When inclement weather strikes, it can leave many businesses in a lurch. Can they expect employees to reach the office safely? If they can’t, will they be able to work from home? What if closing completely just isn’t an option?
There aren’t any laws governing inclement weather policies in the United States, but many companies devise them just in case nature strikes. This will prove invaluable down the road.
Inclement weather refers to adverse conditions that are hazardous, affecting people’s ability to commute and sometimes posing dangers to their homes — and lives. In particularly extreme circumstances, state or city governments may advise citizens to evacuate the area, as was the case with incidents like Hurricane Katrina. In other cases, they might declare a state of emergency and institute parking bans and other measures to encourage people not to leave their homes.
Inclement weather encompasses a wide range of compromising climatic conditions, such as:
• Hurricanes and tropical storms
• Blizzards and snowstorms
• Hail, sleet and heavy rain
• Extreme heat or cold
Often, these and other instances of inclement weather may result in more disastrous conditions. Storms, for example, may cause flooding, and hurricanes could result in power outages and fallen trees.
A hurricane is certainly an example of inclement weather. There are five categories on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale, defined by the speed of their winds. Category 5 is the highest, with winds over 156 mph. In most cases, even a Category 1 hurricane will result in damage and office closures.
Company policies typically outline procedures in the case of inclement weather. They might, for example, specify the conditions under which the office might be closed. They will also specify means of communication about closures or delays and outline expectations for employees, such as if they’re expected to work from home. They should also articulate that employees should exercise their judgment in the case of inclement weather whether the office is not closed; it may be unsafe for some to make the commute, and there should be procedures in place for working out what to do with their supervisors. Policies should be stated in the employee handbook. Some businesses also elect to remind employees of their policies when inclement weather is expected.
You’ll need to determine who will decide when it’s appropriate to close the office or delay opening Often, the decision will come from the top, such as the CEO or president of the company, and others may advise that person.
In some cases, you may decide it’s appropriate to close the office but not the business entirely. When creating your policy, consider which employees should be able to work from home and what resources they might need to make this possible. Ensure that the clause regarding telecommuting is realistic and what the terms are. For example, should employees have automatic out-of-office replies to their email, or are they expected to be available on email when the office is closed because of inclement weather?
When you set out to create an inclement weather policy, you need to decide what actually constitutes inclement weather — and when it’s an actual emergency. In emergency situations, you should consider closing the office altogether. This could mean that the governor or mayor has declared a state of emergency or that transportation is shut off or limited. You may also look to school closures in the area as a guide.
If employees who live in some areas are experiencing worse weather than others, decide whether you’ll expect the ones who can safely make it to the office to come in. In any case, make it clear that employees should always exercise their judgment and prioritize their own safety.
How will you alert employees to closures? Perhaps you’ll set up a text or email alert system or post closures on a landing page and remind employees to check it. Maybe managers will be expected to contact their employees directly to ensure that they’ve received the news, too. Whatever the method is, just be sure all employees have access to it and are aware of how they should expect to find out.
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, whether non-exempt employees receive pay when a business is closed because of inclement weather (and they are not working from home) is left to the discretion of the employer. Exempt employees must be paid for at least a week if they are willing and able to work (i.e. you closed the office, but they are still willing to work). If the office remains closed for longer than a week and the employee performs no work, employers are not required to pay them, although if they perform any work during the week, you must pay their full salary.
Some organizations, such as medical facilities, will need key personnel to come in and remain open regardless of the weather. Have a plan in place for how you’ll cover essential operations, and articulate it in your policy. Also, make sure the people identified are aware of their responsibilities and that you account for their safety when figuring out how they’ll get to work.
In cases in which you’ve determined that it’s safe for the office to be open but some employees, such as those who live in areas that were hit particularly hard, are unable to come in, decide how you’ll handle their responsibilities and pay. You may have a blanket policy, or you may have each manager evaluate individual circumstances. Avoid pressuring employees to come to work, and account for their safety above all else.