See someone skiing on Tejon Street? It might be a Mountain Chalet employee on the way to work.
Like most employers, the store’s owners want employees to get to work when it snows, if they can. But most also put safety first.
Your employees should know what’s expected of them when it snows, human resources experts say.
“We get a lot of calls on this in weeks where we have a storm come in,” said Marnel Mola, director of the Mountain States Employers Council’s southern regional office in Colorado Springs. “There’s a couple of different scenarios, depending on whether the business decides to close versus if they’re open and employees decide that they can’t come in.”
Mola said she always suggests that businesses have a snow day policy.
“It helps clear things up when situations arise so that [employees] know what they’re going to do for the one or two times a year that it might happen.”
Employers may decide to shut down in the event of an extreme storm, or they may waive attendance and punctuality requirements when weather conditions make it difficult for employees to report to work.
Employees need to know how to find out if their employer has decided to close.
“Some organizations will say to check the local news because they’ll call in and report that,” Mola said. Other employers will specify that employees call a main line or check with their supervisor for guidance.
“From a payment perspective, a couple of things come up if a business chooses to close,” Mola said. “From a legal perspective, the rules are that you don’t have to pay nonexempt employees because they’re only paid for actual hours worked. But most of the members that we survey and work with decide that if the business is the one who’s made the decision, they will and do pay their employees.”
The rules for exempt employees are different, however.
“Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, exempt employees may lose exempt status if deductions from their predetermined salary are made for absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business,” states a planning guide the Employers Council uses.
“If an employee is ready, willing and able to work, deductions may not be made for time when work is not available. So, when a snowstorm hits and business operations are closed for a day or two, … you should assume that all exempt staff were ready, willing and able to come to work, and should pay them for any week in which work was performed or risk losing the employees’ exempt status.”
Some employers spell out in their employee handbooks the expectation that employees must come to work if they can, and what exceptions there might to be their policy.
If a business remains open but employees feel it’s not safe to come in, some employers might allow them to use personal time, take a vacation day or make up missed time. Others allow employees to work at home if possible.
Typically, employers approach excusing nonexempt employees from coming in on an ad hoc basis, Mola said.
“Even in our own office, if we are expecting a big snowstorm, most everybody will grab their laptop in case we need to stay home,” she said. “I usually don’t see that written into a policy. I do think it’s a good idea to have policies around it.”
The policy should make clear how employees are to determine whether the employer is open or closed, how their pay will be affected, whether make-up time is expected for tardiness or absence or whether employees may use personal or vacation time when absent because of weather conditions.
What businesses do
“We don’t really have a snow day policy — we play it by ear,” said Laszlo Palos, director of marketing and PR for Poor Richard’s Bookstore and Restaurant.
“A lot of our employees walk to work,” Palos said, adding the company will gauge by the number of customers how many of its 54 employees will be needed to staff each of two shifts.
“If it’s so bad that we have one or two customers, we’re not really paying for all the overhead and the staff to be there, we just call it a day and we close. We leave it up to the discretion of our managers. There’s been times when D-11 and D-20 are closed and we’re packed. People manage to come down anyway.”
If an employee is unable to get to work because of bad weather, “we’d say turn around, go have some cocoa, grab a book, don’t risk your safety,” Palos said. “We don’t punish anyone. We’d rather our employees come back after the snow melts.”
Palos said Poor Richard’s is flexible with employees, who are mostly nonexempt, and wouldn’t get paid for a snow day.
“We can accommodate and have them pick up some shifts if there’s hardships,” he said. “If they say, ‘OK, I can come in the next day and pick up some extra cleaning or whatever to make up because I really need to pay for child care,’ we’re very amenable to that.”
At Mountain Chalet, they welcome the snow.
“We’re lucky to have so much snow down here, being an outdoor store,” owner Elaine Smith said.
“We have a soft policy that’s safety first,” Smith said. “If folks that are going to be working on a particular day feel they can’t make it in because the roads are too bad, then they call the staff, and we talk about that, and they’re free to elect to stay in for that day.”
About half of Mountain Chalet’s 19 employees live close enough to the shop to get there on foot.
“If the day were really horrible, we could make it in just by walking, or we’re prepared to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in,” Smith said.
“We pull together to make sure we’re there to open the shop. If it’s a really bad day for everyone and nobody’s making it in to the shop, we won’t need very many people at the store,” she said.
A few of Mountain Chalet’s employees, such as those who write for its website, could work from home, Smith said. But that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Working at home in bad weather is a possibility for DSoft Technology’s 20 or so local employees, HR Manager Linda Locke said.
“We have it in our handbook,” Locke said. “It’s pretty simple. If individuals indicate there is a problem coming in, we don’t want them to risk life and limb. If access is available, they simply make a notification that they’re working from home and we make sure they have what they need.”