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Inclement Weather Policies: Best Practices for Business

While you can’t control the weather, operational challenges due to inclement weather can be manageable with up-to-date inclement weather policies. Tornadoes, hurricanes, snow and heavy rainfall can all impact how employees get to work, your supply chain, and whether or not your customers and clients can access your business.

By developing severe weather policy guidelines for your business, you and your team will be ready to respond to whatever Mother Nature sends your way. Below, you’ll learn what inclement weather is and how to write an inclement weather policy for your organization.

See 14 more policies your business should have.

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What is inclement weather?

Inclement weather is a general term used to describe any unusual or severe weather conditions which impact safe travel, as well as the regular day-to-day operation of your business. What’s considered to be severe or inclement weather for your company’s inclement weather policy depends on where your business, and your employees, are located.

For example, if you run a retail store in upstate New York, a light dusting of snow certainly wouldn’t justify closing up shop for the day. That’s because the local and regional roads maintenance crews have the equipment and experience needed to keep streets and highways open for travel, and buildings in the area are designed to be safe and comfortable in cold, snowy weather.

On the other hand, if that same amount of snow falls in a southerly location such as Jacksonville, Florida, it’s likely to create hazardous conditions on the roads, and the accompanying low temps could lead to burst pipes and trouble with the power grid. In this case, a small amount of snow would be considered to be severe weather.

What to cover in your severe weather policy guidelines

Regardless of your industry, the size of your business or the number of employees you have, your inclement weather policy should cover three main issues: safety, business operations and employee compensation in the event of severe weather.

You’ll want to address how your employees travel to and from work by creating guidelines around weather-related disruptions to local roads and public transit. This could include details around what will happen if public bus service is delayed or suspended in your region and policies around road closures.

For example, you may have an employee who normally commutes to work using the subway, and they can’t make their shift because subway service is disrupted due to flooding. In this situation, you’ll have to decide if you’d like to cover the cost of a taxi to transport the employee to work, if the employee can work from home, or if they’ll need to take an unpaid day off.

Your inclement weather policies should also include how your company will respond if:

  • There’s a weather-related disruption to the power, water or communications at your place of business
  • Your remote employees lose power or internet connectivity due to inclement weather at their usual place of work
  • Weather conditions are too severe for exterior work, but workers can still work safely inside at your facility
  • Employees with school-aged children are unable to come to work because of weather-related school closures or school bus cancellations
  • An on-site employee is unable to return to their home following a shift due to inclement weather, and they need to shelter at a local hotel near your place of business
  • Local authorities issue an evacuation order in the area where your brick-and-mortar location is, as well as where your employees reside

Because weather patterns vary widely throughout the nation, what’s considered to be extreme weather in one location is the norm in another area. So when crafting your company’s inclement weather policy, start by making a list of what type of weather has the potential to disrupt your ability to do business.

Keep in mind that you may need to write location-specific inclement weather policies if your business operates in more than one location. The same is true if your employees need to travel outside of your area for work purposes.

Inclement weather policy example

Although it may be impractical to include every possible weather-related situation in your inclement weather policies, you can cover the most likely scenarios.

Here are some examples of what to consider when writing your inclement weather policy:

  • Conditions that make it unsafe to work, as followed under the guidelines of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or state recommendations
  • Full or partial closure of the company
  • An employee who cannot get to work due to extreme weather or unsafe weather-related travel conditions
  • An employee who has suffered damage to their home during inclement weather
  • Employee compensation during extended weather-related closures, such as following a hurricane that shuts down utilities in your region for a number of days
  • Who is responsible for deciding if your business should close due to extreme weather

Once you’ve developed a general inclement weather policy, it’s relatively easy to adjust this policy to cover specific circumstances as they relate to your business.

Communicating closures due to inclement weather

If your business has to close unexpectedly due to inclement weather, you’ll need to pass this information on to staff, suppliers, sales reps and anyone else who might be expecting to visit your organization during the closure.

Some businesses choose to use a phone tree to alert staff and other key personnel. In addition, social media, texts and email can be valuable tools for checking in and keeping in touch immediately with large numbers of people.

