Bad Weather: A Guide for Employers

Bad weather — be it snow, ice, wind storms, or torrential rain — often raises questions and concerns for employers.

This guide will help you ensure your employees’ safety, keep your businesses open and running, and navigate the pay-related issues caused by nasty weather!

bad weatherPaying workers during bad weather:

Paying workers is the most confusing issue for employers when weather interferes with the functioning of a business.

Nasty weather creates a lot of compensation questions whose answers vary depending on the circumstances and the status of your employees.

We’ve tackled some of the most common situations below!

Compensating non-exempt workers:

You are only required to pay non-exempt employees for the hours that they actually work.

If your business is closed due to the weather, you send workers home, or ask them to come in late: You are not required to pay them for the time they’ve missed.

If you have a power outage, and ask workers to stay and wait for the power to come back on: You must pay them for their time, regardless of whether it’s used productively or not.

If you send employees home when the power goes out and then call them back to work when the power is on: You will only need to pay them for the time that they were actually at work.

Compensating exempt employees:

Exempt employees must be treated differently than non-exempt workers under wage and hour laws.

When you close your office partway through the day due to bad weather: You must pay an exempt employee for the whole day if they worked any hours.

If your office is open but an exempt employee cannot come in due to weather conditions: This is an absence due to a personal reason, and you do not need to pay them.

If you close your offices for a day, you have to pay your exempt employees:

  • You can require them to utilize available paid time off, such as vacation time, if they have it available.
  • If they do not have available paid time off, you must still pay them for the day.
  • If your business is closed for a week or more, you are not required to pay your exempt employees.

On the bright side, depending on the nature of your business, exempt employees can often do some work from home.

Employee safety during bad weather:

Naturally, the safety of our employees is always a significant concern.

In some work environments, employees are more exposed to the weather or the cold. OSHA has guidelines for employers to prevent “cold stress.”

Some of the precautions that employees can use include:

  • Taking breaks to get warm
  • Drinking warm and/or sweet caffeine-free beverages
  • Avoiding smoking (which constricts blood flow to the skin)
  • Using the buddy system to watch out for each other

In addition, employers and employees should understand the symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries.

Do employers have to buy workers weather-appropriate clothes?

As employers, we should require workers to wear proper clothing in bad weather conditions.

Employers are not required to pay for everyday clothing, which would include ordinary weather gear such as heavy boots, jackets, parkas, hats or gloves.

However, if employees need to wear something out of the ordinary, OSHA requires the employer to pay for it.

Preventing weather-related job injuries:

On-the-job injuries, such as muscle strains, are more likely to occur in someone whose muscles aren’t warmed up. Giving employees a brief time to stretch and get warm can help to prevent those injuries.

Cold extremities lack sensitivity and can be more prone to injuries with machinery and objects.

Giving employees information on how to keep their hands and feet warm and nimble can help to prevent those injuries.

Using company vehicles in bad weather:

We all know firsthand that driving in severe weather is often the most dangerous part of the day.

When an employee is driving a company vehicle as part of their job, employers need to be sure that they are doing so safely:

  • Prior to the weather turning bad, vehicles need a winter safety check.
  • A mechanic should check tires, fluids, battery, heater, brakes, defroster, antifreeze and other components that will ensure your employees’ safety.
  • All company vehicles should be equipped with emergency tools, such as a snow scraper or broom, blanket, flares, first aid kit and flash light.
  • A bag of sand, small shovel and booster cables are also helpful during an emergency.
  • Drivers need to know who they can call when an emergency arises. A corporate paid membership for a roadside assistance program is peace of mind for drivers and their employers.

For your protection against liability, and your employees’ safety, drivers of company vehicles need to be aware of how to drive in severe weather. They also need to know what to do in case of an accident.

There are many resources online with guidelines on safe winter driving. It’s a good idea to print out this information and distribute it to your employees.

Preventing falls during bad weather:

For everyone’s safety, keep parking lots and walkways free of snow and ice. We hate to see anyone ever fall and get hurt.

Generally speaking, however, if someone does fall in the parking lot coming to or from work, L&I does not consider this an on-the-job injury qualifying for workers compensation coverage.

This is just a general statement, of course, so if it happens, check with your claims manager.

Create employee notification system for bad weather:

You may not need all employees to report to work when bad weather strikes. Identify in advance the “essential personnel” that must come in.

Let your employees know how you will notify them about what to do when the weather is bad.

Here are some questions to ask when you develop a notification system for your employees:

  • Will someone call them?
  • Will they check the company’s website or intranet?
  • Will they receive an email?
  • Will you automatically close or start late based on what the local school district does?

Often our employees come from various communities throughout the area, and one might be covered in snow, while another is fine. Forearm your employees with contact info for the person they should call to learn the conditions at work, and whether or not they are expected to come in.

Create an inclement weather policy:

As always, it helps to have your policies spelled out in your employee handbook in advance. If you create inclement weather policy, your employees will know what to do when the weather turns foul.

Emergencies often happen when we’re least prepared for them. Luckily for us, most of the time our bad weather is predicted by the forecasters, giving us the opportunity to prepare ourselves and our employees.

Removing as much stress and confusion as possible during a severe weather situation will enable everyone to focus on the important issues at hand — staying warm, dry and safe, and keeping the business functioning.

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