In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and with Irma and Jose fast approaching the East Coast, many employers have questions about the best ways to support their employees and what role the company needs to play in the aftermath of a disaster. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the weather conditions, employers can offer employees some relief through clear communication about policies and procedures that affect office closings, absences from work and employee pay.
If your company has an Inclement Weather policy, now is a great time to review it and ensure it has been communicated to your team, even if you’re not affected by the present storms. If your company does not have an Inclement Weather policy, here are a few guidelines:
Office Closings – As a leadership team, determine who is going to make the decision to open your location and/or close early. Once the decision is made, make sure there is a way to communicate this to all of your employees. Use multiple communication methods (email, text message, employee emergency hotline if available) to ensure you reach everyone.
It is important to note that even if your work location is not impacted by the severe weather, employees may live in impacted areas or have family members in these areas. Consideration will need to be made for these employees as well. Try to empathize with each situation, discuss the employee's specific needs and create an action plan.
Absences From Work and Employee Pay – As expected, this area is critical to both employees and employers. Typically, for exempt employees, time away from work during inclement weather is still paid as there are few criteria under which employers may take deductions from exempt pay. Since they will continue to be compensated, you may want to ask exempt employees to work remotely if the option is available to them. Of course, in the case of a large-scale disaster, even remote work may not be possible.
For non-exempt (hourly) employees, employers have more discretion but should consider what seems fair. Typically, if the office closes, many employers pay hourly employees for the hours they would have typically worked. Again, this would be another time to prepare options for remote work to offset the expense. If employees are not able to work remotely, some employers make accommodations to offer other paid time off (PTO) options such as vacation pay or sick pay. In cases where the business can afford it, some companies simply pay these employees without charging paid time allotments.
If the company location remains open and employees are not able to report to work or work remotely, employers may choose to not pay employees for this time away from work. These employees may also exercise their option to use PTO time if available. Be aware. If you are requiring non-exempt workers to use their PTO allotments during this time, you may want to require exempt employees to do the same. The caveat here is that if their PTO allotment has been exhausted, you would still need to pay the employee their usual salary.
There are many factors to consider when preparing your business for hurricanes and other natural disasters. As you are making decisions, review your policies, practices and resources, but don’t forget the human side. In most cases, anything you can do to help calm the waters for your employees will be greatly appreciated.
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