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Winter is coming: What’s your Inclement Weather Policy?

Although some areas of the country have already experienced winter weather, the official start of the winter season is right around the corner. Snow, sleet, ice, and freezing rain are quickly approaching for most of the country. As a business owner, inclement weather not only means getting your business ready, but also your employees. Does your business have an inclement weather policy and procedure in place?

Whether it’s an approaching blizzard threatening to dump two feet of snow on your region, a hurricane threatening to come ashore, or a tornado sweeping through, it’s smart business to have an inclement weather policy in place so you, your employees, and your customers know what to expect.

A comprehensive inclement weather plan doesn’t need to be a long drawn out document, but rather one that is concise and accurately addresses the weather concerns that are relevant to your region. It should also highlight standards, protocols, and appropriate procedures during such an emergency. Here are some ideas on what your policy should include.

What are employers’ responsibilities during inclement weather?

The most important responsibility any employer will have when it comes to a bad weather policy is the safety of their employees. A company should always put employee safety over the productivity of the business. If something terrible were to happen to that employee either on the job or commuting, not only could you be responsible from a legal standpoint, but also on a human level.

An employee is not just your employee, but they are also a husband, a wife, a life partner, a father, a mother, a daughter, and a son. If something terrible were to happen to that employee either on the job or commuting, during bad weather, the impact would go much further than just your business.

What defines bad weather?

We all have our own definition and interpretation of bad weather. So it’s a good idea to write down exactly how your business defines inclement weather. Some examples:

  • Official Declaration. Government officials such as the governor or mayor declare a state of emergency and prohibit all non-emergency vehicles remain off the road and non-essential employees to stay home.
  • Snow. A foot or more of snow — or less depending on what your region is equipped to handle on a regular basis.

For example, a foot of snow in Buffalo is just another winter day for the lake-effect-snow capital of New York. A foot of snow in southern Virginia would be much more detrimental because it’s not a regular occurrence. Therefore, that area is not equipped to handle that amount of snowfall in such a short period of time.

  • Hurricanes. Thanks to Doppler Radar and modern weather forecasting technology, hurricanes are more accurately predicted further in advance than ever before. That doesn’t make their impact any less devastating, but it does give you more time to prepare.
  • Superstorms.  Although superstorms occur less frequently than hurricanes, they can be just as destructive for coastal cities.   
  • Flooding. Severe flooding or the potential for severe flooding is often enough of a threat to residents and businesses in a community to take inclement weather precautions.  

Paying employees when the office is closed

When it comes to paying employees during a business closure, there are certain laws and regulations you must follow. While you should always, always seek legal counsel when it comes to interpreting state and local labor laws and regulating working conditions, here are two federal entities that apply to all U.S businesses.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Not only is FLSA responsible for establishing minimum wage, overtime, labor laws for minors, but the act also determines what employees get paid when a business is closed.

  • Exempt employees, “salaried employees” such as executives and managers, will receive their pay during a company closure.
  • Non-exempt employees, or “hourly employees” only need to receive pay for hours worked. So if you close the business and the employee cannot work, you don’t have to pay them.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If bad weather has created poor working conditions resulting in an unsafe environment, OSHA is the entity responsible for setting and enforcing safe working standards.

Extended time off for recovery

After mother nature unleashes her fury, chances are things aren’t going to get back to normal anytime soon. Make sure to include a section about recovery and extended time off for employees or an extended business closure.  

Communication and inclement weather procedures

Making sure your staff and customers are in-the-know about an unexpected closure will optimize your policy. Make sure you define how you will communicate a closure, partial closure, or delayed opening.

For customers, a banner on your website, an email to your subscriber list, or an updated voicemail recording is sufficient.

For employees, the communication process needs to be a little more developed and fine-tuned. First and foremost, there should be a single source for team communication. Communication will be much easier and more effective if everyone is on the same page, or the same platform.

Another key to effective communication is timeliness. Hourly employees prefer to know as far in advance as possible if the business will be closed. They have personal responsibilities aside from your business. The sooner you communicate with them, the sooner they can make a personal plan.

They may need to figure out a childcare arrangement because the school canceled classes or implemented an early dismissal. Or maybe they need to swap shifts with someone because they don’t have an alternate childcare plan. When you can communicate with and schedule employees from a single platform like Homebase, it creates a seamless process for the entire team.  You can also use the Homebase Team Communication app to deliver important inclement weather details to your employees.

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