Last year on December 1, central Illinois woke up to eight to 12 inches of snow and blanketing sheets of ice and sleet. Many employers decided to close the business or not even open for the day. As a result, many employees had an unscheduled day off from work. Now the issue is coming to employers: are employees entitled to a day’s wages for the weather-related day off? After all the employees did not take the day off, the employer closed the business for the day. Let’s look at the law.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the minimum wage and overtime pay standards for certain types of employees. The Department of Labor has written guidelines for employers to use in applying the FLSA. If an employee is considered an administrative or executive employee under those guidelines, that employee is exempt from the FLSA. Although the Illinois Minimum Wage Law uses a slightly different test to determine if an employee is exempt, state law also excludes exempt employees from wage and hour rules. Generally speaking, exempt employees are salaried employees who receive a fixed sum annually, regardless of the number of hours worked.
Exempt employees should be paid for any day they are ready, willing and able to work. Therefore, if the weather causes a business to close and work is not available, exempt employees cannot be docked for a day not worked as long as they were ready to work but couldn’t because of management’s decision to close. Exempt employees are to be paid if they put forth any time worked during a work day. So, even if the weather causes the exempt employee to arrive late, or prudence requires the exempt employee to leave work early, an exempt employee loses no pay.
If the weather is bad and the business decides not to close, but the exempt employee decides to stay home because of bad road conditions, or to take care of children home from a closed school, then the exempt employee is absent for personal reasons, not the adverse weather conditions. The employee is not ready, willing and able to work, so the employer is not required to compensate the employee for the day off. Under these circumstances, most employers require the exempt employee to use a personal or vacation day. If the exempt employee has used up all paid days away and decides to stay home, then the employer may legally deduct the equivalent of one day’s pay for the exempt employee’s failure to report to work. If the business is closed and the employee has no vacation days left, then the employer may not deduct a day’s pay.
The FLSA does not address issues such as vacation, holiday, sick pay, fringe benefits or limitations on the number of hours worked (if the employee is at least 16). In fact, there is no law that requires an employer to give exempt employees any vacation or personal time. If the weather causes an employee to miss work, there is no law that prevents an employer from requiring the day away to be counted as a vacation or personal day. The law is implicated if the business is forced to close for an entire work week, but it would be hard to imagine that much snow in central Illinois.
What about hourly, non-exempt workers? Generally speaking, non-exempt employees must be paid only for hours actually worked. There is no obligation under the FLSA that requires employers to pay hourly employees for a day not worked because of adverse weather conditions. An employer may decide to pay non-exempt employees for a snow day for reasons of morale, so as not to punish the hourly worker for failing to work on a day the office wasn’t open anyway. That being said, there is no law that requires employers to pay employees for a snow day.
While the FLSA does not aid hourly workers, a collective bargaining agreement may. For example, a union contract may require employees to work a full work week, and the contract may define a work week as five days of not less than eight hours. If an employee is unable to work a full work week because the employer closed the business because of snow, the employee has an argument under that contract that he or she should be paid because the employer prevented the employee from fulfilling his or her part of the agreement by closing the doors.
From an employee relations standpoint, having a clear snow day policy in an employee handbook or contract will help establish your business practice and expectations. There are many sample policies available that describe when a business will close early or will not open at all because of weather; how the employees will be notified or if the employees are to know of the closing, and whether the day will count as vacation time if the business is closed or if the employee is unable to make it into the office because of road conditions. While history has shown that we only experience extreme weather similar to December 1 every decade or so, it is still a good business practice to prepare for snow and the effects on your business. IBI