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What is your inclement weather policy?

February 7, 2019

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Many organizations found themselves unprepared for the record cold that gripped the Midwest for days last week.  Inclement weather can have a serious impact on an employer’s productivity, be it managing employees who can’t make it into work due to heavy snowfalls or school closings, or trying to figure out whether to send employees home early due to an approaching blizzard or closing the office and allowing telecommuting due to the bitter cold.
Managing weather surprises in the moment is challenging enough no matter how prepared the organization may be. Having an inclement weather policy in place ahead of time is the key to minimizing the chaos.  If you found yourself unprepared this January or simply need to update your policy, here are some thoughts to consider in developing or updating an inclement weather plan:

Identify the Decision Makers 
In order to head off confusion, determine who will be responsible for making decisions from closing the office to sending employees home early. Do these decisions vary by department and function, or is it an office wide decision? What factors will go into that decision?  Will it be the amount of snowfall, declared snow emergencies, temperature, whether public transportation is running?  Are there key personnel that have to report to work (or stay at work) regardless of the weather?  

Once the decision is made, how will you make employees aware of it? Where should they go to get the information?  What happens if employees need to be notified over the weekend or after hours?  Does the organization have home and/or cell phone numbers for all employees or email addresses?  Will you notify people by social media, posting on a company intranet, an old fashioned “phone tree” calling system, or perhaps a combination of these items?  If the office remains open, is there a clear call-in procedure for employees who cannot make it into work or are running late?
Will the organization excuse absences due to the weather?  Will lost time need to be made up later in the week?  Will employees be allowed to telecommute?  Even if telecommuting is normally not allowed, it may be worth it in these situations to make up for lost productivity.
Pay Issues 
By far the most important concern of employees is how their pay will be impacted.  For non-exempt employees, it is comparatively straightforward.  Employers are only responsible for paying for hours worked.  There is no requirement under the FLSA to pay non-exempt employees for absences due to inclement weather.  This is regardless of whether the office was officially closed or whether the office was open, and the employee was unable to report to work.  Many employers may decide to be more generous and set pay policies that will provide inclement weather pay for a partial or whole day absence.  Other options would be to require the employee to use vacation time or other Paid Time Off to receive pay during inclement weather days.
Pay for exempt employees is a bit trickier.  In an Opinion Letter from the U.S. Department of Labor, it is stated that employers can require exempt employees to use vacation or Paid Time Off for absences due to weather without jeopardizing the exempt status of the employee. This is regardless of whether the office was officially closed or whether the office was open, and the employee was unable to get to work.
In addition, the DOL letter indicated that deductions from pay may be made for full day absences, if the employee does not have vacation or Paid Time Off, and they are unable to report to work when the office is open.  Deductions for partial days are not allowable.  However, if the office is officially closed, that same employee cannot have deductions from salary made “for absences occasioned by the employer.”  The employee must be paid his or her full salary for that day in order to avoid jeopardizing the exempt status.
Employer Liability 
Lastly, employers should be most concerned about the safety and well-being of their employees. This is especially true for jobs that require their employees to be exposed to the cold weather. OSHA has guidelines for employers to help prevent “cold stress.”  If an employee needs to drive as part of the job (whether their own or a company vehicle), employers need to ensure they are not driving in hazardous conditions and that they are driving safely.
A recommended best practice is to publish your inclement weather policy in your employee handbook and distribute copies of the policy in the fall, prior to the bad weather hitting.  If employees are well aware of the expectations of what to do, how to post time, and how their pay will be handled, it will minimize any HR headaches the next time a big winter storm moves through.

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