In the last month, Houston employers have faced catastrophic rains, flooding, and now a tropical storm. We thought it would be a good time to dust off the Firm’s HR Guide for Hurricane and Disaster Preparation, which can be found here

The highlights of this guide include the following important legal points:

  1. Chapter 22 of the Texas Labor Code broadly prohibits discrimination against employees who miss work to participate in a public evacuation order. There are exceptions, which are described in the Guide.
  2. If an hourly non-exempt employee misses work because of weather, the employer has no obligation to pay the employee. The employer can allow (or even require) the use of vacation or PTO time to cover the absence.
  3. Exempt salaried employees must generally be paid their full salary for the week if they are absent on a day the office or site of employment is closed because of weather. If the office is open, and the employee cannot make it to work because of weather, the employee may be docked only in full day increments – not a partial day. As a practical matter, this means that the employee must be paid if the exempt employee performs any work from home, including responding to emails or returning phone calls. For that reason, we don’t recommend docking exempt employees for weather related absences but instead requiring the employee to make up the time elsewhere (which is always allowed).
  4. Employees who must stay home to care for a sick or disabled family member during a weather emergency may be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We recommend extreme caution in disciplining employees in these circumstances without first obtaining relevant documentation to determine whether FMLA is applicable. 

Weather events in Houston can be stressful times for the workplace, and HR professionals are often caught in the middle between operational needs and employees seeking to stay safe and protect their families.  It is critical that companies understand the boundaries that cannot be crossed and the applicable laws in this area.