In Like a Lion: An Employer’s Guide to Handling Inclement Weather

By: Meryl Mills

Even though it’s March, we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of having to deal with inclement weather. As the Midwest experiences historic flooding, it is reminder that bad weather is always an issue, no matter where you live or what time of year, and now is as a good a time as any for employers to review their handbooks and determine whether they have effective (and compliant) inclement weather policies in place. Here are six things to consider when drafting or updating your inclement weather policy.

1. How do you define “inclement weather?”

We often think of “inclement weather” as involving snowstorms and hurricanes, but employers should consider what kinds of natural events their employees may encounter, taking into account their geographic locations. For example, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, dust storms, and fires may need to be addressed as well.

2. How will you communicate to your employees?

Employers should consider how they will disseminate information quickly to employees, and should designate a point person to contact and/or a time and place where announcements will be posted.

3. Do you have essential employees?

Employers should determine which staff should be designated “essential” employees, subject to different rules about reporting during inclement weather events, because they provide critical services to the community.

4. Will you allow employees to work remotely?

Consider who, if anyone, may be permitted to work remotely during an inclement weather event and make sure any necessary rules are in place (e.g. ensuring secure remote connection to work systems, non-exempt employees properly account for their time, etc.).

5. Are you compliant with state and federal wage and hour laws?

Generally, under federal law, employers need only pay non-exempt employees for time actually spent working. As such, employers can choose whether they want to compensate non-exempt employees when weather forces them to stay home. Employers should note, however, that some states may have call-in and/or reporting time pay requirements. (Read our post “Collect Call-In?” from March 7 about this very topic.)

Exempt employees must be paid their salary if they are ready, able, and willing to work, but the employer may choose to close its office. If the workplace remains open but the exempt employee is unable to report for work, the employer should consider whether it will require the exempt employee to use any available PTO or vacation. If paid leave is exhausted, federal law permits deductions for full-day absences when no work is performed. But remember to always proceed with caution when making deductions from an exempt employee’s salary to ensure all federal and any state-specific requirements are satisfied.

6. Are there any workers’ compensation or OSHA considerations?

Employers are expected to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Employers that have employees who work outside or who will be exposed to the elements as part of their job must consider whether additional protections and/or instructions are needed. Additionally, employers should make sure that all company premises are safe and accessible, including sidewalks, parking lots, and any common areas, and inform employees of any precautions they should take when inclement weather hits.

With these tips, employers can be prepared for when the next storm (or fire, or earthquake, or zombie apocalypse, etc.) hits. Stay warm, dry, and safe out there! 

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