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When cold weather hits Iowa, poor driving conditions and power outages can cause significant problems for the workplace. Employers may be required to reduce or cease operations.
How should an employer handle the wage and hour questions that arise when inclement weather requires an office closure or reduction in work hours?
Employers first should consult any applicable union contracts or corporate policies to determine whether special provision has been made for bad weather days. If not, the employer should start with the following question: Is the employee exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
Exempt employees are employed in bona fide executive, administrative or professional jobs and meet the current minimum salary threshold. These employees are not protected by minimum wage and overtime laws.
Non-exempt employees, on the other hand, are paid on an hourly basis and subject to the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime requirements.
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued several opinion letters offering guidance to employers facing weather-related wage and hour questions.
Generally speaking, if an hourly non-exempt employee is forced to miss work because the employer has officially closed its business due to inclement weather, the employer does not have to pay for those hours.
Similarly, if an employer sends hourly non-exempt employees home early because of bad weather, the employer only has to pay for time actually worked.
The rule is different for exempt employees.
Their pay cannot be deducted as a result of weather-related business closures.
However, an employer can require an exempt employee to use vacation or paid time off to cover these days.
What if your business is open, but your hourly non-exempt employee apparently cannot get into work? Perhaps their car won't start, they are snowed in or their child's school is canceled?
If an employee fails to show up to work while business is open, the employer does not have to pay him or her. Similarly, if a salaried exempt employee is unable to make it to work, the employer can deduct a full day's pay for their absence or let the employee take a personal day, pursuant to the employer's written policies.
Advance planning is the practical solution for avoiding disputes regarding compensation for snow days.
Decide ahead of time how you will address these considerations, and consult your attorney to draft a proper inclement weather policy.
Your policy should include a definition of inclement weather and discuss who is authorized to close the business in the event of such weather, how changes in hours of work will be decided, how employees will be notified and whether employees will be permitted to work remotely, bring children to work or make up missed time.
And in drafting your policy, don't forget employee morale. Consider allowing employees to work from home if it is possible for them to telecommute efficiently.
Just be sure to clearly communicate expectations for remote work to avoid misunderstandings.
Wilford H. Stone is a lawyer with Lynch Dallas in Cedar Rapids.