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Inclement Weather Policies

As winter approaches in most of the country, the weather outside is (not so) delightful.  Blizzards, flooding and hurricanes can wreak havoc with business operations and commuting employees. Planning ahead and documenting your policies and procedures in the employee handbook helps you focus on safety and make things a lot smoother when these events happen.

How to Prepare Your Office for Bad Weather

Businesses should examine their inclement weather verbiage in the employee handbook to ensure that employees understand the company’s policies for these events and what is expected of them when these situations arise.

Issues that the employee handbook needs to address include:

  • Conditions that will close the business
  • Procedures for determining closure
  • Communicating closure, partial closure and delayed opening to employees
  • Determining essential personnel and their responsibilities
  • Telecommuting and other options
  • Pay Policy (for hourly employees)
  • Absence policy

These items need to be defined in the employee handbook for both pre-events (i.e. forecasted blizzard), as well as procedures during an event when employees are sent home.

 SHRM sample template

Employee handbook policy – Determining when the business will close

First and foremost should be employee safety. Recognize that much of your workforce may not live close to the office, so driving/road conditions are a major consideration.

Many businesses look to the state or federal government to help them determine if they will close or not. For example, if a governor asks people to stay home and stay off the roads, then businesses need to seriously consider closing as well.

During a storm, it will be important to continually monitor winds, snow depths, road conditions, temperature and other factors to determine if an early closing is in order.

Employee handbook policy – Defining how closures will be communicated

In today’s digital world, communicating with employees is easier than ever. You can post the closure on your company web site or send text messages to employees. Some companies use an automated calling system to communicate the company’s plans and expectations before and during an event. Employees should know where to seek out updates, such as the web site, or a dedicated emergency line.

Make sure that your webmaster can access and update your website as needed. If you use an outside agency/company, then seek out other methods to keep employees informed (i.e. staff an emergency line).

Establish your chain of command and have supervisors and managers contact their direct reports with this information. Many companies have an employee directory readily available (online or printed) to help with these efforts.

The HR Department should ensure that employee information (home address, home phone and mobile phone) are up to date.  Encourage employees to verify their personal data using their HRIS self-service portal or through other means.

Employee handbook policy – Defining essential personnel and responsibilities

Some businesses need to have a skeleton staff in order to continue operating.  Perform an analysis of your business and determine what staffing level is needed. Essential employees need to be told that they are expected to be at the office, regardless of weather conditions. You may need to make special provisions in order to help them get to the office (contracts with a plow service, 4WD vehicles to pick them up, etc.) to help.

Employee handbook policy – Telecommuting during weather events

In today’s digital age, much of today’s professional workforce can do some or all of their job from home. That expectation needs to be relayed to employees who can operate this way.

Employee handbook policy – Pay rules for exempt and non-exempts

Exempt employees are typically guaranteed their normal salary regardless of inclement weather. Many employers will also pay hourly, non-exempt workers for their scheduled shift in the event of a closure, but it is not required.

In the event you send employees home early, most companies pay employees the balance of the remaining shift, but again, they are not legally obligated to do so (Check your state for minimum shift laws).

Employee handbook policy – How absences count during weather events

Employees are often unclear if closures or partial closures count towards vacation and sick balances. These questions need to be addressed in your employee handbook.

If the company is closed and a salaried employee is capable and authorized to telecommute, and they choose not to, are they charged a vacation day?  You will also need to address the hourly employees. Will a missed shift be paid, unpaid, or eligible for paid time off?

Company Liability

In addition, you may want to contact your attorney to discuss potential issues and how to limit company liability.  Items to discuss include accidents that occur at the corporate site due to poor/negligent maintenance and accidents involving the use of a company car or truck. This may impact your weather related decisions, result in new procedures or warrant a revision of your written policies in the employee handbook.

A sound inclement weather policy and associated procedures in the employee handbook ensures that your policies will be implemented consistently. It will also set the proper expectations and eliminate any guesswork by your managers and employees.

Bring it on!