Quake aftermath: Advice on natural disasters to retailers, from insurers

  • News
  • November 14, 2016
  • Elly Strang
Quake aftermath: Advice on natural disasters to retailers, from insurers

The country is still reeling from a powerful quake and a series of aftershocks that have created huge cracks in the earth, broken apart homes and destroyed stock in stores in the lower North Island and South Island.

More than 800 aftershocks had been felt by early Tuesday morning.

As of today, Wellington’s CBD is open for business apart from parts of Featherton St, but flooding and wild weather has added to the upheaval.

Kaikoura is in a far worse position, with major landslides blocking the roads in and out of the city.

RNZ reported that there was a queue of about 200 people outside the New World supermarket in Kaikoura.

To deal with the demands, the store was only letting in six customers at a time and essential products like bread and milk were being rationed.

In the wake of the havoc unfolding across the country, we talked to the experts about the key things retailers should consider when experiencing a natural disaster.

Employee safety

Rothbury senior insurance broker Guy Worsley says one thing retailer owners or staff should keep in mind during a natural disaster is that they should not enter unsafe buildings, whatever the circumstances.

Keeping staff and customers updated about the condition of your store is also important, he says.

“If your business is still operational – can you publicise this information to your customers by email, via social media, or other means?”

“As has been seen with the after-shocks this afternoon, the conditions are changing. Ensure there is a way of staying in touch with staff.”

Retail NZ says it’s paramount retailers check in with their employees to ensure that themselves and their families are okay.

”Your business may be in an area where there are public transport or roading issues, or where your employees may be required to care for their children because schools and childcare facilities are closed. If so, this may mean that your business is closed, or your employees are unable to get to work,” it says.

Product supplies

Worsley says should expect a surge for certain types of products and services businesses provide, while there will be a reduced demand for others.

For example, many Twitter users have posted photos of shops that have sold out of water completely.

As mentioned before, supermarkets are also having to ration essential products like bread to customers.

Worsley says each business will have different challenges to grapple with in the wake of a natural disaster.

“Every business is different, in terms of services offered, availability of services and location. There is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ in terms of closing the door; remaining open, setting up a pop-up store, relocating elsewhere, trading online,” he says.

Payroll problems

Retail NZ says it’s important to remember that New Zealand employment law doesn’t specifically outline what should happen with pay after a natural disaster occurs.

 Businesses should consider a number of factors when assessing the situation, including what the employee agreement and what the business’ policies and procedures say, as well as the reason why the employee isn’t working and the state of the business.

“In such a unique situation as this, wherever possible, we recommend that, as a first step, employers try to seek agreement with their employees and try to remain open to flexible solutions,” it says.

With payment, if an employee is ready to work but can’t get there or the business is unable to be opened, then typically this should be considered a pay day.

If this scenario isn’t covered in the employment agreement or policies and procedures, then both parties should work it out in good faith about how time off will be determined.

“The options could include taking annual leave, a paid day off, an alternative holiday or taking leave without pay. As a general rule employers need to pay employees who are ready, willing and able to work, but who can't through no fault of their own,” Retail NZ says.

As well as this, retailers may want to check their insurance policies and see if and how much they are covered for when it comes to lost remuneration for employees.

Getting back to the norm

Once everything has been sorted out after a natural disaster, getting the business up and running as usual can be difficult.

It may take some time to adjust to the post-disaster aftermath, as both customers and employees may be in a stressed frame of mind.

Retail NZ says it’s important employers take this into account if staff morale is lower than usual.

“Try and be as empathetic as possible with these employees, and allow flexibility around taking leave if possible, especially if you have any employees who may be struggling,” it says.

Not effected by the earthquake? Think again

If you are a business that escaped unscathed or are in another area of the country, Worsley warns there may still be impacts felt by the natural disasters that have unfolded over the past day or so.

 “Other retailers, not directly effected should also commence some planning,” he says.

“The supply routes have been effected and we don’t know how long that will continue. Plan now.”

Rothbury’s advice for retailers in the effected areas:

  • Contact your broker as soon as possible. Urgent or ‘emergency’ repairs should also be undertaken in order to make the property safe, sanitary, secure and weather tight.
  • Ensure you and all staff remain safe, and do not consider entering a building that is unsafe. Either yourself or your landlord should arrange to have a structural property inspection.

How to lodge a claim with EQC:

  • The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has said those with damages to their property have three months to lodge claims with the EQC and should get in touch with private insurers.
  • This can be done by visiting its website or calling 0800 DAMAGE (0800 326 243).
  • If possible, take photos before moving and repairing anything. Any reimbursement for temporary or urgent repairs is subject to EQC acceptance of a valid claim.
  • If accepted, the cost will be deducted from any total amount owed to you under EQC cover. This can range from up to $100,000 in damage and $20,000 in contents.

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