Weathering the storm

Authored by Bukaty Companies on October 25, 2018

Preparation is key for handling severe weather emergencies

As winter approaches, HR professionals and employers may soon find themselves monitoring the weather conditions and wondering how to handle the operational headaches that accompany winter storms. Should the workplace close?  If the office stays open, who can work from home? Do employees get paid if they can’t make it into the office? These are just a few of the  questions business owners and HR personnel face during winter storms and other severe weather events.

In dealing with such complications, company decision makers need to be prepared to resolve payroll issues that stem from inclement weather. To  help facilitate that preparation, we will review employee pay status and cover a few common weather-related, wage-and-hour questions.

As always employee safety should be the first consideration when making  business-related decisions during a winter storm or other weather-related emergency.

Nonexempt workers

An employer can decide whether nonexempt employees should report to work during inclement weather. Also, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment of wages to nonexempt workers if they don’t come into the office because of the weather.  

For nonexempt employees working remotely during a storm, it may be necessary to implement protocols for timekeeping when workers can’t clock in to ensure accurate recording and payment.

Exempt employees

Exempt employees are entitled to their full salary for the entire week if an employer closes for only a portion of that workweek. Vacation or paid time off (PTO) may be charged to an exempt employee, but if the employee has exhausted his or her PTO, workers must be paid their full salary.

An employee’s FLSA-exempt status may come into jeopardy if they’re not paid their full salary during a partial-week closure, or if they work remotely during full-week closures. However, if exempt employees do not work during full-week closures, the FLSA does not require payment; however, PTO may be applied.  

Below are some typical scenarios employers will face during a winter storm or other weather- related emergency.

“Due to the winter storm and dangerous conditions, we had to close our office after a number of employees had already reported for work. Do we have to pay them for the day?”

Depends on the employee’s FLSA status. Nonexempt employees who report to work but are sent home by their employer must be paid for hours worked only. Exempt employees who report to work but are sent home by their employer generally must receive their salary for that day.

“Because of the storm, it took our employees twice as long to commute to work. Do we need to pay them for the additional commute time?”

An employee’s normal commute from home to work at the beginning of the day, and from work to home at the end of the day, is not considered time worked and need not be paid.

"Can we require our employees to use available PTO during a weather-related office closure?”

Yes. Under federal law, and the laws of several states, employers are not required to provide vacation benefits or other non-health related PTO to employees. Such  benefits are generally a matter of  agreement between the employer and employee. Under such circumstances, there is no prohibition on an employer giving PTO and requiring that it be  taken on specific days. As long as it’s  permitted under the applicable PTO policy or agreement, employers can generally reduce an employee’s accrued PTO bank for partial or full  day absences without violating wage and hour laws.

Final considerations

HR personnel and business owners making decisions about scheduling, pay, and time off during a winter storm, or other weather-related emergency, should be mindful of the impact those decisions may have on employee morale. Flexibility and support in times of need, or the lack thereof, will be remembered long after the storm passes.

If you have any questions, please call your Bukaty benefits consultant at 913.345.0440.

Blog Category: Workplace Insights

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