As businesses across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cope with the impact of Hurricane Sandy, many employers may be wondering about their responsibilities when it comes to office closures and employee attendance and pay. Weather-related emergencies can occur at any time, and with winter approaching, now is a good time to review your company's policy and make sure you're in compliance with the law.
Consider the following guidelines that can help your company be prepared when bad weather strikes.
1. When an employee misses work due to bad weather conditions, whether the employee is entitled to be paid for the absence may depend on the employee's exempt or non-exempt status.
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not required to pay non-exempt employees for hours they did not work.
- Absent a company policy or agreement entitling the employee to such pay, if the employee misses work or if the office closes for a full or partial day due to bad weather, the employee is generally not entitled to be paid for time missed.
- If permitted by company policy, an employee may use earned paid time off for the absence.
Exempt employees (including certain bona fide executive, administrative and professional employees) generally must be paid their full salary amount if they perform any work during a workweek.
- However, an employer that remains open for business during a period of bad weather may generally make deductions, for full-day absences only, from the salary of an exempt employee who chooses not to report to work because of the weather. Deductions from salary for less than a full-day's absence are not permitted.
- If the business is closed for the day as a result of inclement weather, the employer may not deduct the day's pay from the salary of an exempt employee. The general rule is that an employer who closes operations due to a weather-related emergency or other disaster for less than a full workweek must pay an exempt employee the full salary for that week, if the employee performs any work during the week (without regard to the number of days or hours worked). This is because deductions may not be made for time when work is not available.
- Although partial-week deductions from pay are not allowed if the business is closed, salary reductions may be permitted if the exempt employee misses a whole week and performs no work because the business is closed for the entire week.
- Employers may require exempt employees to use accrued leave (such as vacation or personal days) during the time the office is closed due to bad weather or when the office is open but the employee fails to report to work, but the employees must be paid their full salary. Exempt employees who have no accrued leave also must be paid their full salary if the office is closed.
2. Some states require employers to pay employees for showing up even if no work is available or there is an interruption of work and the employee is sent home.
Although payment for time not worked may not be required for non-exempt employees under federal law, some states do require that employees be paid for a minimum number of hours for reporting to work, even if there is no work that can be performed (such as when the office is closed) or the employee is sent home early, for instance, due to an impending storm.
Often called "reporting time pay," these laws may apply to specific industries (e.g., manufacturing) or certain employees only, so it is important to check with your state labor department for requirements that may apply to your company before implementing any policy.
3. Planning ahead ensures that your employees know what is expected of them in case of a weather emergency and can help minimize disruption to your business.
Make it a priority to notify all of your employees, both exempt and non-exempt, of your company's policy regarding employee attendance and pay during periods of inclement weather. This can be done in the employee handbook (if your company distributes one) or by email or posting a notice where all employees can see it. Be sure to apply your policy consistently and fairly to all employees.
Your policy should include information on how your employees can find out whether the office is open or closed, such as by email, radio broadcast, calling in to hear a recorded message, or other methods that all employees can access.
It's also prudent to remind employees to use their best judgment and not to put their safety at risk when it comes to traveling to work during or after a storm. If possible, see if you can arrange for employees to work remotely from home on days when the weather makes travel dangerous.
If you have any questions regarding employee attendance and pay during a weather-related emergency, please contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney for specific guidance. For more issues related to employee compensation, including guidelines for determining the exempt or non-exempt status of your employees, visit our section on Employee Pay.
Have you had a chance to download our free Federal Labor Law Penalties Chart? Organized by company size, it's a simple way to understand the key federal labor laws that may apply to your company and the related penalties for noncompliance.
Image Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video