Your boss probably shouldn't fire you just because you were in no position to tangle with Old Man Winter. The company doesn't need to wait until it snows to terminate you because most employers subscribe to the employment-at-will doctrine. Employment at will means you can be fired for any reason or for no reason. That said, your employer has the right to fire you -- provided it's not for discriminatory reasons -- but if bad weather is a contributing factor, your employer might cut you some slack.
Smart organizations create their inclement-weather policies before the season's first blizzard. This way, they don't put together a set of rules and conditions right after the 10 p.m. news when the local meteorologist predicts an overnight storm that promises to wreak havoc on the morning rush hour. Review your employee handbook to learn whether employee absences caused by bad weather justify termination. The policy should explain what happens to employees who miss work because they can't make it into work or employees who don't want to risk their safety even when the company makes a business-as-usual announcement.
If you're classified as nonessential personnel and you can't make it to work in a snowstorm, you can probably argue your position that surrounding businesses were closed and that you simply could not take the chance of driving in hazardous conditions. But if the storm wasn't bad enough to stop the majority of nonessential employees from getting to work, you could have a difficult time convincing your employer that you couldn't make it. That is, of course, provided you don't live in remote area that the city snow plows don't service.
If your employer fires you because you couldn't make it to work in a snowstorm and you're the only employee who got fired among other employees who didn't come in, your employer could be using the snowstorm to cover up the real reason for terminating you. Ask your boss if your absence during the snowstorm is the only reason you were fired and then ask if that's the same reason other similarly situated employees were fired. Your boss doesn't have to tell you why other employees were fired, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Termination vs. Pay
The worst-case scenario is, of course, losing your job because you couldn't get to work in the snow. But even if you're not fired, you might wonder if you're going to be paid for the time. If you're an hourly nonexempt employee, your employer doesn't have to pay you for the hours you didn't work, based on rules set out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA says hourly employees need only be paid for the hours they actually work. That said, companies that can afford to do so and are cognizant of the backlash an unanticipated blizzard can have on its employees' earnings, may go ahead and pay them. It makes work life simpler and can keep employee morale from plummeting. If you're a salaried exempt employee, your employee can't dock you for a day off from work, unless the office was open and you simply refused to come in. Alternatively, employers can require that employees use a vacation day to ensure they get paid for time off when they can't make it to work because of a snowstorm.
There's no federal or state law that prevents the company from letting you go if you can't make it to work because of the snow. And that's generally because employers have the right to terminate employees at will. But that doesn't mean the employer is justified in using the snowstorm as an excuse when your boss could have easily said that he decided to let you go "just because." The only time you're protected from being terminated -- snow or no snow -- is when you have a labor union contract, an employment agreement or when you're exercising your rights under public policy, the three major exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: The Employment-At-Will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions
- Compensation.BLR.com: Snowstorms and FLSA: When Are You Required to Pay?
- Ask a Manager: Do You Have to Be Paid If Your Office is Closed Due to Weather?
- NJ.com: Q&A: What "State of Emergency"
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet No. 70: Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Furloughs and Other Reductions in Pay and Hours Worked Issues
- Inc.: How to Prepare Your Office for Bad Weather
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.