February starts today which means winter is in full swing. Our nation has its share of bad weather and natural disasters. From hurricanes to tornadoes and earthquakes, there are plenty of things Mother Nature does that make it difficult for employees to make it to work. But winter in parts of our country means working from home or often risking injury to get to work.
To start, it goes beyond saying that employers should never ask employees to risk harm getting to work or staying at work. However, we also know there are managers and even organizations that sometimes forget their moral obligations to their staff in bad weather. It’s enough to make a meteorologist upset.
Outside the moral obligations of creating a work culture that fosters responsibility balanced with personal safety, there are wage laws to apply to staff when they miss work because of weather. This time of year is usually a great time to remind ourselves of them.
So let’s start by being clear, wage-and-hour laws contain no exceptions for weather emergencies, so employers must make sure that they are still paying their workers properly and complying with their record-keeping obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other statutes. That being said, the knowledge that wage laws still apply does not make it any easier to know exactly how they apply when weather conditions force an organization to close or make it impossible for employees to get to a job site.
The easiest way to approach what is owed to employees missing time due to weather is by separating them along their exempt status. Hourly and salaried employees have to be treated differently even when it snows.
Let’s get hourly employees out of the way first. Their weather rules are a little easier. According to FLSA, hourly workers need only be paid for the hours that they actually work. Therefore, outside any additional collective bargaining agreements, if the office is closed or the hourly employee cannot get to the job site because of weather, they don’t get paid. Hourly employees, or non-exempt employees, get paid only for the work they do. However, some states have laws that require workers to be paid a minimum number of hours even when they actually put in fewer hours. All employers need to be sure to check for any additional wage-and-hour laws in their particular state.
Now for salaried, or exempt, employees.
If an organization closes an office due to weather, they cannot deduct those hours closed from the pay of salaried employees. If your organization is closed, the Department of Labor considers your salaried employees’ absences as being “occasioned by the closure or your business operation requirements.” If you don’t pay those salaried workers then you have technically compromised their exempt statuses. An employer cannot categorize an employee as being exempt if they are not paid for absences that are caused by the organization’s operating requirements.
If the employer does not close the office and an employee cannot (or chooses not) to come in to the office for whatever reason–in this example snow, the DOL says that these absences are considered absences for “personal reasons.” The organization can deduct pay for a salaried employee for any FULL days that he or she does not work unless the employee uses personal leave.
Needless-to-say, the entire issue can be complicated and clear company policies need to be in place before it starts snowing or raining. Managers need to be appropriately trained and the polices should reviewed by proper counsel. (Members of 501(c) Agencies Trust can contact HR Services for any questions related to this, and any other, issues.)