Snow Days Require Clear HR Policies and Expectations

“Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

While a classic refrain of a wintertime classic about how cold weather can warm our hearts, snow and icy weather, for human resource managers, can also mean lost business productivity and employee confusion about expectations to show up for work.

Susan Heathfield, an HR management consultant believes that employers must make two important decisions about inclement weather: What legally guides your decisions about paying or not paying employees? And, how will employees react to your decisions?

Writing for the balance, Heathfield provides an overview of the many legal factors that must be applied, including whether employees are exempt or non-exempt, as well as state and Federal laws. But she also urges employers to consider leniency.

"Consider . . . that employees are missing work for reasons that are not their fault. Employers should consider paying employees for the day or part of the day. This gesture cements relationships and communicates effectively that the employer is committed to its employees’ well-being."

Here are a few additional resources for handling snow days:

  • Littler Mendelson provides an FAQ on weather-related wage and hour questions, guided primarily by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • The Zenefits blog provides some answers to common bad weather scenarios.
  • SFM provides guidance on creating a severe weather policy.

Offering flexible work options, available to many workers in both good and bad weather, can help ensure work continues to get done during inclement weather and other scenarios when life gets in the way of work.

"Though I’ve talked [about] how work flexibility helps during life’s unexpected moments, in truth, all of life is unpredictable," writes Brie Reynolds for the 1 Million for Work Flexibility blog. The organization is a national initiative to advocate worker flexibility. "Flexible work options help people (and companies!) always be prepared for the unexpected, which in turn lets them worry less and enjoy life more, no matter what might come their way."

While flexibility works for some, many organizations, such as hospitals, must stay open. And while a company’s headquarters may be in a deep freeze, global customers expect normal service hours. Charles Krugel, a labor and employment lawyer writing for Monster, urges companies to match policies with corporate culture and business strategy.

"If you're the U.S. Post Office, then your policy should be ‘neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow.’ A hard-driving, aggressive organization that’s big on face time will probably have a different policy than a family-oriented organization or one that prides itself on workplace flexibility."

International companies also grapple to balance legal and cultural concerns. Disgruntled employees can often react negatively to a deduction of wages, notes Ewan Stafford in HM Insights, from the Scottish law firm Harper Macleod. But there can also be employee resentment when it is decided that all employees will get paid, whether they make an effort to get to work or not.

"This can be alleviated if the employer has a policy which sets out exactly what is expected of staff in terms of attempting to get to work," Stafford says.

No single severe weather policy will work for all organization. What’s important, however, is complying with laws and establishing clear policies that treat employees fairly while ensuring that business needs are met.

What is your organization’s policy and what tips do you have about handling inclement weather? Please share your comments with HR Leads Business.