When wicked winter weather grounds your workforce

“Oh the weather outside is frightful/But the fire is so delightful/And since we’ve no place to go/Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

No place to go? What about employees trying to get to their jobs! What are they supposed to do when the wind is howling, the snow is drifting and the roads are icing over?

With much of the country dealing with the blustery weather that is so common in the months of January and February, now might be a good time to review your HR rights and responsibilities when crippling snowstorms are in the forecast.

The main issue for most employers is whether or not they must pay employees who don’t - or can’t - come to work because of weather conditions. And if you can charge them with vacation or other PTO for missed work.

Like many pay issues, this depends on the exemption status of the employee. Under FLSA guidelines, employers should use discretion before docking the pay of exempt employees who miss work for weather-related reasons. Basically, if you remain open during bad weather and an employee does not report to work, you may make pay deductions for full-day absences only. (If the employee works any part of the day, you must pay him or her for the entire day.) Yet if you shut down your business, you should pay exempt employees their regular salaries. Keep in mind, however, that you have the right to require employees to use accrued time off to cover the missed work – assuming they have vacation or PTO available to them.

Regarding non-exempt hourly employees, it’s up to you whether to pay them for snow days. Basically, the FLSA doesn’t require you to pay them for hours they would have worked if severe weather wasn’t a factor. But again, you may require non-exempt employees to use vacation or PTO to cover their absence. Also, it’s up to you whether you allow hourly employees to make up any weather-related lost work.

Next order of business: Does your employee handbook contain a severe weather policy? If not, you’ll want to develop one ASAP that covers:

Closing the business – How you’ll determine whether to shut down for severe weather (snowfall more than six inches, local school districts are closed, etc.)

Communication – How you'll communicate a business closure to your employees (call-in number, website with instructions, etc.)

Employees with children - Whether employees who are able to report to work, but who have children whose schools or daycare facilities are closed, may bring their children to work

Telecommuting - Whether employees who are unable to report to work may work from home - and the conditions surrounding this arrangement (such as remaining accessible via computer or telephone)

A final note: While not a policy issue, you may also want to provide a list of cold-weather precautions for your employees, such as how they can protect themselves in frigid temperatures, safe-driving trips (including emergency tools to stow in their vehicle, like a snow scraper, flares and flashlight) and what to do in case of an accident.

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