Inclement Weather Policies, are they fair?
“Oh the weather outside is frightful”. . . the famous opening lyric to Let it Snow by Jule Styne brings happy thoughts of the holidays, but for employers that’s exactly what it can be. . . frightful.
In today’s workforce where almost anyone can work from home with an internet connection and a phone, does it really matter if you, as the employer, close your office due to inclement weather? I mean, employees can take their work home, or maybe you have a virtual network and they can login remotely, easy right? Well let’s consider a few things before telling everyone who normally comes into the office to work from home, go home early, or the dreaded, “the office is open, but please use your discretion when traveling into work, we want you to be safe” option.
From the employee’s perspective, what does this mean? "Am I getting paid if the office is closed or I’m sent home early due to weather conditions?" "What does “use your discretion mean?”, if I don’t come in, will I be paid?" "Will I be charged a day off to my accrued leave time?" "Sure my company is saying this, but my supervisor is giving me mixed signals."
There are real considerations on how to pay employees depending on their Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) status, meaning exempt or non-exempt, but I want to focus on how your decisions can affect your company’s culture and being careful not to create a culture of have and have nots.
Scenario 1: It’s midday and rain/snow or whatever weather front is coming in and everyone is getting anxious to head out early, but you, as a company, have not made any decisions to close early because you too are looking at the same forecasts and don’t seem that concerned, yet.
Your exempt employees (i.e., those who by job responsibility are exempt from overtime and must be paid their regular wages - these employees don’t “clock in”) see the weather reports and are starting to pack up and leave early. They’re saying, "I’m going to head out, I can work from home remotely.” Your non-exempt employees (i.e., those by job responsibility who are eligible for overtime and whose working hours you track), say, “hey, wait a minute, that’s not fair, if I choose to leave early, I will get docked pay or will have to take accrued paid time off (PTO).”
Scenario 2: The weather has been atrocious and you have to close the office the next day. You activate your phone or email office closure communication tree and let everyone know because you made this decision late evening or early morning. You then say, it is expected that everyone is expected to log in remotely and work from home.
Your exempt employees are saying, "great, no problem, I get to work from home “yea”. Your non-exempt employee might be saying the same exact thing, however, there could be a few employees who are now worried because due to the nature of their job, there is really nothing for them to do at home. They’re worried because they are hoping they don’t get “docked” for not being able to do their job online. There could also be a small population, who just are not set up to work from home. As oddly as it may seem, not all families or homes have optimal internet connect or multiple computers and they’re wondering if they are going to lose pay if the office is closed, but can't log in the hours of work.
Scenario 3: There are extended office closures due to weather or other issue (i.e., power outage), this actually has another set of concerns that we’ll address in another issue, but I didn’t want you to forget that extended closures may have other employee implications.
Regardless of the scenario, it really comes down to how you craft your policy and the message you are giving your employees regardless of their position in the company. A policy crafted only based on FLSA, State or local laws and regulations may make you legally compliant, but is it the best for your company’s culture? Yes, I know that some of you are thinking, the world is not fair and that’s what happens when you have different job responsibilities. The challenge is, can we make it fair? What about trying to craft a policy that:
1. Allows for flexibility, if you as an employer are starting to see exempt employees leave early that you also allow non-exempt employees to also leave early without “docking” their pay or PTO banks.
2. States that if you, the employer, is closing the office, the employee won’t get docked pay or PTO even if they can or can’t log in remotely.
3. If the office is open and you are leaving it to the discretion of the employee to come in or not that regardless of who stays home even if they can log in remotely, they will be charged a PTO day.
4. If you have employees who work “in the field”, they may have a spot in your office, but their primary function is to be out, what happens to them. If you’re telling your regular office employee’s not to come in to work, then these employee’s shouldn’t be coming to work either.
Yes, all of these instances may have a financial considerations, but I would venture to say that how your policy treats something as small as a “snow day” could tip the scale in employee engagement and retention which may have far greater financial consequences.
If you have any questions regarding who is an exempt or non-exempt employee in your company, reviewing or creating an Inclement Weather Leave policy for your company, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org; we’re happy to assist you.