With a good portion of the country digging out from recent staggering snowfalls, it seems like a good time to review what rights and responsibilities employers have to employees who miss work because of inclement weather.
Rebecca Goldberg, writing on the Connecticut Labor and Employment Law blog, offers a pretty comprehensive look at snow day absences. Here’s a rundown of what she had to say:
Since they’re paid on a salary basis, except in rare circumstances, a reduction in hours doesn’t change exempts’ pay.
If a business is closed for less than a week, the law requires that exempt workers be paid their full salaries. But the feds also say it’s permissible to require the employee to use vacation days or other PTO to cover their absence — but if the employee has no PTO time available, his or her salary can’t be reduced.
Caveat: State laws may vary on these issues, so it’ll pay to check with your company attorney.
So, OK. You can make exempts use up vacation time for snow days. But Goldberg cautions that “if an exempt employee performs any work during the day (whether onsite or from home), the employee must be paid for the whole day.”
Partial-day deductions from a paid time off bank are allowed, even for exempt employees. So, if an exempt employee chooses to come in late due to road conditions, a portion of a day may be deducted from the employee’s paid time off bank — again, if the employee has PTO available. Partial-day deductions in pay aren’t allowed.
As you well know, non-exempts are paid only for hours worked, so generally speaking, if the snowdrifts prevent them from getting to the workplace, they don’t get paid. Again, though, Goldberg offers a word of caution: “Some passive time, such as on-call time, is considered ‘hours worked,’ so it is possible some non-exempt employees will need to be compensated, even if they do not perform any actual work.”
Some state laws require some form of payment for non-exempt employees who report to work and are then sent home early.
In addition, employers should count these hours as “hours of service” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act.
Tips for employers
Here’s Goldberg’s general advice on handling employee pay issues that come with absences caused by the weather:
Many employers choose to pay all employees for the full day, without deducting from a paid time off bank, for administrative simplicity, employee morale, or other reasons. (Of course, a collective bargaining agreement may limit these choices.)
Whether or not to close the worksite can be a difficult decision and may be influenced by road conditions, the length of employees’ commutes, the nature of the job, whether schools are closed, production requirements, whether telework is possible, employee morale, and the amount of pay at issue.
Unless the employee’s job is of a critical nature (think hospital employees), employers should avoid subjecting an employee to discipline or termination for failing to report to work if the employee feels the road conditions are unsafe.
Employers should communicate to employees beforehand how the employees will be notified of a worksite closure. Small employers typically will call each employee at home or send an email, while larger employers may announce a closure through a radio station or company website.
Whatever you choose, make sure employees know whether they are expected to report to work.