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Inclement Weather: 'Do I Have to Pay Employees if We Close?'

When bad weather or other emergencies cause the company to close, employers often have questions about how to pay their employees. To help you understand the rules governing pay during weather-related emergencies, we compiled responses to frequently asked questions:

Q: We were closed for a day because of the weather. Do I have to pay non-exempt employees for that day?

A: If non-exempt employees (typically employees who are paid on an hourly basis) miss an entire day's work because you are closed and you didn't require them to report to work, you are generally under no obligation to pay them, unless you have promised otherwise. Non-exempt employees are paid only for "hours worked." Missed time because the company closed during a weather emergency isn't considered hours worked. However, some employers choose to pay non-exempt employees under these circumstances.

Q: What about exempt employees? Do I have to pay them when we close because of the weather?

A: Exempt employees must generally receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform work, regardless of the number of hours worked. Therefore, if your company closes for less than a full workweek due to inclement weather, you must generally pay an exempt employee his or her full salary, as long as the employee worked any part of the workweek.

Q: Can I require employees to use their accrued leave when the company closes?

A: Under federal law, employers may generally require both non-exempt and exempt employees to use accrued paid time off for the time missed due to inclement weather. However, if exempt employees do not have accrued paid leave available, they generally still must receive their full salary as long as they have performed any work within that workweek. Note: Some states and local jurisdictions do not permit employers to require the substitution of paid leave in these situations. Check your state law to ensure compliance.

Q: My company was forced to close six hours early because of a storm. Do I have to pay non-exempt employees for the time they missed? Do I have to pay them a minimum number of hours?

A: If the company closes early, federal law doesn't require you to pay non-exempt employees for the missed time. However, you must pay these employees for any time they actually worked and/or were required to stay at work while your company made a decision to close. Check your state law for additional requirements for paying employees when they are required to report to work but are sent home early.

Q: We remained open during bad weather but some employees decided not to come in and others left early. Do I have to pay them for the missed time?

A: You do not have to pay non-exempt employees for the time they miss when they choose to stay home or when they leave early. For exempt employees, it depends on whether the employee is absent for the full day or a partial day. If you remain open and an exempt employee chose to stay home and doesn't work at all, you may generally reduce the employee's salary accordingly. This is one of the few permitted deductions because it would likely be considered an absence for personal reasons other than sickness or disability. However, if the employee works any part of the day, you must pay the employee his or her full salary. Additionally, if you choose to close, you must pay exempt employees their full salary regardless of whether it is a partial- or full-day closure.

Q: An employee stayed home even though we remained open during bad weather. The employee later told me that he spent an hour checking and replying to email from home. I didn't give the employee permission to do this. Do I still have to pay the employee for this time?

A: Yes. If the employee is non-exempt, he must receive pay for any time actually spent working, including checking and replying to email, regardless of whether it was authorized in advance. If the employee is exempt, he must receive his full salary for that workweek.

Q: We have a policy that pays non-exempt employees for missed time when we close due to weather or other emergencies. We were closed for a full day on Monday because of the weather, so we paid non-exempt employees for 8 hours even though they didn't work. One employee then worked 10 hours each day from Tuesday through Friday. Is this employee entitled to overtime for that workweek?

A: The eight hours you paid the employee for missed time isn't considered "hours worked," so this employee only worked 40 hours, not 48 hours. Therefore, under federal law, which requires overtime only after 40 hours of work in a workweek, this employee wouldn't be entitled to overtime. A few states, including California, require overtime after a certain amount of hours worked in a day (e.g. eight hours), so the employee may be entitled to daily overtime in those states.

Conclusion:

When preparing for inclement weather or other emergencies, consider drafting a written policy that communicates how you will inform employees of closings and how you will handle pay issues.

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