Growing up in southwest Idaho, I can remember an average of five snow days a year. Even though the school district didn’t believe they could bus all of us to our classrooms safely, we somehow found a way to make it up to the ski hill. Snow days … one of the greatest gifts of winter for a kid.
But for business owners, deciding to close the doors because of bad weather is a tough call. No one wants to put themselves or their workforce in danger, but there are also serious financial consequences to unexpected closures and it can create significant inconveniences for customers. It is important to think through these issues, decide how your business will respond and communicate expectations to employees in order to make sure they understand what is expected of them when the weather and roads are bad.
If you have a variety of positions in your business, then bad weather may affect different workers differently. For example, employees who work primarily from a laptop computer can have different expectations made of them than workers who must complete their duties at a brick and mortar worksite. Laptop users can be expected to take their devices home every night and be prepared to log into their work systems from home if the weather makes driving difficult or dangerous, or creates school closures, forcing kids to stay home from school.
This approach keeps these employees productive even if you can’t open your doors or if the employee feels it is not safe to travel. You must communicate this expectation clearly. It may help to formally draft a policy, inform employees of the policy and encourage supervisors to review this frequently with direct reports.
If yours is a business that depends on certain employees to show up – either for customer service or to work on a production line – then you will need to establish different guidelines or policies for when the weather makes it difficult, unsafe or impossible for employees to travel.
If your business remains “open” when the weather is bad but employees report that they cannot get to work, many employers will rely on normal policies to account for the weather-related absences. Some employers will not count absences against employees if the employee made a reasonable effort to get to work. Labor experts advise that if you do make exceptions, you apply them uniformly to avoid any claims of discrimination.
If you are forced to close your doors due to poor weather, then you will face different requirements for pay of exempt and non-exempt employees. The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires exempt employees be paid their full salary if a business closes; however, you can deduct this time from an exempt employee’s vacation or other time off or leave bank. But, if exempt employees have used up all of their time, they still have to be paid.
You do not have to pay non-exempt employees for days your business is closed. However, some employers will allow non-exempt employees to be paid if they choose to use time from their time off or leave bank if that time is available to use.
It is important to develop a process for communicating any decision to close your business due to bad weather so employees understand where to go for information. Some employers will rely on phone trees to spread the word or will instruct employees to go to websites or a particular radio station to receive an official closure notification.
Employers should plan ahead and share this information with their workforce before bad weather hits. It will help you avoid confusion and frustration and may prevent employees from traveling in harsh weather when it is not safe.
Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.