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Inclement Weather and Time Off Issues: To Pay or Not to Pay

With winter closing in, the possibility of bad weather brings potential attendance issues to the forefront of our minds. Icy roads and snow storms in Kentucky often cause delays and closings of not only schools but also businesses. Of course safety is the primary concern for everyone in extreme weather conditions, but employers must think beyond the logistics of employees getting to work or staying home. Absences due to bad weather impact the productivity of a business, and raise questions regarding the calculation of pay and how an employee’s time should be tracked. These issues are further complicated when dealing with a mix of exempt and non-exempt employees, however the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) does offer some guidelines to assist an employer in determining their rights and responsibilities when bad weather impacts employee attendance.

Let’s consider several scenarios:

The business decides to close due to bad weather and sends non-exempt employees home: Employers are required to pay hourly employees only for the hours worked. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employer is not obligated to pay for hours not worked. Therefore, non-exempt employees when unable to attend work, or sent home due to weather do not have to be compensated for the time off. This is a fairly straightforward and uncomplicated practice, unlike dealing with the complex nature of exempt employees.

The business is open, but an exempt employee chooses not to come in:  An exempt employee almost always has to be paid, in any circumstance. Under the FLSA an employer is prohibited from docking the pay of an exempt employee who chooses not to come into work for inclement weather. In this position as well, any business that decides to close due to weather is required to pay exempt employees their regular salaries. The only instance in which an employer can deduct pay from a salaried exempt employee is if the facility is closed for more than a week. Another point to note is that the FLSA does not require that an employer provide vacation or leave time. Therefore there is nothing to prevent the employer from deducting the inclement weather days off from the employees’ paid time off or vacation to cover the missed work. This sounds on its surface like a positive solution to the problem. However, complications arise when an employee has not accrued enough time off or when they have already scheduled and been approved to take their remaining time off at a later date. In both cases, an employer is still restricted from deducting the difference from the employees’ salary. The days off can be deducted from future earned leave. However, serious consideration should be given to instituting this practice as it complicates the employee/employer relationship and cause morale issues which can lead to a decline in productivity or a loss of good employees.

Employer’s Plan: An inclement weather policy should be a standard document in all employee handbooks. Now is the time to review that policy and consider whether it covers all of the issues that need to be addressed to protect both the employees and the employer. Several points to consider when reviewing the policy both for its applicability and validity are as follows:

1)  How are closures communicated and who is the decision-maker?

2)  Can employees who are faced with daycare or school closings bring their children to the workplace?

3)  Are employees permitted to work from home? What conditions apply in this instance?

4)  Outline eligibility for pay, how it is determined, and if paid time off will be applied for the absence(s).

5)  Will non-exempt employees be given an opportunity to make up some or all of the time missed? Will this occur within the same pay period?

Whatever the forecast this winter, with proper planning, understanding the legal obligations and a clear and concise policy an employer can reduce the likelihood of confusion created by weather-related absences. So plan now for Jack Frost, and you’ll be able to enjoy the winter wonderland without the stress of the question “to pay or not to pay.”

Cynthia L. Effinger, an Associate of the firm, joined McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC in 2012. Ms. Effinger has a broad range of legal experience gained through 13 years of practice throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky where her clients conduct business. Ms. Effinger’s practice is concentrated in the areas of employment law and commercial litigation. She also has experience with First Amendment litigation, securities litigation and complex litigation. Ms. Effinger can be reached at ceffinger@mmlk.com or at (502) 327-5400, ext. 2316.

This article is intended as a summary of newly enacted federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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