When the Weather Outside is Frightful – How to Keep Your Employees Safe

With the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and as Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida, the safety of millions of Americans is in question. Conducting business during times of inclement weather, whether extreme temperatures, snow storms, flooding and/or natural disasters, can be a challenge for employers. Balancing employee safety and the needs of your business can be tough. While Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations clearly outline safety laws within the workplace, it doesn’t as clearly address employee safety from extreme weather events like hurricanes. This is why it’s important to have a clearly stated inclement weather or business continuity policy that is clear and concise, and properly communicated to employees, well before a hurricane or blizzard barrels toward your business. Here are some tips for dealing with inclement weather:

Let Decency Dictate Your Policy

Businesses that provide essential services during chaotic times, such as hardware supply stores or law enforcement agencies for example, should make it clear to all job applicants and current employees that their presence is expected during bad weather. Though it’s not good practice to terminate an employee for their inability to be at work during an inclement weather event, an employee absence is a suitable reason for disciplinary action. However, this is where “decency” dictates your action. Depending on the severity of the event, consider the amount of stress on the employee and their responsibility to contribute to the safety of their family and tread lightly before disciplining employees for absences during these stressful times. A generous policy in geographical areas that regularly experience inclement weather, such as the “snow belt,” is recommended and can be a valuable tool for employee satisfaction ratings and employee retention.

Prioritize Safety Over Productivity  

When in doubt, play it safe. Is it essential that your employees come to work in severe weather? If not, give them the day off. If your business is a transportation related one, employers can do things such as make sure their company owned vehicles are given regular safety checks and provide employees on the road access to reliable roadside assistance services. Also putting emergency supplies in all company vehicles says a lot about how seriously you take your employees’ safety. For other employers whose biggest concern is employees commuting to work, requiring employees to drive in conditions that they feel are unsafe can contribute to poor morale. Your employees’ well-being should be a clear concern and you should therefore offer options such as working from home, allowing for flex schedules, or using PTO to stay home and take care of their family.

Keep in mind that if you choose to close your business do not allow employees to work. Exempt employees who were otherwise willing to work must be compensated for the day, however non-exempt employees do not have to be compensated but should be allowed to use PTO when available. Any employee who works from home must be compensated. This includes non-exempt employees, who should record their time in accordance with an established system so that they are properly paid. Therefore, you should consider the impact of exempt vs. non-exempt ratio of your team when making decisions.

Communication is Key

There are no laws that govern whether a business must or must not close during inclement weather. Instead, it is a matter of policy for each company to decide for itself. Like all policies, communication is key to ensuring employees are all on the same page when inclement weather occurs. Ensure that your inclement weather policy is clearly stated in your handbook, and send out reminders when the forecast is calling for severe weather. Make sure your employees have accurate and readily available contact information for decision makers so that they can easily learn whether or not they are expected to come into work.

Removing as much stress and confusion as possible during a severe weather situation will enable everyone to focus on the important issues at hand – staying warm, dry and safe, and keeping the business functioning. Awareness and proper preparedness can go a long way towards keeping employees informed and safe.