It’s a Snow Day! Who Gets Paid During Office Closures?
Remember the feeling of joy and relief you used to have, waking up as a child to a world covered in fluffy white snow? No school! For many owners and their office managers, that’s a sharp contrast to the feeling you get these days, knowing you either have to drive to work in that mess (and hope that your employees and patients make it in as well), or deal with the notification and rescheduling nightmare that comes along with any office closure. Whichever of these occurs, you need to know how to handle the issue of inclement weather and employee pay.
As recent winters have brought record-breaking cold, snow, and ice to many U.S. regions, our team is frequently asked about compensating employees when the practice is closed, or when employees can’t report to work, because of inclement weather. And it’s not just snowstorms that cause the trouble! Depending on location and time of year, some offices have to contend with ice, floods, hurricanes, sharknados* and more – and the HR problems are exactly the same.
What determines whether employees should be paid for days spent making snowmen while the practice is closed? What if the practice opens late, or closes early – do they get a full day’s pay? What about exempt employees – are the rules different? And can you require that employees use vacation time or PTO for snow days? The answers to these questions are found in both federal and (especially) state law, and they do vary depending upon the classification of the employee.
Let’s explore these differences using two sample employees: Non-exempt Nate and Exempt Ella.
Non-Exempt Employees: Not Paid if Notified in Advance
Per the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), non-exempt employees are paid for hours actually worked. So if your office closes due to inclement weather, as long as you notify your employees in advance of reporting for duty, non-exempt employees such as your Front Desk Coordinator, Neil, do not have to be paid for hours not worked. Your practice therefore does not need to pay Neil for his snow day – although he may use PTO, and I hope he enjoys the free day off.
Similarly, if your practice is opening late due to inclement weather, but you’ve notified employees in advance, Neil and your other 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 the practice decides to close and send employees home after they’ve arrived at work for the day. So if Neil is already at work or on the way, 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, give CEDR a call.) Of course, in the very best of circumstances, notices go out the evening before any power or internet is lost.
But there’s one final possibility here: what if the practice is open on a snowy or otherwise inclement day, but Neil can’t make it in to work? Maybe he lives out on a rural road and the plows never get out there until they’ve been everywhere else. For non-exempt employees, the same rule applies. 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 the day.
Speaking of judgment calls about inclement weather, be careful of 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 the CEDR employee handbook actually addresses this in the proper way.)
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 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.)
But what if the practice is open, but the exempt employee, Ella, is not ready, willing, or able to make it in to work? For instance, maybe Ella is the one who lives out in the wilderness and can’t get her car out of the driveway. In this scenario, because the ready-willing-able FLSA criteria are not all fulfilled (she’s 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, they are still entitled to be paid their salary, regardless of whether the office is open or closed. So 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. (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, and the office is closed, no salary deduction may be made.
What About Requiring Extra Time, 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 time they work contributes toward overtime for that pay period. 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!
To find out if you’re subject to “report-in” pay rules or other requirements, doctors and their office managers are welcome to give CEDR a call at 866-414-6056, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, just fill out the “Consult an HR expert” form on this page. Let us know your situation, and we’ll answer 1 HR question for free.
And keep in mind, 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, you 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.)
Here’s one final tip before you head off to wade through that winter wonderland or to shovel your driveway: 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 sustained a power or internet loss at their homes. Your obligation is to make reasonable efforts to prevent them from wasting a trip in to work.
Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert.
*Sharknado likelihood depends on cable provider and/or proximity to Los Angeles.