Snow days aren’t just for schools: How to develop a workplace severe weather policy

If you’re a hardy Midwesterner, you can tolerate a few inches of snow.

Yet sometimes the weather places employees at risk or physically prevents them from getting to work. When winter weather turns dangerous and it’s unsafe to travel, do you have a plan — for yourself and your employees?

Why you need a severe winter weather policy

A severe weather policy is a critical component of your business’s overall emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plan.

It’s not uncommon for the state department of transportation to advise against travel due to severe weather. Whether it’s poor visibility or ice, unsafe road conditions could keep your employees from the office.

Schools have decades of experience in communicating school closures to keep staff and students out of treacherous weather conditions. They’ve established clear plans on who makes the decision to close, by what time, and how to notify people.

But calling a snow day isn’t just for schools.

It’s essential for businesses of all types to be prepared for a disruption to normal business operations because of severe weather. Of course, not all businesses can shut down the office during inclement weather. Hospitals, for example, need to be staffed 24/7. You may have critical operations to keep running.

How do you make the decision to close? With a snow day policy.

Before the snow flies: Develop a snow day policy

The time to plan for bad weather is before a storm hits. Employees will have many questions that should be addressed in an inclement weather policy, like this sample policy .

“The inclement weather policy must set expectations, present a balanced approach to compensation, mitigate risks for both employers and employees, and present a fair solution for emergency situations,” writes Susan Heathfield .

Four critical elements in a workplace severe weather policy

  1. Definitions of weather emergencies
  2. Logistics
  3. Expectations for employees
  4. Compensation

Let’s look at each of these elements more closely:

Definitions of weather emergencies

When developing your plan, consider setting specific criteria about the amount of snowfall, road conditions and temperatures that may trigger a closure. This will keep your employees from wondering about a snow day each time the snowplows come out.

Blizzards aren’t the only weather situation that may require closing. Below-freezing temperatures and wind chills as low as -60 degrees prompted the governor of Minnesota to close schools statewide in January of 2014.

Rely on an expert like the National Weather Service  for weather conditions. You may look to your state department of transportation or local school district as a guide. Know the terminology for different winter weather alerts, advisories and warnings.

Logistics

When a situation triggers your winter weather closing policy, how will you alert your employees before they get on the road?

Make it clear who makes the decision to close and how you’ll communicate an office closure to employees, whether it’s by phone call, text, email or some other method. And don’t forget — you’ll need contact information for each employee.

Customers or vendors may also need to be informed about your closing.

Expectations for employees

If you’ve set up the ability for workers to telecommute or work remotely, do you still expect employees to work if your office is closed due to weather? What if the company does not close, but an employee would prefer to avoid traveling? Remote work options could allow them to avoid taking a personal day.

As with other parts of your snow day plan, communicate clear expectations with your employees if you expect them to work remotely if they cannot make it into the office. Prepare your IT infrastructure for a spike in activity if many more employees than normal try to access the remote work system.

Your weather emergency plan also needs to factor in maintaining any business-critical operations. If a vital employee cannot make it to work, do you have a backup plan?

Compensation

Keep in mind the business implications of voluntarily closing because of the weather. Even if your employees aren’t working, they may still be due a paycheck. Check your state and federal regulations for rules around paying exempt and non-exempt employees in various bad weather scenarios .

By developing a snow day policy ahead of time, you’ll be prepared to make a thoughtful decision before a storm hits, and you’ll help your employees stay safe.

 This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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