Inclement Weather Policy: Can Employers Require Attendance?

By Steve Donovan on Dec 21, 2022
6 min read 1 Comment

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When business owners draft their organization’s inclement weather policy, winter scenarios like ice, extreme cold and blizzards often come to mind first, as these are common causes for school and business closures. However, it's crucial to consider every possible weather event and natural disaster applicable to the region you do business in when creating an inclement weather policy, including those that might not immediately seem as disruptive.

For example, in Kansas City, while winter conditions are a notable concern, spring and summer bring their own set of challenges with the potential for severe weather events. These seasons can unleash heavy rain and flooding, strong winds, hail, and even tornadoes, all of which can have a significant impact on business operations.

Such events may not be as frequently associated with closures as winter storms, but their potential for damage and disruption is substantial.

free template sample business closure due to inclement weather messages

Weather Warnings and Business Decisions

Consider this scenario: a severe thunderstorm warning in Kansas City forecasts not only torrential rain but also golf-ball-sized hail and tornado possibilities. These conditions are just as likely to warrant business closures or remote work arrangements as a winter storm with snow accumulations and sub-zero wind chills.

Business owners must therefore ensure their inclement weather policy is comprehensive and clearly communicated. This includes preparing for less typical, but equally disruptive, weather events. Deciding whether employees should report to work, and understanding the legal and safety implications of these decisions, are paramount. Employers should prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees while balancing the operational needs of their business.

Related: Remote Work During Inclement Weather >>

Let's dive into the most frequently asked questions we receive from business owners when it comes to their company's inclement weather policy: “Can I require employees to report to work during a severe storm?” and “What is my obligation to pay workers for inclement weather days?”

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Can Employers Require Employees to Report to Work During Inclement Weather?

We are often asked by employers if they can require their team to report to work during severe weather conditions. We understand it’s a difficult spot for business owners to be in. On one hand, you have a business to run. But on the other, no employees should be expected to risk their lives to get to work. Where do you draw the line when it comes to weather-related attendance?

From a legal standpoint, the answer to this popular question is “yes” and “no” depending on how the employee is classified.

According to OSHA, an employer cannot require a motor carrier employee (someone who operates a vehicle transporting people, hazardous materials, or cargo for business) to drive when the employee fears his or her safety.

Related: How to Communicate Weather-Related Business Closures to Employees and Customers >>

Additionally, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) can come into play in adverse weather situations. Under NLRA, workers can refuse to work under unsafe conditions if certain criteria are met. It also protects workers from employer retaliation when they refuse due to unsafe conditions.  

For employers in all other types of business, yes, legally you can insist your team report to work. Now for the gray area. While you can dig your heels in and require all employees to report to work during bad weather, as a business owner you should value the well-being and safety of each and every one of your workers.

How will mandating attendance impact employee morale? It is best to be reasonable during times of inclement weather. Remember, everyone has a different comfort level when driving in severe weather and it is common for regions across the metro to be impacted differently.

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How is Pay Handled for Inclement Weather Days?

When developing your inclement weather policy, one critical aspect to address is the payment of employees during weather-related closures or disruptions. There are two primary conditions to consider:

  1. Decision-Making Authority: Was it your decision as the employer to close the workplace due to inclement weather, or did the employee decide to stay home based on the severity of the weather?
  2. Employee Classification: Is the worker classified as exempt or non-exempt? Understanding the difference between these classifications is crucial

 To find out what the difference is between exempt and non-exempt, read this blog post.

  • Non-Exempt Employees

    Whether it was your decision to close your business or the worker chose to stay home, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment of wages to non-exempt workers if they did not come in due to inclement weather.

    However, you should check agreements or contracts you may have signed with any non-exempt workers, as they may have a provision for pay in these situations. That said, as a business owner, when you make the decision to close your workplace for a day or more, it is out of your workers’ control and it may be best practice to pay, even if not required by law.

  • Exempt Employees

    If the employee is classified as exempt and they have worked part of the workweek affected by an inclement weather workplace closure, they are entitled to their full salary for that workweek. Since you will be paying salaries for the workweek, it is entirely acceptable to request your employees work from home, if applicable.

    Employee vacation time and paid time off (PTO) may be charged; however, many employers choose to cover the day off rather than forcing their workers to use accrued time off. On the other hand, if the workplace remained closed for the full workweek, FLSA does not require them to be paid, but PTO may be applied.

    But what about when your workplace remains open during inclement weather? When an exempt employee makes the decision not to come in, it is considered a personal day, and you may charge them vacation or PTO days. If they do not have any PTO available, you have the right to deduct pay for the missed day of work.

Related: Q & A Natural Disasters and FMLA Leave >>

Why You Should Include an Inclement Weather Policy in Your Employee Handbook

The best way to prevent issues from bubbling up during inclement weather days is to have a clear policy in your employee handbook. If the forecast calls for flooding, golf-ball-size hail, or tornado warnings, it may be a good idea to re-circulate the policy before the storm system arrives. A solid Inclement Weather Policy should include the following:

  • How your business will notify employees of a winter weather closure and how far in advance they should expect it.
  • How workers will be compensated for the weather closure days?
  • If PTO may be applied.
  • What the expectations are in terms of working from home?
  • How employees should notify you should the workplace remain open, but they cannot make it in, and how will pay be affected?

Safeguarding Your Workforce in Inclement Weather: Expert Guidance from Axcet HR Solutions

When severe storms strike, ensuring employee safety becomes a top priority for employers. But how can you balance this with maintaining business operations? At Axcet HR Solutions, we understand the challenges you face. That's why our team of safety and risk management consultants, as part of our comprehensive HR services as a professional employer organization (PEO), can provide the expertise you need.

Discover how to create an effective inclement weather policy that safeguards your employees while addressing business continuity. Our safety and risk management consultants can guide you in developing strategies to mitigate risks, communicate effectively with your workforce, and implement contingency plans.

Prioritize the safety of your employees and the well-being of your business. Contact Axcet HR Solutions today to learn how our expert guidance can help you navigate inclement weather challenges and create a robust policy that ensures both employee safety and business continuity. Together, let's weather the storm with confidence.

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Written by Steve Donovan

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