The Impact Of Inclement Weather On The Workplace
Inclement weather brings with it all sorts of problems for employers, such as employees with child care concerns because of closed schools, tricky road conditions, office closings, and cold weather safety. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst with these pointers.
On the one hand, you're sympathetic to the predicament in which parents find themselves amid unexpected school and day care center closures. On the other hand, the last thing you want is employees bringing their kids to work with them. What can you do?
Warn employees in advance that bringing a child to work is not an acceptable solution under any circumstance. That way, employees will know they have to arrange ahead of time for child care during emergencies such as school closings, or else save up a few paid leave days so they can stay home with their child. Tip: If they do not have any accrued time available and have no choice but to stay home with their child, permit them to take an unpaid day off without penalty.
Relax rigid work schedules during inclement weather, if possible. Allow employees to arrive late or leave early to transport a child to and from a babysitter, and to make up the lost time later that week.
Allow employees to work from home, when possible, if they are unable to arrange child care. Tip: When inclement weather is predicted for the next workday and schools seem likely to close, encourage employees to bring work home with them in anticipation.
The weather is awful, but the office is staying open anyway. Some employees balk about having to drive or commute in such conditions, citing personal safety concerns. What should you do?
Refrain from demanding that employees report to work during inclement weather, particularly if state or local governments have banned all non-emergency driving. You risk getting hit with a civil lawsuit or perhaps even criminal prosecution (depending on your state laws) if the employee is injured while trying to get to work; such injuries might also be covered by Workers' Comp.
Allow employees to use paid leave or take an unpaid day off.
Instead of punishing those employees who don't come in during inclement weather, reward those who do make the extra effort to show up, e.g., order in lunch, let employees leave early (without docking non-exempts' pay), offer them an extra personal day to be taken during your department's slow season, etc.
The weather is so bad that the decision has been made to not open the office at all. How will your employees know that they should stay home, safe and sound? Make sure employees know in advance where to get this information.
Create a phone chain ahead of time for each department, i.e., the department manager calls two employees to notify them that the office is closed, each of them calls two more employees, and so forth until everyone is notified.
Record a message on your voice mail greeting that employees can call and check anytime they're in doubt about whether or not the office is closed due to inclement weather.
Send an e-mail to notify employees of the closing ONLY if you know that all employees have access to e-mail at home AND they know they're supposed to check their e-mail for weather-related closings.
If employees elect to ride out a storm at home for the whole day or part of the day despite the company being open, or if the company doesn't open due to inclement weather, or opens late or closes early, employees are sure to come running to you with questions about how Mother Nature has affected their pay. Note: When in doubt, advise the employee to consult with Payroll to have their pay questions answered in greater detail.
Company is open. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that non-exempt employees be paid for every hour they work. So you don't have to pay non-exempts who elect to come in late, leave early, or just stay home because of inclement weather.
The rules for exempts aren't so cut and dried. Generally, exempts must be paid their full salaries in any week they do any work. If exempts come in late or leave early and work a partial day, they must be paid their full salaries. Regulations to the FLSA allow partial-day docking from accrued leave banks, provided exempts receive their full salaries if they run out of accrued time and continue to take partial days off.
Exempts who have used up their accrued time, so that current debiting would result in negative time off, reap a windfall: Their salary cannot be touched, and they get extra time off. Your hands are not completely tied, though. It could be noted on their performance appraisal that they exceeded their allotted amount of time off. Or, it could be noted that they failed to save time to use in bad weather; essentially, poor planning.
If exempts choose to take the whole day off, you may deduct from their pay or accrued leave bank. That's because the FLSA permits docking exempts' salary or leave bank when the employee is absent for a full day or more for personal reasons, other than sickness or accident.
Company closes early. Some states have so-called show-up laws, which require that non-exempts be paid a minimum amount of hours, even if they're sent home early and work less than that; check to see if your state is one of them. Exempts who are sent home early are paid their full salaries.
Company is closed for the day. Non-exempts who don't have any accrued time need not be paid if the business decides not to open. Provided you have a bona fide benefits plan, you may require exempts to take a vacation day. But, exempts who have already run out of accrued time or would run out of accrued time due to current debiting must be paid their full salaries. Note: If severe weather conditions cause the business to be closed for a full week or more, exempts need not be paid.
If you have employees working outside in the cold, their safety must become your number one priority during extreme weather conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends:
Making sure workers are wearing appropriate gear at the start of each shift, e.g., gloves, hat, heavy jacket, insulated footwear. Be sure extras/replacements are on hand, just in case. Suggest they wear at least three layers of clothing. Review cold weather safety rules with workers at the start of the season, and as necessary going forward.
Requiring workers to work in pairs rather than alone, and teaching them to watch themselves and each other for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite: Skin becomes pale and waxy in color, and hard and numb to the touch. Usually affects fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears, and nose.
Hypothermia: Body temperature drops to 95ºF or below. Fatigue or drowsiness; uncontrolled shivering; cool, bluish skin; slurred speech; clumsy movements; irrational, irritable, or confused behavior.
Allowing workers to take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelter throughout their shift.
Instructing workers to perform work during the warmest part of the day.
Suggesting workers drink warm, sweet beverages and eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
Related Topic(s): Benefits/Paid Time Off, Leave/Paid Time Off, Payroll Management/Docking, Payroll Management/FLSA- Fair Labor Standards Act