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What Employers Need to Know About Severe Weather

On Behalf of | Nov 15, 2015 | Business Law, Employment Law

As the seasons change, atmospheric pressure and conditions reach an ideal state for creating severe weather systems such as hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes and blizzards. It is important to know the employer guidelines regarding business operations and compensation in the event that a severe weather system strikes your region.

The emergence of severe weather requires employers to evaluate many operational and employment related issues. These range from deciding whether or not to close a business for the duration of a storm, to paying employees if a business is closed and compensation for injuries at work related to weather.

When severe weather strikes, should you close your business?

Deciding whether or not to cease business operations is a matter of accessing safety at work and safety traveling to and from work. It is best to err on the side of caution when deciding. If an employer feels as though the weather is likely to worsen throughout the course of the work day, the employer is generally better off allowing employees to remain safely at home. There are many implications to both sides of this decision, such as whether employees must be paid when a business decides to close, or what happens if an employee is injured as a result of the weather while at work.

If you close your business during a storm, do you have to pay your employees?

The Department of Labor considers an absence due to adverse weather conditions, such as when transportation difficulties experienced during a snow emergency cause an employee to choose not to report for work for the day even though the employer is open for business, an absence for personal reasons. Such an absence does not constitute an absence due to sickness or disability. An employer that remains open for business during a weather emergency may lawfully deduct one full-day’s absence from the salary of an exempt employee who does not report for work for the day due to the adverse weather conditions.  An employer may not, however, make deductions for absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the employer closes operations due to a weather-related emergency or other disaster for less than a full workweek, then the employer must pay an exempt employee the full salary for any week in which the employee performs any work without regard to the number of days or hours worked.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are not required to compensate non-exempt employees for time that a business is closed. The Fair Labor Standards Act generally applies to hours actually worked.  It does not require employers who are unable to provide work to non-exempt employees to pay them for hours the employees would have otherwise worked.  Further, if employees are required to be available for work related communications online or via phone to the extent that employees are not able to use their time for their own activities, an employer is required to pay for that time.

What do employers need to do to ensure a safe work environment during severe weather?

Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees while in the workplace. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, employers must take measures to protect employees from hazards that can be anticipated during severe weather. This can involve altering work schedules and rules within the workplace. OSHA publishes guidelines and recommendations regarding workplace safety, and is a reliable resource should an employer have questions about their legal responsibility to their employees in the event of a storm.

Can you be sued if an employee is injured at work as a result of severe weather?

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Employers must provide their workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires that employers must first try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in working conditions.  For example, to prevent slips, trips, and falls, employers should clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm.

If an employer is negligent in taking adequate steps to providing a safe workplace in compliance with OSHA standards, it may be liable for OSHA violations. However, an employee who is injured in an accident or due to an unanticipated work hazard resulting from severe weather may only be entitled to a worker’s compensation claim.  There are several decisions that an employer must make when severe weather hits. Moving into the fall and winter seasons, prepare your business by creating plans and guidelines outlining procedures for severe weather. Further, it is important that an employer and its employees are knowledgeable of the FSLA and OSHA regulations and guidelines regarding severe weather. For more information about employer responsibilities, or general employment law questions, contact the experienced attorneys at Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger P.A.