When a business shuts down because of severe weather, it impacts productivity and revenues. On the flip side, remaining open can put employees’ safety at risk.
The increase in remote work, however, may mean fewer employees calling out when they are snowed in, mitigating both revenue loss and risk for some employers.
Whether or not remote work is an option, employers should address concerns that can accompany bad weather in an inclement weather policy. It should include contingencies for both closing and remaining open during storms. It should specify if those who can’t make it in are expected to work remotely.
The policy can be in an employee handbook, but it is also a good idea to provide employees with a reminder at the beginning of every severe weather season, or when severe conditions are forecast.
When drafting an inclement weather policy, consider the following:
For employees who always work from home: Specify that it’s business as usual, unless the bad weather somehow impacts their ability to do their jobs remotely. For example, an employee who experiences a power outage at their remote location cannot be expected to work during the outage. Or, if coworkers and systems they depend on to do their jobs are impacted by the storm, they may not be able to work.
For hybrid employees: If bad weather occurs on a day they were scheduled to come in, they should opt to work from home that day instead.
In-office employees able to work from home: ;Providing an option for telecommuting on bad weather days could help alleviate some issues. Your policy should outline which employees are allowed to work from home if they feel it is unsafe to travel into work, and which positions are essential, meaning they must report to the physical workplace. Those able to work from home must take their laptops and other necessary tools home with them every night to ensure they are able to work from home should a storm blow in overnight. Include this in your policy.
Defining inclement weather: Your policy should indicate who decides whether to remain open or close. Provide this person with guidelines for what constitutes “inclement weather” in your area. It is usually defined as weather that causes major disruption to transportation, businesses, and schools. While four inches of snow may shut down roads in Texas, it would not cause alarm in Minnesota.
Assessing liability risk: The decision maker should also understand the liability risks your company faces if it stays open during severe weather. For example, with the onset of winter, employers in northern climates can expect snow to occasionally create hazardous traveling conditions. While there are always exceptions to the rule, commuting to and from work — even in a blizzard — is not generally covered by workers’ compensation. Employers are not typically liable for accidents that may occur during an employee’s regular commute.
However, employers can be liable for accidents, such as slips, trips, and falls, on company property caused by weather conditions. When evaluating whether to close, employers will want to consider their ability to provide a safe working environment (including parking lots and sidewalks) during inclement weather.
Notifying employees: The policy should clearly outline how closures will be communicated to employees. Some companies notify employees via email or text message, while others provide a telephone number for employees to hear a recorded message. Some companies also submit notices to the local radio and television stations to be included with school and community closures.
Paying employees: The obligation to pay employees during a shutdown depends on whether the employees are exempt or nonexempt. Under federal law, for nonexempt (hourly) employees, the answer is simple; they are paid only for hours actually worked. If they do not work because the business closed or the employer sent them home early, they need not be paid. They could, perhaps, use PTO to cover an absence. Exempt (salaried) employees must generally be paid their normal salary, unless the business is closed, and no work is performed for a full workweek. Federal regulations prohibit salary deductions for exempt workers for days when work is not available, including weather closings. In most states, exempt employees could be required to use paid leave.
Impact on morale: Staying open during hazardous weather could negatively impact employee morale. If schools are closed, parents will have an unexpected need for childcare, and poor driving conditions may result in more stressful commutes. It could also give employees the impression that you are not concerned for their safety.
In addition to creating a policy, you might need to communicate with managers on how to address essential employees who choose not to report during inclement weather, even when the business remains open.
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