Say it Ain’t Snow: When Must You Pay Absent Employees?

by Pat DiDomenico on January 21, 2016

Late January’s Snowzilla storm that slammed the East Coast caused many employers to shut down for a day or more. Hundreds of thousands of employees couldn’t make it to work.

We have help if your operations are affected by a storm and you’re wondering how (or whether) you must pay employees whose schedules are snowed under.

Some companies shut their doors for several days. In other workplaces, the doors are open but employees simply are unable to dig out to get into work.

Both scenarios carry some tricky compensation-related questions that other employers have to deal with during power outages, big storms or any other event that closes the workplace or makes travel difficult.

Let’s say you’re in the path of the storm but will be open for business Monday. An exempt employee calls to say she can’t drive her small car to work. Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) let you deduct a full day’s pay from her salary for that missed day? In most cases, yes.

What if your workplace closes down? In that case, it’s a different story. You can’t dock her pay, but you can require her to use accrued leave time for the missed day. (The flowchart below shows the yes/no calls to make when deciding whether you must pay employees when inclement weather interrupts work.)

Here’s what the experts at The HR Specialist say on the subject:

If the workplace stays open

When your organization remains open during inclement weather and an exempt employee misses work for his own (non-illness) reason, you can take a full-day deduction from the person’s salary, says a U.S. Department of Labor opinion letter. Or, you can require the employee to use vacation time or accrued leave to cover the time off.

Key point: You can deduct only fullday absences from exempt employees’ salaries. Docking pay for partial-day absences could destroy the person’s exemption. An exempt employee who shows up for part of the day should be paid for a full day.

If you close the workplace

If you shut your doors due to bad weather, you can require exempt employees to take vacation time or use leave, but you can’t insist on leave without pay.

The FLSA doesn’t require employers to provide vacation time. So employers are free to administer leave programs in any nondiscriminatory way. Employers may charge time off as leave even in amounts less than a day as long as the employee’s salary remains the same. The key is that the employee’s salary can’t be affected.

Tip: Establish a written policy against making improper salary deductions. (See a sample policy) While occasional mistakes in pay calculation won’t destroy an employee’s exemption, a pattern of improper behavior can. Employers that frequently make improper salary deductions or have no system for resolving disputes won’t fare well in court.


Category: HR Soapbox