During the winter months, employers can expect the weather to occasionally create hazardous traveling conditions, (especially in mountainous communities such as Chattanooga where even small amounts of snow and ice can cause travel problems and concerns for workers). When the weather is severe, some employees may call off work, or the employer may even close for all or part of a day. When this happens, do employers need to pay employees who don’t make it to work?
In most cases, employees who do not report for work during severe weather can be unpaid, or may be allowed or required to use paid leave for the day.
Nonexempt (hourly) employees are paid only for hours actually worked. If they do not work for any reason, even due to a company closing, the employer is not obligated to pay them. The employees may choose to stay home, or they may be unable to work because the business closed or sent them home early. Nonexempt employees could be allowed (or even required) to use vacation for the day off, even if the company closed.
Note that the District of Columbia and the states of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (for minors), and Rhode Island require paying employees a minimum number of hours if they are sent home early, though exceptions are often provided for weather emergencies.
For exempt (salaried) employees, the answer depends on whether the business remains open. If the business is open, an exempt employee who calls in and takes the day off may be deemed to have taken a personal day off. Such full-day absences can be unpaid, or the employer may allow (or, again, require) the use of paid leave. If an exempt employee arrives late or leaves early due to weather and works a partial day, no deduction can be taken from the salary, but the employee could still be required to use paid leave for the partial-day absence.
If a business closes, however, exempt salaried employees must be paid, even for a full-day closing. Federal regulations prohibit salary deductions for days when work is not available, including closings such as holidays and shut-down days. In most states, exempt employees could be required to use paid leave for a company closing. However, California does not allow employers to require exempt employees to use paid leave if the business is closed. California considers such mandatory vacation use a loss of vacation hours without compensation (because the employees would have to be paid anyway, even if they didn’t have vacation hours available).
In extreme weather, roads that employees use during a commute may be closed. Even if employees are unable to report for work due to road closures, the previous information still applies. However, employers should consider the value of remaining open as well as the impact on employee morale if the business remains open during hazardous weather.
Ed Zalewski is a certified Professional in Human Resources and an editor at J. J. Keller & Associates.