Every year I anxiously await Fall – I love the smell of the falling leaves, the cool mornings, pulling my sweaters out of the closet and the fact that winter is coming because I love winter. The anticipation of snow, the quiet of the world as it falls down, the warmth of a fire, and the cold frost-covered pink mountain mornings are a delight. Well, this year, after artic blasts, days of below zero wind chills, many inches of snow, and school make-up days on Saturday, I am done with winter and ready for spring. Just yesterday morning on the way to school a song about summertime was playing on the radio. My eight-year-old listened for a minute and said, “Don’t I wish!” – a sentiment with which I’m sure many of you can agree wholeheartedly.
In the south we have experienced winter this year with a force we haven’t seen in years and many employers have been left with the question of what to do about paying employees who missed work because of snow or ice. This year I have been asked more than ever before how employers should handle snow days for employees. Small businesses, especially, are torn between having to pay for days on which no work was done and feeling as though their employees are unfairly penalized if they cannot get paid because they cannot make it to work.
My best advice is that you need a policy that explains the payment policies for inclement weather and makes clear to your employees that their safety is of first concern. Now that, hopefully, the worst of the winter is behind us, here are my suggestions for implementing an inclement weather policy now so that you are ready for next year:
First, your policy should address whether employees (exempt and non-exempt) will be paid when the business is closed due to bad weather. I strongly recommend paying your exempt employees even if the office is closed, especially if your exempt employees are performing some work from home even on a snow day. As many of you have heard me say before, even if you technically could deduct a day’s pay from your exempt employees in certain situations, generally I do not believe a day’s pay is worth the risk of losing the exemption or the cost to morale of your exempt employees. You may require exempt employees to use a PTO or vacation day for the closed day if you choose, but I would caution against deducting if the employee is out of PTO or vacation.
If the office is closed, you are not required to pay your non-exempt employees if they perform no work. You would need to pay your employees for any work they perform out of the office. Your policy should prohibit non-exempt employees from working from home without express permission of their supervisor. Further, if you allow non-exempt employees to work from home, your also need a policy that describes the hours they are allowed to work from home and how time is to be recorded, including the approval of any overtime or time worked outside normal office hours. You may also allow non-exempt employees to take a PTO or vacation day to be paid for the day off work. Finally, many employers choose to pay their non-exempt employees for days that the office is closed due to inclement weather and thus the decision of whether to work or not is completely out of the non-exempt employee’s control.
The next scenario for your policy to address is the situation in which the office is open but the employee does not feel that the employee can safely come into work. Your policy should state that employees are expected to be at work if the office is open, but that employees should use their judgment as to whether they can safely come into work. You may choose to allow an exempt employee to work from home or require that she use a vacation, sick, or PTO day if she can’t come into the office. Again, I would caution against deducting from pay. For non-exempt employees, you may require them to use a vacation, sick or PTO day or take the day off unpaid. If you allow non-exempt employees to work away from the office, you should do so only pursuant to a policy that sets out their work hours and the expectations regarding recording time and overtime work. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the position of having a non-exempt employee who later claims to have either worked off the clock or worked many hours of overtime which you can neither confirm nor refute and, thus, end up paying.
If you set expectations regarding pay, reporting to work, and working from home before the bad weather arrives, you will not be faced with making case-by-case determinations that can be bad for employee morale and expose you to potential liability.
Act now and implement a policy as the daffodils are beginning to bloom. Maybe implementing a policy for inclement weather will be like buying a snow blower – just as sure as you do, you won’t need it for years! Happy Spring!