In whatever form it takes – hurricane, blizzard, or nor’easter – winter weather can be a real headache for your business. And somehow – even though the winter season shows up every year – many businesses are unprepared for the inevitable. So, this year, let’s plan to do a better job.
Winter Weather: The Risks
Begin by assessing your level of risk. Ask questions, such as:
- What winter events have occurred before? What was the impact to the area and how long did it take to recover?
- What additional risks are nearby? Dams, floodplains, bodies of water?
- What is your insurance protection? Is it enough and is it appropriate for identified risks?
Winter Weather: The Reality
Next, consider the impact these events can have on the daily operation of your business.
- What are the essential functions of the business? Which, if any, can be done remotely if your facility is not accessible?
- If you will rely on employees to work from home, do they have what they need to do that, such as Internet access, technology, or equipment?
- Do you have a leadership structure in place? If you can’t be reached, who is the next in line?
- Are there documents and/or equipment that should be evacuated from the work site in advance of predictable events? Who is responsible for the evacuation and return of these materials?
- How will you communicate the status of the business with customers and suppliers?
- Who has the authority to close, delay opening, or close early?
- How will employees be contacted and kept up-to-date? Do you have accurate contact information for everyone?
- How will you address the needs of employees with disabilities or special circumstances?
- Are employees trained on the details, such as how they will hear the status of the office or what materials they should plan to bring home with them the night before a weather event?
The only upside to winter weather is its predictability. Ready or not, it’s on its way. Now is the time to prepare your business for the inevitable.
Winter Weather: FAQs
If our company closes due to a storm, do we pay employees for that time?
Nonexempt employees must be paid for time worked. Federally, if your business is closed due to a weather emergency, these employees aren’t working and therefore are not paid for that time. This also applies to the hybrid classification of salaried nonexempt and to any 1099 workers. However, businesses should check state and local laws to see if additional “reporting to work” pay laws apply.
Exempt employees are a different story. These workers have a fixed weekly salary, and must be paid this full salary if any work was performed during the week.
However, if the business is closed for a full week due to weather, the employer is not required to pay exempt employees for that week – again, as long as no work is performed.
If our company closes due to a storm, can we require employees to use PTO for that time?
Employers can require or allow workers to use available leave during this time, but cannot dock pay from exempt employees if they have insufficient balances to cover the closure – unless the period of time in question is a full week.
If I can’t get employees to the office, can I have them work from home?
Absolutely. The predictable approach of a weather event is a perfect time to update staff about your work-from-home policy. If you don’t have an established policy, the answer is still yes, but your employees will need additional direction.
For non-exempt employees, make sure to set parameters on their time. If they exceed those parameters, you will still pay them for every hour worked, and time and a half for hours over 40 in the week, but they can be disciplined for violating the policy.
Am I liable if someone gets hurt driving to work in bad weather?
Generally, employers are only liable for what is done in the course of employment and not what occurs on their commute. If the weather is bad, it’s understood to be the employee’s duty to go slow, be careful, and leave extra time for their commute.
If there is a state of Emergency, though, please consider having your employees stay home. There is no upside to having them come in. Travel is dangerous, schools are closed, customers are nil, and your employees are deeply annoyed and soon shopping for other jobs.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.