New terminology in the world of climate change is "thundersnow." Similar to a thunderstorm but with snow, thundersnow creates blizzardlike conditions and treacherous streets and highways, making it impossible for many employees to get to work. Some entire cities shut down. However, record snowfall doesn't mean that you're off work. If your employer's doors are open for business, you could be expected to show up despite the weather.
Your organization's handbook should contain its inclement-weather policy, including how the company dispatches news about closures, late starts or early closures. Inclement weather includes snowstorm and blizzard conditions, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding and other conditions that make travel hazardous or difficult. The policy should indicate whether it sends email blasts to employees or if the company relies on other media, such as Internet postings on the company website or television and radio announcements. Lexington, Kentucky-based employment law firm McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland recommends employers distribute an inclement-weather policy that indicates who makes the decision to close for the day and how the person communicates closures to employees.
Employers who classify workers as essential and nonessential personnel don't wait until the morning of a snowstorm to determine which employees fit into each group. They identify occupational groups, positions and categories as essential and nonessential personnel upfront and -- ideally -- when a new employee joins the organization. Otherwise, they list personnel classifications in the employee handbook along with the inclement-weather policy.
Hourly Employees' Rights
The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act, which indicates hourly nonexempt employees are paid only for the hours they actually work. Depending on the size of the organization and whether it can afford to compensate hourly nonexempt personnel for a day off work, employers acting in good faith might choose to pay workers instead of allowing something beyond an employee's control to affect her pocketbook. An hourly nonexempt employee has limited rights when it comes to missing pay because of inclement weather, but it's in the employer's best interest to provide some compensation for missed work, given the weather conditions that make coming to work dangerous.
Salaried Employees' Rights
Salaried exempt employees fare a little better when bad weather strikes, but it's because the FLSA does not permit employers to make certain deductions from exempt employees' wages. Exempt workers -- salaried employees -- must be paid, even if they decide to not come into work on a day where there's inclement weather. The only time an employer can dock an exempt worker's pay is when inclement weather lasts an entire week and the employee is unable to make it to work during that period. However, partial days and even a full day's absence cannot be deducted from a salaried worker's paycheck.
For companies with vacation policies -- not every company offers vacation and it's not required by law -- nonexempt employees can have the right to use vacation days to be paid for the time off due to inclement weather. If the weather lasts for a week and an exempt employee fears that she'll lose money, she can use a week's vacation time to make up for the time lost due to poor weather conditions.
Many employers follow the federal government's policies on office closings. The rationale is that when the federal government is closed, most business operations also close. If inclement weather persists or when the weather forces the government to declare a state of emergency, businesses should close. It might be impossible to open up for business in the wake of disasters such as Katrina, Sandy and tornadoes affecting both the typical and nontypical geographic areas. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management's Web page titled "Snow & Dismissal Procedures" is an excellent resource for employers in the Washington, D.C. area and outside the region looking to develop an inclement-weather policy.
- National Geographic: "Thundersnow" Facts: Mysterious Storms Explained
- McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland: Inclement Weather and Time Off Issues: To Pay or Not to Pay
- Society for Human Resource Management: Weather Conditions: Inclement Weather Policy
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Snow & Dismissal Procedures
- Paul Katz/Photodisc/Getty Images
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