In Hurricane affected areas, we can all agree that storm preparedness is an important part of a business plan. It’s crucial to begin your plan by picking the right individual to decide when employees should come to work, not come to work or do so at their own discretion. The person designated for the role should be given clear guidelines to help in those situations.
Some smaller companies take the simple approach of piggybacking on the decision made by a large local employer. Of course, during your busiest times, you might have to pivot and continue operations regardless of what others do. In a slow season, you might be inclined to have a more relaxed standard.
School systems have well-established weather-related cancellation or delayed opening policies, but those decisions might be based on criteria not applicable to you. If possible, it’s better to piggyback on the decisions of a large employer with criteria more like your own.
Employee Safety Comes First
Obviously your company has a profit motive, nevertheless, whoever makes the call to close or not close must have employee safety in mind. It’s unlikely that a court will hold you liable if an employee was injured while commuting to work in inclement weather conditions. But naturally, you don’t want to put employees in harm’s way if you can avoid it.
Chances are, if your company must shut down due to weather conditions, you may still have to maintain at least a skeleton crew for vital operations. Therefore, establishing separate weather policies for essential and non-essential personnel will spare you from having to make those decisions on the fly.
Also, you’ll need a plan for notifying employees when the decision is made to keep the doors closed. Systems include website postings, social media, phone trees and recorded messages. In addition, you should have a procedure in place for employees to let you know when they can’t make it in even when you have decided to keep your doors open.
Having multiple communication systems can help in cases where the power is out and, for example, Internet access is not possible. Finally, depending on the nature of their jobs, many employees may be able to work from home if they can’t make it out. Determine in advance who those employees are and how they should carry out their responsibilities.
Who Must be Paid During a Closure?
What about paying employees who are forced to stay at home and not work? In general, you’re required to pay nonexempt employees only when they actually work. However, in several states, if nonexempt employees report to work or if they’ve prepared to report to work, employers are obligated to pay them for a minimum number of hours. This is true even if the company decides to shut down. Among those states are California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, if the employee was scheduled to work for three or more hours, that employee must be paid no less than minimum wage for at least three hours. Check with your state to find out what is required.
Exempt Employee Pay
It’s a different story for exempt employees. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, if exempt employees are ready, willing and able to work but work is not available — due to conditions such as a weather emergency — no deduction from salary may be made. However, if the conditions last at least an entire week, employers are not obligated to pay those workers.
Also, during a weather-related shutdown, you can count the time exempt employees are unable to work against accrued paid leave they may have coming to them (according to Department of Labor Opinion Letter FLSA2005-41). If they don’t have sufficient accrued leave to cover the time, you may need to advance them the leave against time they will accrue in the future. Why should you do this? If you dock an exempt employee’s pay for any reason, that could undermine his or her exempt status, presumably an outcome you want to avoid.
Protect your data – CertiPay is ready to protect your payroll and personal data
In a weather emergency or natural disaster situation, the last thing you want to worry about is the nuances of federal or local wage regulations. Additionally, you do not want to worry about your payroll provider protecting your data during a storm or loss of power. CertiPay is prepared to serve hurricane-affected areas by using redundancy and multiple locations with fully replicated processing environments to protect your data. You can trust that CertiPay is prepared to protect you during hurricane season.
Consult CertiPay if you have questions about how CertiPay prepares for hurricane season or if you want to learn more about how to incorporate the appropriate rules into your own emergency plan.