You’ll need to create a specific section in your severe weather policy guidelines which details how weather-related operational changes are communicated to all stakeholders. Keep in mind that unless your clients and customers are local, they may be unaware of any severe weather impacting your business. In these situations, it’s critical to let your suppliers, customers and prospects know what’s happening weather-wise in your region.

Paying employees during inclement weather events

Your inclement weather policy needs to cover what happens to your payroll if the business has to close due to inclement weather. You may choose to distinguish between those employees who are exempt from the overtime provisions laid out under the Fair Labor Standards Act and those who aren’t. Exemption status will often reflect the level of seniority and decision-making responsibilities a staff member has.

You may have employees who can work remotely from their homes should your business need to close due to weather. If that’s the case, be sure to include remote work policies in your inclement weather policy.

Your severe weather policy guidelines should cover weather-related situations that impact individual employees, such as flooding at an employees’ home or storm damage to an employees’ property. In addition, staff with children may rely on schools or daycare to enable them to work, so even those employees physically able to get to work might not have the support they need to make it practical.

Regardless of what policies you decide to implement, have them in writing and available to all employees upon hiring, so everyone is aware of what’s to come before inclement weather happens.

Related:How to Create a Time Off Policy

Closing thoughts about inclement weather policies

Your inclement weather policy will need to be tailored to suit your industry, working practices and location. For example, while some office-based businesses can operate unencumbered during heavy rain, a construction site could become dangerous, and the quality of the materials could be affected under the same weather conditions.

Regardless of your industry or location, preparation is key to minimizing operational issues due to inclement weather.

FAQs about inclement weather

What are examples of inclement weather?

What qualifies as inclement weather varies depending on where your business is located, as well as the local weather-related infrastructure and services. For example, a heatwave could be deemed inclement weather in an area where few buildings are equipped with air conditioning, while those same high temps may be the norm in some southern states.

Here are a few weather and climate-related situations you should plan for:

  • The threat of poor conditions, such as serious weather warnings or encroaching wildfire
  • Temperature extremes
  • Severe weather, such as significant snowfall, high winds, hail, tornadoes, hurricanes or freezing rain
  • Power outage or loss of other essential services such as heating, water or air conditioning
  • Flooding affecting roads and transportation
  • A state of emergency being declared and residents were advised not to leave their homes

Can employees be forced to report to work during inclement weather?

The rules around reporting to work during inclement weather vary depending on where your business is located, your industry and the type of duties your employees are expected to perform. For example, motor carrier employees have the right to refuse to operate a vehicle in conditions they deem unsafe, while the same protections don’t apply for workers during the commute to and from work.

In general, it’s always wise to err on the side of caution when it comes to allowing your employees to either work from home, or take the day off, when severe weather strikes. Not only does this demonstrate respect for your employees and their safety, but it could protect your business against any potential liability issues that may arise from forcing your employees to report during inclement weather.

How should you handle paying staff if you close due to inclement weather?

If you decide to close your business unexpectedly because of poor weather, you may want to have a pre-agreed sum that you will offer your staff. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you’re not required to pay hourly, or nonexempt, employees who are unable to work due to inclement weather, but you are obligated to pay your salaried, exempt employees if you close due to a severe storm or other weather-related events. When deciding how to handle wages during inclement weather closures, keep in mind that it’s important to balance the need for staff loyalty with the fixed costs of running your business.

How can I keep my business running during inclement weather?

For some businesses, some tasks need to be completed whether or not the actual brick-and-mortar premises are open. These essential tasks could include processing the payroll, attending to customer accounts and responding to company emails and voice messages.

Create a master list of must-do tasks that need to be completed remotely, regardless of whether or not your physical business location is open or accessible. Assign these tasks on a contingency basis before severe weather strikes, so you can keep your business running even when there’s no one on-site. Equip your essential employees with the tools they need to work remotely, such as a laptop and smartphone, so they’re able to continue their duties even when they can’t make it to work.

Related:11 Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

Can I ask employees to use leave to cover inclement weather?

In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to include a provision for employees to use paid time off (PTO) to cover weather conditions that prevent staff from reporting to work.

Depending on your leave policy, this could be an ideal way to maintain staff salaries without jeopardizing the business. In addition, government funds are often available to assist businesses that have experienced significant loss due to a natural disaster, so you may be able to access financial support if your business is struggling following a weather-related emergency.

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