Winter Is Here, Is Your Inclement Weather Policy Ready?
It seems appropriate that this article about inclement weather policies is being published on the first official day of winter. Of course, this being Northeast Ohio and all, we’ve already been hit with a pretty decent icy blast that looked and felt suspiciously like “winter”.
But more importantly, when that snow did hit last week, what did your company do about it? Aside from some extra call-offs by your employees who have school aged children whose school districts were closed, probably not a whole lot. Maybe let your employees get a head start on the drive home or allow for a slightly delayed start, but again, this is only the beginning. And besides, we’re tough here in Northeast Ohio, right?
A Quick Refresher
One thing that last week’s snow definitely should have prompted at your organization is a review of your inclement weather policy. Even if your organization doesn’t have an “official” policy (only about half of organization’s do), now is the time to make use of the appropriate communication channels at your organization (i.e., email, intranet, staff meeting, etc.) to refresh your employees’ memories about what to expect in the coming winter months if the weather turns severe.
This information is especially important for new employees who may not have gone through a winter at your organization yet as well as for newly promoted supervisors/managers who may now have a more active role to play in the process.
The 5 W’s
There are a few pieces to “who” when it comes to carrying out an inclement weather policy.
Who makes the decision to declare a delay start or a company closure? According to ERC’s ongoing research on this topic, the most common answer is either upper management (62% of the time) or the CEO/President (48% of the time).
Who communicates that information to the employees once a decision is made? This responsibility usually falls to the immediate supervisor/manager, but can also involve HR.
And who is impacted by the change? Depending largely on industry, some organizations (20% of this year’s survey sample) have so called “critical” individuals or departments to which closures or delays do not apply. Think of hospitals, utility companies, other emergency services, even the U.S. postal service—the services they offer can’t just shut-down for the day.
Even outside of these industries some organizations have key individuals that must still report to the office—most commonly top management, IT functions, maintenance or operations, or security.
So the decision to close or delay start has been made, now what to do about it? Get the word out as quickly as possible! The good news for employers is that spreading the word can now be as simple as sending a group text message.
In fact, for the first time in the history of ERC’s research on this topic, texting took the top spot (48%) when employers were asked what method they use to communicate this information.
Other active methods of communication such as phone-trees (44%) and email (42%) were also fairly common, with more passive options like employee hotlines and media announcements continuing to fall in popularity.
We know that the where is definitely NOT at your workplace (you just told everyone to stay put). But, for a growing number employers/employees even when a physical worksite is closed, business can proceed as usual from the employees’ homes. A full three-quarters of this year’s survey participants allow exempt employees to work from home in cases of inclement weather.
While this may take some planning ahead in terms of logistics (i.e., off-site server access, projects that can be completed at home, supervisor’s permission, etc.), the fact that many employees can be just as productive at home, may make the decision to close the offices a bit easier.
Again, this option is largely industry specific, with manufacturers being the most obvious exception—unfortunately, there’s probably not a whole lot a line-worker can do from home.
When this information needs to be communicated by is critical for employee safety. Keep in mind where your employees are commuting from, not just what time their shift starts. If you have employees that are driving upwards of an hour to get to work on a sunny summer day, you will need to give notice of any delays or closures several hours before the office opens.
Make this timeframe clear up-front as part of that “reminder” about your policy, e.g. you will receive an email no later than 6 a.m. if anything is changing for the day.
Employees will appreciate the extra heads up as they plan out their commute, finish up their shoveling, or scramble to make plans for childcare for the day if schools are closed.
Most importantly however, timely notice will minimize the number of folks that get on the road in dangerous conditions. While some organizations provide “perks” for employees who make it into work when the majority of the workforce does NOT, ERC’s research has actually seen a bit of a drop-off in this offering over the years (down to just 12% in our latest report). And not necessarily because employers are trying to cut their budgets, but rather to avoid encouraging employees from making an unsafe decision about their commute, all for a gift card or a free lunch.
The why of inclement weather policies is first and foremost to help ensure the safety of your employees.
Even if your organization only closes in the most extreme cases, e.g. a government-declared state of emergency or an official travel ban, putting that down on paper for your employees is still important (even if you don’t ever expect that you will put it in motion).
No matter how stringent or lenient your policy is, having a detailed inclement weather policy in place allows employees know well in advance what the expectation is so that they can put an appropriate contingency plan in place well ahead of time, if and when the snow hits.
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.