Snow Day – No Pay? How to Weather the Storm

Snow Day

Hurricanes … wildfires … and now a deep freeze and “bomb cyclone” snowstorm. The past few months of weather disasters have triggered millions of employee call-offs and thousands of company temporary shut-downs. It’s also sparked lots of confusion over when employees must be paid (or use leave) in such cases.

Don’t wait for an emergency to think about how your attendance and pay policies would respond to a snowstorm, power outage or natural disaster that makes travel difficult or closes the workplace. Here is some advice and a handy flow chart (below) to help you make this legally risky decision.

For example, let’s say it’s snowing hard and an exempt employee calls to say she can’t drive her small car to work. Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) let you deduct a full day’s pay from her salary for that missed day? In most cases, yes.

What if your workplace closes down because of the bad weather? In that case, it’s a different story. You can’t dock her pay, but you can require her to use accrued leave time for the missed day. Here are the details (and see our Snow-Day Flowchart below):

If the workplace stays open: When an organization remains open during inclement weather and an exempt employee misses work for his own (non-illness) reason, you can take a full-day deduction from the person’s salary, says a U.S. Department of Labor opinion letter. Or, you can require the employee to use vacation time or accrued leave.

Key point: You can deduct only full-day absences from exempt employees’ salaries. Docking pay for partial-day absences could destroy the person’s exemption. An exempt employee who shows up for part of the day should be paid for a full day.

If you close the workplace: If you shut your doors due to bad weather, you can require exempt staff to take vacation time or use leave, but you can’t insist on leave without pay.
The FLSA doesn’t require employers to provide vacation time. So employers are free to administer leave programs in any nondiscriminatory way. Employers may charge time off as leave even in amounts less than a day as long as the employee’s salary remains the same. The key is that the employee’s salary can’t be affected. Tip: Establish a written policy against making improper salary deductions.

Finally, even if an exempt employee can’t make it to work, it’s important to consider whether that person is performing work at home via a laptop or smartphone. If the employee is conducting any work at home, a company would be on thin ice to try to deduct a full day pay or time off.

As the past year has shown, hurricanes, floods, power outages, fires, tornadoes and extreme heat can play havoc with your pay and attendance policies. Get in compliance with the expert advice you’ll find on these issues at LEAP 2018 and our special Payroll Compliance Workshop. Plus, you’ll have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary Caesars Palace.