When bad weather strikes and disrupts business operations, you may have questions about whether you need to pay employees who don't report to work. To help you understand the rules, here are answers to some frequently asked questions related to inclement weather and pay:
Q: We were closed for an entire day because of the weather. Do I have to pay non-exempt employees for that day?
A: Non-exempt employees are paid only for "hours worked." Therefore, if non-exempt employees 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. However, some employers choose to pay non-exempt employees under these circumstances.
Note: Under federal law, non-exempt employees are typically paid on an hourly basis and are entitled to at least the minimum wage for each hour worked and overtime whenever they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Certain state laws may have additional overtime requirements.
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 their full salary, as long as the employee worked any part of the workweek.
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?
A: If the company closes early, federal law doesn't require you to pay non-exempt employees for the missed time, unless you promised otherwise. However, you must pay these employees for any time they actually worked. Note that some state laws require employers to pay employees for a minimum number of hours when they report to work but are sent home before the end of their scheduled shift. Check your applicable law for rules related to paying employees when they are required to report to work but are sent home early.
Q: Our non-exempt employees reported to work and we asked them to wait while we made a decision about whether to close. If we ultimately decided to close and they performed no work while waiting, do I have to pay them for that time?
A: Yes, if employees were required to stay at work while your company made a decision to close, the employees are entitled to pay for the time. As mentioned above, 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 to stay home and others left early. Do I have to pay them for the missed time?
A: You don't have to pay non-exempt employees for the time they miss when they choose to stay home or 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 their 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. We later discovered that they performed work remotely during the day, including checking and replying to email from home. I didn't give them permission to do this. Do I still have to pay the employee for this time?
A: Yes. If the employee is non-exempt, they 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, they must receive their 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 (such as, eight hours), so the employee may be entitled to daily overtime under state rules.
Q: What are some options for distributing paychecks during a weather emergency?
A: You can encourage employees to sign up for direct deposit by noting the convenience and benefits and explaining that the distribution of paychecks at the workplace may be delayed during an emergency. You may also want to consider a backup distribution point for emergency situations.
To help prepare 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. Additionally, develop contingency plans and identify essential business functions, equipment, and staff needed to maintain operations. This may include having a generator to keep company equipment and computer servers operating, backing up data in a separate and secure location, and/or allowing employees to work remotely. Since power outages are possible, have multiple ways to contact employees during an emergency, including cell phone and landline numbers and personal email addresses.