Inclement Weather and Business Continuity

Many employers operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is particularly the case with health care facilities and care for the aging. If you operate in this business environment, it is important for both the continuation of the business and the safety of employees that you have a plan in place to address how operations will continue in the event of bad weather or natural disasters.

The key is to develop an inclement weather plan and communicate the plan. The plan should define which employees are essential to running the business that is, the employees who must continue to work in the event of a weather emergency or other catastrophic event. The next step is to determine the best method for ensuring that they make it safely to work. Some common approaches include setting up carpools, providing transportation, renting nearby hotel rooms for employees, and providing cots on site so employees can get some sleep.

Next, there may be some employees that must work, but do not necessarily need to be on the premises. Identifying employees who can work from home will involve some advance planning, for example, asking employees to take work equipment such as phones or computers home.

For all other nonessential employees, many employers use a liberal leave policy when bad weather conditions are an issue. These employees may be given the choice to use paid leave instead of coming to work when inclement weather strikes, and they feel it is too dangerous to get to work.

Not having a plan in place will likely result in a reduced level of service to clients during periods of inclement weather.

Poor weather conditions of the winter months can often raise pay-related questions for employers. Employees may not report to work because of hazardous conditions or a business may close for the day. The issue is straightforward for non-exempt employees (i.e. employees paid on an hourly basis, subject to overtime pay). Non-exempt employees are paid for the actual time worked. Thus, if they do not report for work or the business is closed, they are not paid for the day. An employer may choose to allow these employees to use vacation or other paid time off to cover the lost wages.

The issue is a little more complex for salaried exempt employees. The question of pay is determined by whether or not the employer is open for business and whether the exempt employee works any part of the day. An employer that remains open for business during a weather emergency may lawfully deduct one full-day's absence from the salary of an exempt employee who does not report for work for the day due to adverse weather conditions. In a recent opinion letter, the Department of Labor considers this an absence due to personal reasons; therefore, a deduction of a full-day's pay will not violate the salary basis rule or otherwise affect the employee's exempt status. It should be noted that deductions from salary for less than a full-day's absence are not permitted for such reasons under the wage and hour regulations. The Wage and Hour Division has stated that an employer may, as an option, require an exempt employee who fails to report for work in this situation to take vacation or other paid leave to cover the full-day's absence.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with your human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .