“You want a prediction about the weather?” asks Bill Murray’s character in the iconic movie Groundhog Day. “I’ll give you a prediction: it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be grey, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.” Fortunately, winter does not last forever, but work issues with inclement weather can seem never-ending nonetheless.
- Do you pay workers on days when the office or business is closed?
- Do you require employees to take paid time off or allow them to take leave without pay so they preserve their hours of PTO?
- How do you make the system fair across a network of geographical work sites that are affected differently by the weather or other emergencies?
- Can you create a policy and procedure that effectively manages closures due to weather and closures due to other emergencies: power failure, gas leak, water main break, etc.?
- Are you prepared to handle a natural disaster that closes your business or a branch office for the foreseeable future, potentially weeks or months: tornado, earthquake, etc.?
It is best to have answers to these questions well before you need them. Better still to have them in writing and to have your staff educated in them to prevent surprises that upset your employee base at a time when their emotions may already be running high … and their finances may already be running low.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind or to consider anew as we head into the months most prone to emergency closure:
- Make your policies / procedures as simple and as clear as possible. Our agency has 36 sites across 17 counties and we struggled with this issue of when to close and when to stay open through various iterations of a policy before finally settling on, “If your local schools are closed, you are closed.” We serve a vulnerable population and this mantra became easy for everyone to understand and to remember – patrons and employees alike.
- Communicate your policies and procedures in multiple places and in multiple ways and review them regularly. We cover inclement weather / emergency closures on day one with new employees. It is included in our policy / procedure manual. Every year in mid-November we re-announce it and then we do so again right before the first big storm of the season. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- To the extent possible, create a system fair to all employees. Do some of your employees have work-from-home privileges and others don’t? You’d better address this issue in your inclement weather policy because it will rear an ugly head if some employees lose a day’s pay or are forced to take hours of PTO and other employees claim their work-from-home privilege.
- Employers with unionized workers will likely negotiate this matter; be sure to follow the stipulations of that agreement. Likewise, exempt employees must be paid their full salary, but employers can require those same exempt employees to take PTO if that is what policies / procedures require.
- It is fairly easy to expand the inclement weather procedures to cover other emergency closures like water main breaks rather than needing to create a separate policy.
- Rather than creating a variety of policies to govern extreme or rare cases of closure, you might instead include a general catch-all that allows leadership to review closures on a case-by-case basis and make appropriate decisions based on that review.
- To enhance morale and employee support, you might consider an end-of-fiscal-year review each year of time lost to inclement weather. If your policies require employees to take PTO and it was an especially harsh winter with multiple days lost to ice and snow, the company may consider a restoration of PTO equivalent to 1-3 days of PTO for each employee.
In the movie Frozen, Olaf the snowman says, “Some people are worth melting for.” When it comes to your policies and procedures on inclement weather, we would all do well to include a little heart and warmth for the harsh winter months.