When Winter Storms Strike: Can Employers Require Attendance During Inclement Weather?

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The first official day of winter isn’t until December 21st, but weather conditions in the Kansas City area indicate the season is here. Whether we were prepared or not, blizzard conditions impacted the metro with record snowfall, strong winds and white out conditions already Thanksgiving weekend. While the storm hit on Sunday, many employers either called off work for the day or the following Monday, or they tended to employee attendance issues. In anticipation of a snowy few months ahead, the questions many Kansas City business owners have right now is, “Can I require employees to report to work during bad weather?” and “What is my obligation to pay workers for office snow days?” 

Can You Require Employees to Come to Work During Inclement Weather?

We are often asked by employers if they can require their team report to work during inclement winter weather. The answer is “yes” and “no” depending on how an employee is classified.  

According to OSHA, an employer can not 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.

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. That said, Jeanette Coleman, Director of Human Resources, advises while you can insist all employees 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 on snow or ice and it is common for regions across the metro to be impacted by winter weather differently.

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How is Pay Handled for “Snow Days?”

There are two conditions to consider when deciding whether or not to pay your employees for inclement weather days. First, whose decision was it? Did you, as the employer, make the call to close your workplace due to inclement weather or did the employee decide not to come in? Second, how is the worker classified? Are they non-exempt or exempt?  (What’s the difference between non-exempt and exempt? Find out here.) 

Non-Exempt

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.

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 an ice storm or significant snowfall that week, it may be a good idea to re-circulate the policy before the storm arrives. A solid Inclement Weather Policy should include the following:

  1. How your business will notify employees of a weather closure and how far in advance they should expect it.

  2. How workers will be compensated for the weather closure days.

  3. If PTO may be applied.

  4. What the expectations are in terms of working from home.

  5. How employees should notify you should the workplace remain open, but they cannot make it in, and how will pay be affected.

Find out how to prepare your business when a winter storm is likely.

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Steve Donovan

Written by Steve Donovan