There's nothing like a major crisis to help you find out who your friends are. And as a firm, Ward and Smith is fortunate to have friends across the globe who have reached out to us to find out how we fared. We are thankful for your inquiries, and wanted to respond to your kind offers to help.
Many Ward and Smith attorneys and staff evacuated. For the most part, our team was able to continue to serve clients remotely thanks to our excellent IT staff, our mobile "work anywhere, anytime" system, and the generosity of friends, family, and other law firms who offered their homes, offices, and Wi-Fi to us. We were able to help our clients locate resources and communicate options to their employees and customers. Our coastal clients largely wanted to protect their employees, their property, and, where they could, their customers. We understood completely.
Our New Bern and Wilmington locations suffered some damage from wind, rain, and trees, but were not flooded. The repairs have started already, and both offices are operating normally.
As a firm, we were enormously concerned with how our personnel were impacted by Hurricane Florence. Many people evacuated and were only able to get back to their homes over the last three days, as access to the Wilmington area was very poor. (The main interstate highway was so flooded that the local media showed the clean-up efforts included washing fish off of the roadway.)
As of this morning, it appears that 12 employees suffered significant or catastrophic damage to their homes. These people will be displaced, and lost much in terms of personal belongings. The homes of another 18 employees suffered some damage, but are expected to be repairable.
The partners of Ward and Smith acted quickly to make Qualified Disaster Relief Payments for Employees under Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code. In this instance, Ward and Smith is able to help impacted employees by paying for meals, transportation, essential items, replacement medicine, and temporary housing that is not covered by insurance. These reimbursements or payments are not considered taxable income for the recipient, and offer immediate help without the need to fundraise. The partners felt this was the fastest way to be able to offer help to impacted Ward and Smith personnel.
Additionally, Ward and Smith has offered salary continuance to impacted employees so no one will miss a paycheck while evacuated, or at home but dealing with the aftermath of the storm. While the firm offers a generous Paid Time Off policy, employees are not expected to take PTO to cover time away due to Hurricane Florence.
Mike Epperson, Ward and Smith's COO, declared, "We've witnessed a sense of community both within the firm, and in the coastal areas of North Carolina, that no one here will soon forget. Whether it be the lines of utility trucks from as far away as Maine, the Cajun Navy pulling people from their homes, or strangers showing up with cans of gas and chainsaws to help remove downed trees, everyone here has a story of seeing people at their best during this crisis. As a firm, we say we act like family, and wanted to offer tangible and immediate support to our folks who need help. This qualified disaster payment plan and salary continuation does that."
We are not soliciting for donations, but several people have asked how they can help. If you wish, the firm will route gift cards to places like Target, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Amazon, and Home Depot to our impacted employees. Those who wish to send ecards may send them to Mike Epperson at firstname.lastname@example.org for distribution. We also support many community initiatives to help, and offer several credible resource links in this article.
The people of Ward and Smith very much appreciate the inquiries from so many of our vendors, friends from the NCBA, the LFA, and other state and national associations. We are thankful we have friends who care about us as an institution, and as individuals. Thank you!