Weather and the Workplace

Employers need to be ready for weather-related incidents before they happen!

Oregonians aren’t subject to dangerous hurricanes or tornadoes usually, except for this week’s Tornado watch in Portland, but many Oregonian business owners have had to contend with floods, fires, blizzards and ice storms—even earthquakes and tsunamis. Office closures in Oregon often revolve around dangerous road conditions due to ice, snow, fallen trees or downed power poles. These weather conditions can appear suddenly, and employers must be prepared for workplace issues that occur before and after they strike.

Review and Implement a Severe Weather Policy Now

Your company must have established guidelines for your business operations during periods of extreme weather and similar emergencies. Now is the time to review your bad weather protocols and prep your employees on how to handle the situation when it comes to work.

Step 1: Set up a policy and determine protocols of what constitutes a viable reason to close down your business due to inclement weather.

Step 2: Establish who will be in charge of making decisions regarding whether the business will be closed or have a delayed opening or early closing. A good inclement weather policy specifies who is authorized to make decisions so that there is no confusion among the workforce on this issue.

Step 3: Identify essential personnel and operations that will need to be covered in the event of a business closure. It may be wise to have a separate inclement weather policy for essential and non-essential employees.

Step 4: Establish a communication process: How will employees be contacted in the event of an inclement weather incident? Choose multiple methodsof notifying employees of business closures, delayed openings, and early closings, such as recorded messages; phone trees; email; social media; via the company’s website and intranet; and voicemail messages on a company recording. Remember: these methods may not work in the event of a power failure.

Step 5: Communicate with employees your policy before your weather season starts: Having a clearly written inclement weather policy that notifies employees in advance of what to expect prevents confusion.

Best practice: provide an employee memo or meeting to review any new policy upon implementation and be sure to review the policy at the beginning of any season when weather incidents are likely to occur. It is critical that you include an inclement weather policy in your company’s employee handbook.

Pay policies during weather situations

When inclement weather arrives and business closures do occur—a company’s compensation policy must be  clearly defined and communicated. Employees need to know if they will be paid or not. It is important that your company be familiar with any state laws pertaining to compensation situations in regards to weather situations. Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries [BOLI] has specific information on their website about various weather-related scenarios.

Paying an employee for an absence due to inclement weather will depend on the employee’s classification and company policy:

Non-exempt employees [typically hourly workers] are entitled to pay only for hours worked. Company policy will determine if the employee may use available paid leave to compensate for hours missed.  A non-exempt employee who has no leave is not entitled to pay for an early closure. 

Exempt employees [salaried] must be paid for the entire day if any portion of the day is worked.  Company policy will determine if the employee may use available paid leave to cover the missed work hours.  However, if the exempt employee has no leave available, the employee is still required to be paid for the full day.

Requiring Leave Status

If your business requires employees to use “paid leave” for business closures, you should have a written policy in place to inform employees of this requirement. Policies should be applied fairly and consistently to avoid any potential discriminatory claims from employees. Note that inclement weather or absences due to school closures are not qualifying events under a standard Oregon Sick Time policy but can be under a general Paid Time Off (PTO) policy. 

Operating during a government-mandated “State of Emergency”

Government-mandated states of emergency are declared only in extreme circumstances and usually include an order that people stay off roads or that businesses must close. States of emergency do not afford any pay protection to employees, or automatically excuse any employees from reporting to work, absent a company policy to that effect. Good inclement weather policies emphasize employee safety during states of emergency. Discipline of any employee for not reporting to work during a state of emergency should be discouraged and could expose your company to a potential lawsuit.

Does your company need a weather policy right now?

Cardinal has a basic employee handbook available for immediate purchase that covers inclement weather situations. Our handbook can be emailed for you to download and comes in a word format that is highlighted to show where you can quickly customize the document with your business information, logo, custom policies, & more. We also offer our customers the option to customize a handbook that specifically fits your business or industry. If you have questions about creating or implementing a weather policy please call (800) 342-4742 and ask to speak to your Cardinal HR Team for help.