No matter where businesses are located, they're likely dealing with inclement weather at some time of the year: blizzards and winter weather impact in the Northeast and hurricanes in the South, for example. Some of this weather is more drastic than others, so how should employers approach decisions about weather-related closings?
Making Inclement Weather Decisions
When making decisions about inclement weather and working, the main priority for employers should be safety. When someone is worried about their safety, they can't possibly do their best and most productive work — so ensuring that safety is the highest priority not only protects the workers but also protects the business from unproductive working hours.
One way to ensure this is the top priority is by creating a policy to help lay out the key points in case of an emergency. An attorney quoted in an article by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) pointed out that inclement weather policies should highlight the following key factors:
- How much advance warning employers will offer when notifying employees of a weather-related closing
- How employees will be notified of the decision
- If workers will be compensated, and how
- Whether workers can use paid time off or other leave during the closing
For employers who do not currently have a policy in place, SHRM offers a free sample inclement weather policy template.
Best Practices for Inclement Weather Safety
There are two basic scenarios that may differentiate how employers approach winter weather impact and inclement weather issues: weather before work starts and weather that worsens after work starts.
Weather Before Work Starts
In this scenario, the steps above should be followed: Workers should receive advance notice of the decision, including details on how work time and compensation may be handled. Workers should be notified in advance so that they can make the appropriate plans and take necessary precautions depending on the company's decision.
In order to make a decision, employers should use reputable sources of information, whether that be local news channels or state/local government-issued warnings. Many workers will be affected by school closings, so that might offer an additional, objective option for making a determination. Additionally, every effort should be made to provide notice far enough in advance that workers are not in the middle of their commute before receiving a notification that the office has closed for the day.
Weather Worsening During the Day
The other common inclement weather scenario is when work starts as normal, but weather becomes increasingly worse over the course of the day. In this case employers may close early, but the same process for notifying workers should be used so that everyone understands the impacts and potential hazards. The National Weather Service offers helpful and timely alerts, and employers should invest in an inexpensive weather radio for office managers to keep track of weather events as they occur.
It's important to note that there are some weather events when it makes more sense to suggest workers stay at the office, such as tornadoes or floods. If there is great potential for danger, and the office has safe spaces for taking shelter from weather events, then employers should not recommend that workers attempt to leave until the weather has safely passed.
The bottom line with regard to inclement weather and working is that employers should make every effort to use prudent decision-making processes and common sense policies to make decisions about weather closings. Employee safety is paramount, and trying to push for attendance during tricky weather conditions isn't a good call for anyone involved.