Issue: This winter, many of your employees have been unable to make it to work due to severe conditions. You’d like to develop a severe weather policy that addresses office closures, absences and payment issues, among others. What should you consider as you develop the policy?
Answer: Severe weather can pose considerable challenges for employees on their commutes to and from work. Many employers that contend with weather emergencies on a regular basis have implemented handbook provisions to address such situations. When drafting a severe weather policy, consider the following:
Business closure. Will you designate certain days as “severe weather” days? Will you set objective measures, such as snowfall that is more than six inches? Will you tie company closure decisions to your school district’s closings? Or will such determinations be made on an ad hoc basis?
Communication. How will you inform staff whether the company is open or closed? Typically a call-in number or website is used, affording employers the ability to conveniently convey status updates and further instructions.
Early departures. Consider whether to implement a general “early release” policy when mid-day snowstorms loom. Will you require a skeleton crew to remain? If so, outline the equitable manner in which employees will be selected for such duty.
Tardiness/absenteeism. Some employers waive tardiness rules on severe weather days. Will you grant excused absences for employees who are unable to make it in on those days? Alternatively, will absent employees face disciplinary action?
Telecommuting. Employers that experience regular bouts of poor weather might consider telecommuting as a means of deterring weather-related loss of productivity, even where it’s not otherwise a standard company practice. May employees telecommute when getting to work is cumbersome? May they do so on any foul weather days, or just on those workdays you designate as “severe weather” days?
Wage-hour issues. Consider whether to allow hourly employees, where appropriate, to make up work hours lost due to severe weather. A more critical question: Will you compensate employees for working time missed when the office is shut down due to inclement weather? Generally, pay for workers who are unable to reach the workplace because of weather conditions can be excluded from regular-rate-of pay calculations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), provided such absences are infrequent and sporadic.
Exempt employees. Note that whether to pay an exempt employee in such instances will be dictated by the FLSA. An employer that remains open for business during adverse weather emergencies may make deductions, for full-day absences only, from the pay of otherwise exempt employees who choose not to report to work (for personal reasons) that day. Should the business close, however, all exempt employees must be paid their full salaries.
Outdoor work. Who will make the determination whether non-essential outdoor work is safe to perform, even if those workers manage to get to the worksite?
Reporting for duty. Some bargaining agreements and handbook provisions provide a minimum payment, such as two hours’ pay, for days when employees report to work but cannot work due to weather conditions.
Essential employees. Consider whether to identify certain employees as “essential” and others as “non-essential,” and whether to set forth distinct inclement weather.
Mandatory overtime, on-call time. Outline clear expectations for mandatory overtime and on-call requirements for essential employees, as well as penalties for violations. Set forth a clear procedure as to when and how off-duty employees must report in during critical periods.