "compassionate" in the sense that it takes into account all company values, including those previously promoted to the workforce and advertised to stakeholders. The process thus presupposes the organization's identification of meaningful and clearly articulated (meaning beyond-just-mom-and-apple-pie boilerplate) values and priorities, and can be summarized as follows:

  • Law: Identify and understand applicable law.
  • Policy/values: Align application of the law with company policy and values.
  • Tools: Develop compassionate and conscious decision-making principles (including a hierarchy of company values, in order of priority for the organization) to advance company values and policy objectives.
  • Application: Combine law, policy, and tools to choose between competing compliant options.

Whatever the crisis, pre-planning — including the development of clear company values and priorities — generates a valuable structure for ensuring that in-the-moment decision-making stays true to what the organization is really all about.

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