Inclement Weather: Rights and Responsibilities of Employers

Whether it’s raining cats and dogs or your city is covered in a record amount of snow, conducting business during times of inclement weather can be a challenge for employers. Balancing the safety of employees and the needs of your business can be tough.

While an inclement weather policy can clarify your expectations for employee attendance during bad weather, the final decision of whether to advise employees to stay home, leave early or head to work is a call for managers.
 
business continuity policy should be in place well before a hurricane or blizzard barrels toward your business.

“[Employers should have the] appropriate written policy in place, where the employer outlines its expectations about call in and attendance,” says Massachusetts attorney Julie A. Moore. “Is an email ok? A text? How much notice is required? An employer should outline clearly what it expects of employees.

”Under the tenets of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) employers are required to pay nonexempt (hourly) employees for actual hours worked. Therefore, an employer is not required to pay a nonexempt employee even if the employee was scheduled to work and sent home early. Simply put, if your employees arrive for work and work only an hour before the decision is made to close due to weather, you are only required to pay them for the hour worked, according to federal law.

However, some states have adopted “show-up pay” or “report-in pay” laws that provide some guaranteed pay for nonexempt employees who arrive for work but are sent home. All employers should be aware of state laws governing their employees and remain compliant.

Exempt employees, typically those paid a salary and not hourly, almost always must be paid for time off due to inclement weather according to the FLSA. Though employers can require an employee to use paid time off for such situations, an employer cannot penalize an employee who has exhausted all paid time off for time taken during inclement weather.

Businesses that provide essential services during chaotic times, such as hardware stores or media outlets for example, should make it clear to all job applicants and current employees that their presence is expected during bad weather. Though it’s not wise to terminate an employee for their inability to show up to work, an employee absence is a suitable reason for disciplinary action.

“As for weather days, we are very generous about this, especially as we are in the Snow Belt,” says Michael Hess, president and CEO of Skooba Design, a company that manufactures and sells technology cases and accessories for travelers. “If it seems like there will be any travel difficulty or risk to our employees, we send them home early, or don't open in the morning and give them a number to call to be sure. I would never make anyone drive in hazardous conditions, or leave his/her family in a blackout. It's just common sense and decency to me.”