We haven’t even hit the official start of winter and already the region has seen its fair share of snow, ice, and frigid temperatures; not to mention traffic jams, car accidents, power outages, school closings, and of course, frantic phone calls from employees who aren’t going to make it to the office on time (or at all).
Although this week’s milder temperatures make it easy to forget, we still have at least three months of this unpredictable winter weather ahead of us here in Northeast Ohio and it is as important as ever that employers are prepared to handle whatever mother nature throws at them.
Does your organization have a protocol in place for weather related closures or delays?
While ERC’s annual Inclement Weather Survey consistently demonstrates that less than half of employers have formal inclement weather polices on the books, most organizations have some semblance of an informal policy that guides them in cases of emergency.
At the very least, designating one or more people to assess poor weather conditions and make a determination about the safety of the commute for employees is a good start.
A solid policy (formal or not) would then take into consideration how to communicate any change to the normal work day with employees, address how to handle absenteeism & tardiness, potentially include work from home options, and of course, follow fair (and legal) pay practices.
Do your employees know what to expect in case of weather related emergency?
Even if it’s not spelled out in an employee handbook, employees still need to be made aware of the protocol that will go into effect should a weather related emergency arise. Timing as well as the method by which the decision will be communicated are both critical.
At some organizations (usually larger organizations), the responsibility lies with the employee to check a hotline or voicemail.
Increasingly, organizations are turning to higher tech methods of communication, which still rely on the employees to check in, but go directly to each individual employee, i.e. email and text message. Particularly if your organization has employees that may be commuting long distances, the sooner you can inform your employees of any changes to arrival times or general closures, the better.
For safety’s sake, keep in mind how early these employees may need to leave in order to get to work on time—especially if they leave extra early to try to avoid traffic on bad weather days.
Making the decision as early as possible in the morning can also be a huge help for employees who have school age children. If their school district cancels school for the day, they may be faced with the challenge of arranging alternative child care.
Whenever possible, is your inclement weather policy fair (and FLSA compliant)?
Consistency is critical both in terms of employee safety, making sure your employees know what to expect so they can make informed choices about their travel, as well as in terms of equity and employee morale. Although most organizations treat exempt and non-exempt employees very similarly from a disciplinary standpoint when it comes to absences, there are some differences in the pay practices that are implemented.
These differences have legal grounds in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which places many more restrictions on docking pay for exempt employees than for non-exempt employees. Of course, depending on the nature of your business and the nature of the specific job duties that must be performed by certain individual employees within the organization, there are plenty of industries or job titles that are considered “critical” and therefore are left out of any closures or delays.
Helping all types of employees (e.g., exempt vs. non-exempt, critical vs. non-critical, outward facing vs. inward facing) understand these differences can help prevent or smooth over potential conflicts related to pay that might otherwise occur.
Ultimately, the key to any inclement/adverse weather protocol is balance – a balance between clear expectations and flexibility. Expectations need to be clear to maintain fairness, keep employees informed, and depending on the industry keep the business running for the safety of clients or even the general public.
However, on the flip-side, the policy also needs to have enough flexibility to accommodate the extenuating circumstances that undoubtedly accompany extreme weather.
Although the written policy may not address a particularly unique situation, by applying basic logic and keeping employee safety front of mind, any organization can be successful at navigating even the worst Northeast Ohio winter weather.
View ERC's Inclement Weather Practices Survey Results
This survey reports trends among Northeast Ohio employers in terms of how they handle communication, employee absence and tardiness, and pay during inclement weather.