Contributed by Caryl Flannery
… nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. (unofficial post office motto).
If only all employees felt that way! It’s November and that means we’re still in hurricane season with winter storms not far behind. Bad weather can bring on bad headaches for employers. Should I close the office? Can I get sued if I don’t cancel deliveries? Do I have to pay employees if I close the plant for the weather? How does this affect overtime? The action points below are a good starting point for establishing your inclement weather policy. These are general rules and we encourage you to contact your labor and employment attorney to resolve your specific inclement weather questions.
Have a Policy – This is a good time to review (or establish) your procedures for closing the office, cancelling shifts, timekeeping, and granting leave. Weather-related absences are considered personal absences and employees can be required to use vacation time or unpaid leave if they choose not to come to work due to the weather. There are exceptions to that rule, however. If the employee has no leave available, there may be limits on docking pay. Exempt employees must be paid if they work part of a day or if the employer closes the business for the day. Non-exempt employees must be paid for hours actually worked and, in some states, must also be paid for a minimum number of hours if the workplace is closed when they arrive or closes during the day. If you choose to let non-exempt employees make up the missed time, you have to pay overtime if the make-up time puts the employee over 40 hours for the week.
Have a Communication Plan – Whether it’s a phone tree, a post on your company’s Facebook page, a recorded message, or some other method; be sure your employees know how and when you will communicate information about inclement weather changes in the workplace. Some states require employers to compensate employees who report to work because they didn’t receive adequate notice that the workplace was closed.
Identify Essential Employees – If your business must operate regardless of the weather, identify the type and number of employees that are required to keep things running. Make plans and budget for special transportation, overnight accommodations, remote computer access, or other arrangements that will ensure that the people you need are where they need to be when you need them to be there.
Encourage Common Sense – Regardless of your pay and leave policy, employees who feel that it is not possible to travel to work safely should stay home. To avoid potential lawsuits and liability, don’t discipline employees who stay home for safety reasons and don’t force employees to engage in work-related activities that are potentially unsafe (e.g. making deliveries in flooded areas). Consider a policy that incentivizes employee attendance with additional leave time.