This post was authored by Lisa S. Charbonneau.

In July 2018 alone, California Governor Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency  for eight counties — Lake, Mendocino, Mariposa, Napa, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Shasta, and Siskiyou Counties — due to fires, and proclaimed a State of Emergency in San Bernardino County due to damage caused by a monsoonal rainstorm event.  Under the California Emergency Services Act   (CESA), such proclamations have special significance for public agencies and their employees because a proclaimed State of Emergency may trigger the activation of the Disaster Service.

By law, all public employees in California are mandatory members of the Disaster Service by operation of oath / affirmation typically administered at the time of hire. Originally envisioned as a way to trigger a civilian defense force against military invasion or attack during World War II and the Cold War, today the Disaster Service is generally activated to combat States of Emergency due to natural disasters like wildfires, storms, and earthquakes when the damage and effects of these events are beyond the ability of any single local government to effectively address.

In a State of Emergency (or Local Emergency), local and distant law enforcement, medical personnel, and fire personnel will provide emergency response in the communities experiencing the effects of the disaster. Civilian public employees provide disaster-related duties that are not emergency response but are still critical in managing a disaster.  Typical civilian Disaster Service work duties include answering phones, staffing shelters, serving food, driving, managing volunteers, translating or interpreting, cleaning debris, sorting, packing and loading supplies, and otherwise providing victims with government services.  Once activated as Disaster Service Workers, public employees may be required to perform duties that differ greatly from their normal positions.  They may be assigned to perform Disaster Service work outside of their normal schedules and away from their usual job locations.

Unlike law enforcement/fire/medical personnel, most civilian public employees are not used to the extreme pressures and chaos of emergency response-related work. Thus overseeing civilian Disaster Service Workers poses its own challenges.  The best way to effectively marshal an agency’s resources in a State of Emergency is to pre-plan for the activation of civilian Disaster Service Workers and pre-train on logistics of Disaster Service Work as much as possible.  For example, employees should know where to call, what web site to check, or how otherwise to know where/when to report to work in a State of Emergency in their locality.  All employees should be regularly pre-trained on their responsibilities as Disaster Service Workers, and supervisors should receive additional pre-training on their specific roles, e.g., on assigning disaster-related tasks, special timekeeping requirements, and policies they must enforce.  Moreover, agencies should regularly audit Disaster Service records to ensure current contact information and up-to-date Disaster Service Worker classifications (the category of task a Disaster Worker is supposed to perform as stated on their Disaster Service registration).

Agencies should also develop payroll and personnel policies to govern work performed by employees in a State of Emergency and/or under Mutual Aid Agreements. For example, will MOU overtime provisions apply?  Who is permitted to approve overtime.  How will employees be compensated for time spent travelling to an out-of-area assignment?  Will employees be permitted to drive themselves to special disaster-related assignments?  Should non-exempt employees be allowed to volunteer to perform similar services as they are regularly employed to perform?  How will agencies monitor whether an employee’s Disaster Service assignment complies with any medical restrictions they may have?  What policies apply if an employee has been evacuated from their home or cannot show up to work due to responsibility for taking care of children or the elderly?  Are there special concerns when deploying disabled employees as Disaster Service Workers?  Who will determine what agency positions must be back-filled if the incumbent cannot fulfill his or her duties because he or she is serving as a Disaster Service Worker.

Finally, agencies should evaluate whether they have sufficient resources for employees to stay fed and hydrated, and to take breaks as needed, while working long and stressful hours as a Disaster Service Worker.

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Photo of Lisa S. Charbonneau Lisa S. Charbonneau

Lisa represents public agencies throughout the state as a negotiator, litigator, and trusted advisor in all matters pertaining to labor and employment law.  She has extensive experience in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and wage and hour compliance, labor relations, collective bargaining, MOU…

Lisa represents public agencies throughout the state as a negotiator, litigator, and trusted advisor in all matters pertaining to labor and employment law.  She has extensive experience in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and wage and hour compliance, labor relations, collective bargaining, MOU audits, PERB practice, and public employee disciplinary matters.  She also represents independent schools and non-profits in wage and hour matters.

Lisa has served as lead negotiator for small and large public agencies in labor negotiations with public safety unions and numerous other employee associations and organizations, including Teamsters, SEIU, AFSCME, police/deputy sheriffs associations, and the International Association of Firefighters.  Lisa takes a hands-on approach to bargaining and strives to be highly responsive to the unique needs of each client and their governing body.

Lisa also has an extensive litigation background in federal and state court, and has achieved successful results for clients in matters ranging from wage and hour to First Amendment retaliation.  As one of the firm’s FLSA litigators, Lisa has represented numerous cities, counties, and special districts in FLSA collective actions throughout the state.  She has also represented clients in arbitrations and fact-finding hearings, as well as before the Public Employee Relations Board, the California Labor Commissioner, the U.S. Department of Labor, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A significant part of Lisa’s practice involves counseling clients on the meet and confer process and FLSA issues.  She also conducts FLSA audits for clients, which range in scope from reviewing employer compliance with discrete wage and hour laws to assisting with payroll system upgrades and modifications to achieve compliance with wage and hour laws.  Her practice also includes training on such subjects as ethics, discrimination and harassment, FLSA compliance, the collective bargaining process, and the Brown Act.

Lisa serves on the Executive Committee of the firm’s Wage and Hour Practice Group and has taught LCW’s FLSA Academy since its inception.

Lisa received her JD from U.C. Hastings College of the Law in 2006 and was admitted to the California State Bar in December of that year.  While at Hastings, Lisa served as an Equal Justice America fellow and received a grant to work on community economic development issues for the City of Detroit.  Lisa earned her Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Government from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and soon after that worked at a bi-weekly political magazine in Washington, D.C. until she began to pursue her law degree.