This month, Chicago survived its third worst snow storm in recorded history. Wisconsin, Michigan and the rest of the Midwest have experienced significant snow totals and the east and west coasts have not been spared from inclement weather. How do companies respond when their employees ask them about the company’s policies? Can they leave early, arrive late, use vacation or sick leave, or work from home? After the storms clear, now is the time to review those policies and plan for future catastrophic events. Companies have the right to expect that employees will perform their jobs, but must balance that right with the safety and health of its employees.

The need for a policy and the types of provisions depend upon the type of company, its employees and the company’s culture. A professional, white collar organization is far different than a factory with a 24/7 production schedule. Some companies already have written policies and other companies have a history of past practices and informal practices.

Either way, human resources should audit these policies and practices. An audit starts with a review of the attendance policy as well as the policies on vacation, sick and other paid and unpaid days off given to employees. Some companies allow employees to use these benefits for early leaving, late arrivals and days off due to inclement weather. Other companies allow flexible telecommuting, but implement rules for keeping track of time worked, especially for non-exempt employees. Human resource professionals need to also determine all of the different practices implemented to ensure that the company is sensitive to the employees’ concerns about travel and are being treated fairly and in a non-discriminatory fashion. These could also include providing hotel rooms for the night at a package price.

Sample policies from our clients begin with a definition of inclement weather, so that employees and supervisors know when the policy will apply. Policies continue with specific policy statements regarding attendance, use of different types of leaves and the ability of employees to telecommute. Importantly, some policies address communications before and during inclement weather to inform employees, in a timely fashion, whether the company’s offices will be open or closed. With these policies, the companies have determined what is appropriate and necessary for the efficient operations of the company and the needs of its employees. Below are some points to consider in drafting an inclement weather policy:

  • How weather-related absences affect time off, attendance and pay policies.
  • What to do about employees who don’t have time off available when weather necessitates time away from work.
  • Pros and cons of having workers work from home.
  • How to effectively communicate inclement weather policies to employees.
  • Liability issues when employees are injured because they try to get to work during inclement weather.