It seems like we have had our fair share of weather-related instances in the United States over the last couple of years. The unpredictable weather patterns and its side effects are sure to make any employer contemplate their current policies. Whether or not to implement an inclement weather policy is the question.
There are many factors that complicate getting to work during inclement weather. Personal safety, state of emergency situations, travel advisories and warnings, snow plow routes, flood zones, and other related closings such as school and day care closings or delays, should all be considered. Because of this, no organization is really able to be sure to include every scenario in their policies. But one thing is for certain, if there is an inclement weather policy to be written, details are important.
First, decide how the organization will communicate with employees. Who contacts whom in the event of a delay or closure? Prepare a phone tree to make sure everyone is contacted, or post the information online so that all employees are able to access it before leaving for work from home. Also, decide the preferred method for employees to communicate with their supervisors regarding their attendance status for the day. Employers must remember that weather may vary throughout the surrounding areas. For example, flooding around the worksite may not be the same as flooding around an employee’s home who lives thirty miles away. Also, one employee’s idea of safe driving conditions may not be the same as another. It is crucial that employers have perspective in all situations and stress to each employee that their safety is paramount. All of these situations should be noted in a well written policy to aid in avoiding confusion.
Second, in the event that there is a delay or closure employees should understand their choices regarding paid time off. Will exempt employees be required to use paid time off, e.g. vacation benefits, sick leave benefits, personal days etc. to cover the day(s) of an inclement weather absence? If nonexempt employees miss work because of a delay or closure, will they be permitted to make-up this time at a later date (also referred to as flex time) or are they required to use any available paid time off benefits to cover the absence? Are nonexempt employees permitted to work from home, if appropriate? Is so, what is the process for approval and how do they record their time? May the employees take unpaid time if they desire, so as not to use all of their paid time off benefits? The answers to these questions will vary according to the size of the business and the industry, so it is important for each policy to be tailored to fit each organization.
In some regions of the country where inclement weather is a frequent occurrence, employers may consider having a separate paid time off benefit for inclement weather days, like they would for vacation benefits, sick leave benefits, personal days, bereavement, or jury duty leave. It may give peace of mind to employees who feel as if they’re using all of their available paid time off to cover their pay during bad weather days. Organizations should consult with each individual state employment law regarding paid time off benefits, so as to remain in compliance with state laws and the use of paid time off.
It is also important to keep in mind that an employee’s absence due to bad weather should not count against them in the event that they already have an attendance problem. The employee’s failure to come in to work when authorities have advised against essential travel will likely not be considered disqualifying conduct in regards to unemployment claims. In this case consistently having employees and managers document the reasons for the absence is a good rule to follow.
No matter how you look at it, inclement weather is a headache for businesses. But, with some planning and patience employers may be able to minimize the stress for their managers and their employees through utilizing well written inclement weather policies.
For additional information on inclement weather policies or if your company needs assistance with developing and implementing a policy, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP