How Does Inclement Weather Affect Payroll, Scheduling and PTO?
Snow days are fun for kids, but a headache for adults. At businesses, it’s a struggle to sort out snow removal, public access, employee hours, and other weather-related issues. Even a few inches of snow or a short power outage can create a ripple effect of problems across the company.
When bad weather wreaks havoc, should employees be required to come in to work? If they can’t, does PTO apply? Here are some best practices that will help you manage staffing issues during winter and beyond.
What the Law Says
Decisions during inclement weather are a balance between what’s legally required and what your company leaders think is the right thing to do. Sometimes the law is stricter than employees’ feelings about the situation.
Let’s start with the law. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is managed by the Department of Labor (DOL), your actions depend on whether an employee is defined as exempt or nonexempt.
Exempt Employees— Exempt employees must be paid their full salary if they perform any work during their normally defined workweek. Even if your business closes, they must be paid for the full week if they have worked at all that week.
This often comes into play during the early hours of snowstorms, hurricanes, and long-term power outages. Let’s say you’re open for business while the snow is building up outside, and you’re beginning to wonder whether officials will declare a snow emergency. Should you send people home? Will you need to pay them?
In terms of exempt employees, it really doesn’t matter. You can’t dock their pay whether they continue to work or not.
Nonexempt Employees— Things play out differently for nonexempt employees. Hourly workers must be paid only for the actual hours worked. So if a snow emergency is declared and you begin to send nonexempt employees home, their paid hours end when they clock out.
There are a few exceptions. Some states require that a nonexempt employee who shows up for work must be paid for a minimum number of hours. Familiarize yourself with state laws that work in tandem with the FLSA.
The Role of PTO
Now let’s look at how paid time off (PTO) factors into weather issues.
When you’re closed: The FLSA requires that if you close your business for less than a week, you must pay your salaried (exempt) employees or implement forced use of PTO/vacation time. Nonexempt employees are simply not paid and not forced to use PTO.
When you’re open: Exempt employees can be offered a personal day or you can deduct a full day’s pay for not showing up to work. Nonexempt employees aren’t paid for hours not worked.
What if someone has insufficient PTO to cover a forced use? According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which tracks legal issues, employers can either allow employees to go into a negative PTO balance or advance the use of future PTO.
Effects on Morale
Beyond the law, there’s the matter of company morale. Remember, your employees didn’t create this situation. They may be dealing with sudden weather damage, vehicle trouble, lack of child care, power outages, supply shortages, and lack of income.
This is where the notion of “having a heart” comes into play. If your company comes across as cold-hearted, it may permanently damage your relationship with your employees - and even the public.
Just ask Pizza Hut, which faced a huge backlash in 2017 after one of its store managers forced employees to work during the Hurricane Irma evacuation. For months after the natural disaster, Pizza Hut dealt with a public relations disaster. People thought they acted ruthlessly toward their lowest-paid employees.
Tips for Handling Weather Situations
It’s best to find a balance between legal and ethical concerns. Here are a few things you can do to maintain company morale and stay within the law.
- Create a written emergency plan and communicate it to all employees.
- Allow working from home during weather emergencies.
- Remind employees that safety is always your top concern.
- Err on the side of generosity in terms of pay and forced PTO use.