Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Fires, Snow Days – Who Gets Paid When Your Office Closes Due to Disasters or Inclement Weather?
When you were a kid, a bout of bad weather usually felt like a blessing. After all, all that mattered to you then was whether or not your school would be open for the day.
But, now, things are a little different.
When you own or manage a business, bad weather means either braving the elements to drive to work (and hoping that your employees and patients are able to make it in, as well), or, worse yet, it means closing your office and dealing with the associated lost production, as well as the notification and rescheduling nightmare that comes with it.
As weather patterns across the country continue to surprise us with more frequent and more intense storms, questions about compensating employees when they can’t make it in to work — or when an office has to close temporarily — due to inclement weather are becoming increasingly common in the CEDR Solution Center.
CEDR Members — You always have the option of pausing your CEDR account while still maintaining your support when your business is affected by a natural disaster. Send us an HR Request from within your Members Area for more information on this program.
What determines whether employees should be paid during forced downtime while your practice is closed? What if the practice opens late, or closes early – do employees get a full day’s pay? What about exempt employees – are the rules different for them? And can you require that employees use vacation time or PTO when your office is forced to close?
The answers to these questions are found in both federal and (especially) state law, and they are different for exempt and non-exempt employees.
Let’s explore these differences in more detail using two differently classified employees (Non-Exempt Neil and Exempt Ella) as examples.
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Non-Exempt Employees: Not Paid if Notified in Advance
Per the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), non-exempt employees (meaning employees who are NOT exempt from requirements like overtime payments) are only paid for hours actually worked.
So, if your office closes due to inclement weather, as long as you notify your team before they report for duty, non-exempt employees such as your Front Desk Coordinator, Neil, do not have to be paid for hours not worked.
Neil and the rest of your non-exempt employees DO have the option of using any PTO they have available to them, however, though they may want the time to be unpaid because they are saving up paid time for a vacation. Either way, and we certainly hope they enjoy the unplanned day off.
Similarly, if your practice is opening late due to inclement weather but you’ve notified employees in advance, your non-exempt employees only need to be paid for hours worked that day.
And, yes, there is a reason I mentioned “notifying in advance.”
Despite the rules governing how non-exempt employees are paid, a few states also have laws mandating “report-in” or “reporting time” pay, which applies if your practice decides to close and send employees home after they’ve arrived at work for the day.
So, if Non-Exempt Neil is already at work or on his way to work and you then decide to close, you could have to pay a certain legally-mandated minimum number of hours for the day, depending on your state.
To check on what’s required in your location, contact a CEDR HR Advisor or join our private, professional Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.
Of course, in the very best of circumstances, closure notices go out the evening before any power or internet is lost.
What if the practice is open on a snowy or otherwise inclement day, but Non-Exempt Neil can’t make it in to work?
For non-exempt employees, the same rule applies if the office is open but they are unable to make it to work. Unless they are using PTO, a non-exempt employee only gets paid for time actually worked. If the practice is open but Neil stays home, you do not have to pay him for any hours at all.
Speaking of judgment calls about inclement weather, be careful about appearing to force an employee to drive when they do not feel that it is safe to do so. (This is a tricky area, but all CEDR employee handbooks actually address this in the proper way.)
Several years ago, as the midwest was being hammered with huge snowfalls, it wasn’t long before some of our member doctors began sending out four-wheel-drive vehicles to make sure employees were able to get to and from work. One doctor even went so far as to send drivers to pick up patients who were trying to cancel because of the snow!
Exempt Employees: Generally Paid
It’s a different story for exempt employees.
The FLSA does not permit employers to make deductions from pay for partial or even whole-day office closures in cases where the exempt employee is “ready, willing, and able” to come to work.
Therefore, when the office is closed, the practice must still pay exempt employees at their regular salary for any shutdown lasting less than one full week.
Rare cases in which the practice is shut down for an entire week or more are different. In those cases, assuming the exempt employee performs no work at all, they do not necessarily need to be paid.
Now, what if the practice is open, but your Office Manager and exempt employee, Ella, is not ready, willing, or able to make it in to work?
For instance, maybe Ella lives way out in the wilderness and can’t get her car out of the driveway due to a pile up of snow (and you are not able to send a four wheel drive).
In this scenario, because the “ready-willing-able” FLSA criteria are not met (Exempt Ella is not able to get to work), the employer MAY deduct the exempt employee’s pay for full-day absences only.
Don’t forget that in all circumstances, making pay deductions for partial-day absences is not allowed for exempt employees.
Also, note that any time an exempt employee does any work from home (or any work at all), they are still entitled to be paid their salary for the entire day, regardless of whether the office is open or closed.
If certain office personnel are able to stay home and work remotely during an office shutdown, the practice may choose to let them do so. Just be aware that this means paying exempt employees their full salary for the day, no matter how much work they actually perform that day. Non-exempt employees who work from home would be paid on an hourly basis, as usual.
Can a Practice Require PTO Usage for Inclement Weather Absences?
Yes, an employer may permit or even require that an employee use any PTO they have available for their weather-related absences.
For an office closure, if the employee in question is exempt, then only full-day PTO deductions to cover a full day’s absence are permissible. If the absence is “voluntary” (i.e., the office is open), then PTO use may be permitted or required for full- or partial-day absences.
But, if the employee does not have enough PTO to cover the absence while the office is closed, no salary deduction may be made if they work at all.
What About Requiring Extra Hours to Make Up for Time Missed?
Sure, you can require that an employee work a few extra hours if you need to make up some of the time that was missed.
Just remember, for your non-exempt employees, any hours they work count toward overtime for that work week. So, if they’re already at 40 hours or close to it in any given week, requiring that they work extra will likely push their timesheets over the edge.
Remember: Some of this Depends on Your State!
Laws governing things like “report-in” pay and other requirements will depend very heavily on where in the US your business is located.
Keep in mind that your practice’s policies regarding inclement weather emergencies need to be included in your employee handbook and must comply with your state’s rules.
CEDR Members already have these policies in place. So, when severe weather strikes your area, you’ll want to double-check your handbook for anything else required by your state.
If you are a CEDR Member, you can submit a ticket with your HR queries from your Members Area.
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Here’s one final tip regarding inclement weather closures: Create a record of your efforts when you notify employees that they should not report to work.
If you use email to make this notification, you may even want to follow it up with a phone call and make a record of that action in case any employees have experienced a power outage or loss of internet at their homes.
Your obligation as an employer is to make reasonable efforts to prevent your employees from wasting a potentially hazardous trip to work, if at all possible.
The best and most efficient way to distribute this type of communication to your entire team is to send an announcement through your HR system.
If you are thinking, “Wow, I wish I had that kind of system!” if you are a CEDR Member, you do! You can easily send announcements to your entire team from within your HR Vault.
If you’re not a CEDR Member, then today is your lucky day! Team-wide bulletins are easy to send and track through CEDR’s HR Vault, and it’s an included feature in the free version of our document storage and sharing software. Click here to Unlock Your Free HR Vault and keep it for the life of your business — no strings attached!
What’s more, if your employees need to clock in and out from home, or need to request PTO pay for unpaid hours, it can be a logistical nightmare to handle each employee’s request individually.
The good news is that there is an affordable upgrade option in the HR Vault that allows you to handle all of it in under 15 minutes! Activate the PTO & Time Tracking system inside your HR Vault and try it free for 30 days!
This post was updated August 27, 2020; originally published January 25, 2016.