It’s a good bet that wintry weather will cause at least some of your workers to arrive late or stay home this year, or prevent your business from opening or operating at full capacity.

Before a storm hits, be sure employees know your company’s inclement weather policy. If you don’t have a policy, now’s the time to create one.

A written policy distributed to all employees will help everyone avoid misunderstandings and can also serve as a checklist if you have to close for the day.

Here are key points your policy should address:

  • Circumstances that cause you to close. Many policies state a general approach to closing, such as, “We are always open unless the state government closes.”
  • Notification of closing. Decide how you will notify employees if your company closes. For example, you might require them to listen to a particular radio station for an announcement, phone a supervisor, or check a text or voicemail message.
  • Critical jobs. Depending on the nature of your business, you might need only key employees to report for work during bad weather. Healthcare workers at a nursing home, for example, would have to be on duty, but the business office might close.
  • Who decides. Your policy should specify who has the authority to close your operations. A large organization or one with several work sites might need to authorize more than one person.
  • Safety. Consider stating in your policy that employees should not endanger themselves trying to get to work during bad weather.

If an employee is injured attempting to get to work or traveling home, it would not likely be deemed a workers’ compensation claim unless the trip involved a work-related task besides the commute.

Where bad weather arises during the course of the day, most businesses will suggest employees who feel unsafe remaining at work may leave early.
Where bad weather arises during the course of the day, most businesses will suggest employees who feel unsafe remaining at work may leave early.

Paying Workers During Inclement Weather

Exempt employees who work any part of the week are entitled to their full weekly salary. Exempts who choose to stay home may be deemed to have taken a full personal day.

This is one of the few circumstances where it is permissible to reduce an exempt employee’s weekly salary by the full day’s wages if the employee chooses not to draw from or has no remaining accrued PTO.

Generally, nonexempt employees, i.e., those who record their work hours and are eligible for overtime, must be paid for the hours they work.

Where the business remains open, nonexempts are entitled to pay only if they report to work, and then only for hours actually worked. Many employers will allow nonexempt workers to tap into their PTO to make up for lost wages.

Restaurants, Hotels, Retail

Special rules apply to restaurants, hotels, and retail establishments.

If the weather does not allow these businesses to open, or if nonexempt employees do not report to work because of inclement weather, there is no obligation to pay those employees.

Restaurants and hotels that close early due to bad weather must provide at least two hours’ pay for nonexempt employees who report to work; retail establishments must provide at least four hours’ pay.

Unemployment Benefits

If there is no work for a full week, employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits based on total unemployment.

Workers who worked part of the week may be eligible for “partial” unemployment benefits. This benefit is generally calculated by taking their full unemployment rate (approximately 50% of regular wages) and reducing that by two-thirds of actual earnings.

Unemployment benefits paid out as a result of weather-related business interruptions are charged to the employers unemployment tax account, unless the president declares the weather event to be a “major disaster.”

Working from Home

With the relative ease of electronically accessing work from remote locations, an exempt or nonexempt employee who chooses to remain at home on a day of inclement weather may not really be absent if some work tasks are performed from home.

In such a case, an exempt employee’s weekly salary should be paid in full as regular wages, and the nonexempt employee should be paid regular wages for any time documented as actual work time.