Temperatures over 100 degrees, El Niño, polar vortexes, or even just a few inches of snow. While the meaning of “inclement weather” changes from location to location, every employer still has the same responsibility: to keep their employees safe. Use this step-by-step guide to create an inclement weather policy that makes sense for your business.
1. Learn your weather laws
Like we said, “inclement weather” means something different to everyone. Doing a quick search for “inclement weather” online offers up a range of results, all with different definitions and scenarios. What is seen as a weather emergency in one location may be typical in another, and vice versa.
While there aren’t labor laws regarding specific weather events, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does have workplace safety guidelines based on temperature. According to OSHA , high workplace temperatures can cause “death or serious bodily harm” due to illnesses like heat stroke, kidney failure, and rhabdomyolysis. Along with OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also has recommended standards for workplace temperature and so do several states, including California and Minnesota.
Workplace guidelines on low temperatures are less specific. When it comes to cold, OSHA generally states that employers have the “responsibility to provide workers with employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards, including cold stress, which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to them.”
2. Define what “inclement weather” means for your location
It’s important to define inclement weather based on your business’ location. “Not too hot, not too cold” is a good general rule, but if you wouldn’t feel safe traveling to work or working in certain conditions, chances are your customers and employees wouldn’t either.
There are a few situations that aren’t typically labeled as “inclement weather,” including normal thunderstorms, fog, or wind. But remember—there’s an exception for every rule. High winds could be deadly in an outdoor construction project but have little effect on a team in an office.
Sounding a little subjective? Setting an inclement weather policy is your call, but there are a few objective guidelines to go by. In cases of extreme weather, state and local officials often declare formal “states of emergency.” A state of emergency allows officials to issue travel restrictions, request government aid, order mandatory evacuations, and more. If your local leaders and law enforcement are encouraging people to stay off the roads, listen to the experts.
Here are a few other example scenarios you could include in your inclement weather policy:
- Mass electricity or heat outages, including at your business location
- Certain temperature extremes (if the National Weather Service lists frostbite or heat warnings, employees should stay home)
- Weather that shuts down or impacts mass transportation services in your area
- Travel warnings closures and/or evacuation rulings from government officials
3. Determine employer and employee responsibilities
As an employer, providing safe working conditions is a legal responsibility. First and foremost, it’s your job not to put employees’ in harm’s way. Your inclement weather policy should explicitly state that your goal is to help everyone do their jobs safely. It is not made to create more loopholes to force employees to come into work.
You can technically demand that employees come into work if there aren’t any travel restrictions or evacuation orders, but should you? Employees are people, not just the revenue they generate. Is it worth risking their well-being and a potential lawsuit to force them to come into work? Unless they’re a critical employee, the answer is usually no.
For employees, that means it’s also up to them to abide by your inclement weather policy. Encourage them to use their best judgment. Be clear about what’s expected of them should they not come into work. If the office is closed, are they still expected to answer emails or take calls? If they can work from home or remotely, should deadlines stay as planned?
Lay out who’s responsible for what—whether employees should check in with their supervisor to confirm they shouldn’t come in or who should make the call if the scenario isn’t clear. Your inclement weather policy won’t be able to account for every single scenario. Although, you can keep things focused on the weather events most likely to happen for your area.
4. Specify critical and non-critical employees
As the postal service saying goes, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The same may be true for your business. In inclement weather policies for businesses that must work rain or shine, employers often differentiate between “critical” and “essential” personnel vs. “non-critical” and “non-essential” personnel. This doesn’t mean some of your employees matter more than others. It means that for some jobs, someone has to be on the clock to keep things running.
Critical and non-critical employees are less common in small businesses and the private sector but can be an easy way to know who needs to stay home and who needs to come in. For your business, critical employees may be your network administrators, payroll administrators, customer support operators, security workers, utility providers, and more. Just being the business owner automatically makes you critical personnel.
How do you know if an employee is “critical”? Here are a few questions to consider:
- Do their job responsibilities continue even if your physical business location is closed?
- Are their job responsibilities essential to the well-being and safety of others?
- Are their job responsibilities essential to business infrastructure?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, your employees likely need to continue working if possible. Depending on the size of your business, you may be able to assign different levels for employees. Base the levels on who is expected to report in every time versus who might be able to work on “standby”, from home, or not come in at all. If you make critical and non-critical personnel part of your inclement weather policy, make sure employees know which level their job responsibilities fall under before the inclement weather policy is put in place.
5. Explain how employees will be paid (exempt vs non-exempt)
Under FLSA laws , hourly, non-exempt employees don’t have to be paid for hours not worked due to inclement weather, just hours already worked. In comparison, exempt and salaried employees must be paid even if businesses are closed for inclement weather.
To bridge the gap, some businesses use employee PTO days to help hourly employees still get paid during inclement weather. This might sound like a great idea in theory, but not everyone wants to use PTO for an event entirely outside their control. In cases where employees are forced to leave during their shift, it may be better to pay them for the rest of their shift, or the hours they were already scheduled to work.
Either way, explain exactly when and how both exempt and non-exempt employees will be paid if your business is affected. If you intend to use employees’ PTO to replace their missed hours, make sure that’s 100% clear and won’t come as an unwelcome surprise.
6. Create a communication plan
Finally, take a look at how your inclement weather policy will work in action. How will your employees be notified your business is closed, or that it’s time to follow the policy? Employees should be able to compare current weather conditions to the ones in your policy, and know when it’s officially being enforced.
Instead of calling or messaging employees one by one, scheduling apps often include automatic notifications or email blasts that notify all employees via text or email if their schedules or business operating hours change. You can also use social media and your business’ website to share closures with both employees and customers.
In case of an emergency, make sure employees know how to get in contact with their manager as well. You don’t need to include an emergency plan specifically in your inclement weather policy, but if an employee isn’t answering or may be injured or trapped, make sure your team knows when emergency services should step in and take over.