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Preparing your company for weather-related absences

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Check out this article from Inside Indiana Business featuring Jason Carney on HR strategies regarding winter-related absences.

Winter weather advisory: Prepare for winter-related absences 

By: Jason Carney

January 12, 2012

It’s that dreaded time of year: winter’s chill is upon us, and with it comes the possibility of inclement weather that can affect the workplace and your business’s bottom line.

In addition to slick roads and shovel-related injuries, another hazard lurks in each winter storm. This hazard, however, is easily prevented by having a plan in place.

Businesses need to be careful how they pay their employees on any day, but particularly so when winter weather is involved. For example, did you know you must pay your exempt employees even if no work is performed on a day the business closes due to bad weather?

The economic impact of workplace absenteeism varies, but U.S. Department of Labor studies show absences cost U.S. employers perhaps upwards of $100 billion each year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

With Old Man Winter bearing down, here are a few workplace scenarios that should be on all business owners’ radars:

– Company closes due to inclement weather (or any other reason for that matter)

If a company closes and its employees are otherwise willing and available for work, exempt employees must be paid for the time. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that these employees are guaranteed a salary, and no docking is allowed, unless the closure is in one-week increments and no work was performed for the employer.

Employers should also be cautioned against deducting from a paid time off bank in instances of company closures. Non-exempt (hourly) employees do not have to be paid for the time not worked. Employers have much more flexibility with non-exempt hourly employees – if they don’t work, they don’t get paid.

– Company does not close, but inclement weather forces some employees to stay home

If a company remains open but some of its exempt employees claim that they cannot or are not willing to brave the weather, employers should be cautious how they are treated. Generally speaking, these exempt employees are entitled to their wages for the day; although, personal, vacation or paid time off time can be reduced commensurate with the time missed.

If that exempt employee is out of paid time off, personal, or vacation time, this is one of the few circumstances where their pay can be docked – but only in one-day increments, and only if no work is performed by the employee. This gets tricky in the age of remote connections and mobile devices. The best practice in this circumstance is to pay, so as not to risk violating the FLSA.

Non-exempt employees once again do not have to be paid as long as no work is performed – regardless of whether it was the employee or employer who “called off”. Best practice is to reduce a paid time off bank for these voluntary absences.

Unplanned and intermittent absences can take a large chunk out of a business’s payroll expenses – as much as 8.9 percent, according to SHRM. How do businesses deal with this proactively?

– Have an inclement weather plan in place. When a winter storm looms, employees spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out when they can go home, and if they will be paid if they can or cannot come to work. Having a proactive policy that addresses time off in these situations can be very helpful.

-Use technology, such as voicemail and social media, to your advantage. If an overnight storm is approaching, it is a good practice to set up a spare voicemail that employees can call periodically for up-to-date information on closures and other instructions. Updates on Facebook and Twitter also can be useful.

Mother Nature has her own mind, and every business is susceptible to shutting down temporarily, or employees might be forced to stay home on occasion. Having an airtight policy in place and being proactive will go a long way in battling any storm brewing on the horizon.

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