Companies that make their open-and-closed policies clear for inclement-weather seasons -- such as snowy winters and falls full of hurricanes -- can keep employees informed, instead of in the dark.
“An employer does not have to have a policy and can simply tell employees that they must report to work when the business is open, regardless of what other businesses choose to do and are reported on the news,” Richele Taylor, an attorney in Fisher & Philips’ Columbia, S.C., office, told SHRM Online.
“However, if an employer wants to have a policy addressing inclement weather,” she said, “it needs to explain how employees will be notified of a shutdown -- text, call, number to call, etc. It also needs to provide direction on what to do, who to call, if the business is operating and an employee cannot make it due to the weather or is late.”
Taylor recommends that “whether it is in the handbook or elsewhere, if there is an absentee-point system, tardiness due to weather should be addressed. I would also address whether hourly employees can choose to use vacation time to cover those hours when the company is shut down -- and address this early.”
Exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week in which they worked. And with the increasing availability of telecommuting, that’s going to be most weeks. The odds of an exempt employee being at home and not doing any work are “pretty low,” noted Daniel Turner, an attorney in Ogletree Deakins’ Atlanta office.
As for nonexempt employees, organizations are required to pay them only for the time they worked, Turner said.
Other matters to address when creating an inclement-weather policy, advised Bill Allen, an attorney in Littler’s Washington, D.C., office, include:
• Designate someone to announce closures, and decide how the information will be communicated (e.g., email, dial-in hotline message, radio/TV, website, social media, phone tree). Email often isn’t suitable because many nonexempt employees don’t have it, Turner said.
• Identify whether any essential employees are expected to report to work when the office is closed, and determine the company’s expectations of those workers.
• Establish procedures employees should follow to notify the organization if they cannot make it to work because of a weather-related issue (or other emergency), including determining who should be contacted and how.
• Discuss how the business will treat absences of and tardiness by nonexempt employees for purposes of pay and vacation/leave time.
• Discuss contingencies for early departures or closures and late arrivals or openings, including how such information will be relayed and the effect on pay for both exempt and nonexempt workers.
• Explain whether nonexempt employees will be permitted to make up missed time.
• Decide whether and/or when nonexempt and exempt employees may work from home during absences due to bad weather or other emergencies (both when the workplace is open and when it is closed) and how that will affect their pay or use of leave time. The inclement-weather policy should be coordinated with any existing telecommuting policy.
• Emphasize that employees should prioritize their safety when deciding whether to report to work in bad weather when the company is open.
There’s a “fine line” between absenteeism for inclement weather and run-of-the-mill absenteeism, Taylor observed.
If a company is open one day and an exempt employee doesn’t come in, his or her pay can be docked for that day if the individual doesn’t work at home, she said, adding that that’s a big “if.”
Consider that employee relations may come into play and that nonexempt workers may have good excuses for not coming in when the organization is open. Their kids’ baby sitter may not be available, for example, or snowplows may not have made it out to rural areas.
“Be aware there may be a perception issue,” said Karen Luchka, an attorney at Fisher & Phillips in Columbia, S.C.
Consider employment actions from a human standpoint, agreed Paul DeCamp, an attorney in the Washington, D.C.-area office of Jackson Lewis PC. “Do you really want nonessential workers to be on the road?” An employer that is “overly demanding” in these circumstances may find that its workers are getting stressed out and starting to fake illnesses, he cautioned.
Allen Smith is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMlegaleditor.
© 2013, Society for Human Resource Management
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