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► Oh, Snow! Employment Issues And Bad Weather

Now is a good time to review which employment issues are affected by major weather events. Bundle up as we review workplace safety and wage and hour issues related to office snow days.

Workplace Safety

When a major storm approaches, the safety of your employees should be your number one concern. However, you are not required to hand out a free vacation day every time it snows. The standards you use to determine when to close offices in your state may be different from standards used in other states.

That said, the cost of losing one day of productivity pales in comparison to the cost of an employee being injured on his way to or from work. Moreover, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers have a legal duty to protect workers from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious injury in the workplace, including foul weather. Employees have a right to refuse to do a job if they have a good-faith belief that they would be exposed to imminent danger.

Facilities such as hospitals do not have the option of closing. In bad weather, those facilities typically rely on a skeleton crew of workers who are able to drive to work. Also, we have clients who operate call centers, and business may be brisk while the storm rages. Employees who can take calls from the warmth, comfort, and safety of their home can be a great resource.

Even after the storm has passed, employers should be mindful of safety concerns around their facilities. Even routine storms can leave behind slippery walkways and snow and ice falling from rooftops. Serious weather events can cause downed trees and power lines. Employees may be willing to help clean up after a storm, but when in doubt, call in professionals to make sure your workplace is safe before allowing employees to return to work.

Wage and Hour Issues

Your office closing because of extreme weather can affect your obligation to pay employees. For exempt employees (salaried employees not subject to state or federal overtime requirements), a one-day closure should not affect pay. You may reduce an exempt employee's salary only if he misses an entire week of work. Otherwise, you may inadvertently convert an exempt employee into a nonexempt employee, meaning you would be required to pay him for overtime. Employers are permitted to require exempt employees to use vacation or personal time for an office closure as long as employees receive their full salary.

For nonexempt workers (employees who must be paid by the hour, including time and a half for overtime), an office closure can be tricky. If employees are able to work remotely, they should be compensated for the hours they actually work, regardless of whether the office is open for business. Otherwise, you are not required to pay nonexempt workers for days the office is closed. Some Northeastern states impose requirements on employers when employees are ready to report to work but the office closes on short notice, while others (such as Maine) do not. Therefore, it is up to the employer to determine whether it will compensate employees when they are ready and willing to work but are unable to because of an office closure. Many employers permit employees to use paid time off on snow days.


This winter has been frustrating for many employers, with storm after storm forcing businesses to close and lose productive workdays. Depending on your industry and workforce, you may want to consider equipping employees with technology that will allow them to work remotely. If you do so, make sure nonexempt workers track their time and are paid accordingly. The last thing you need this winter is for your company to be hit with a wage and hour class action storm.

By: Article written and provided by Brann & Isaacson law firm in Portland, Maine.


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