Weather Emergencies, Office Shutdowns, and Employee Payroll
Whether it is the snowpocalypse of the century, a series of Wizard of Oz-like tornados, or the biggest hurricane to hit the coast, you need to be prepared. While you may intend to open your office come heck or high water, there may be a case where the safety of your staff and patients depends on you taking the right steps to close. But doctors and practice owners may have questions about whether or not they should pay employees if they’re forced to close for the day.
Salaried vs. Hourly Employees
According to federal law, salaried, exempt employees who have worked at least part of the workweek cannot have their pay docked if you shut down your business due to weather-related conditions. Nonexempt or hourly employees do not have to be paid, but most employers pay them anyway to avoid bad feelings. Along the same lines, you can request that an exempt employee takes a vacation or personal day when the office is closed. While this is legally permissible, you’ll need to decide if that is the type of culture you want to promote in your practice.
Your best course of action is to make your policies clear and confirm it doesn't violate federal or local laws. Make sure it is in writing in your employee manual and let every employee know about the policies well in advance. By doing this, you can avoid negative feelings, confusion, and problems.
Err on the Side of Generosity
Regulations aside, should you still pay nonexempt staff people when you close the office, and should you refrain from docking vacation or personal days for exempt staff? Probably. It's the fair thing to do. Let's face it: Weather-related closures rarely happen. Is it really worth the bad feelings if employees can't work because the office is closed?
Even if you think you can open the office because a few people live close by, is it wise to do so? You don't want employees getting injured on their way to work due to traffic accidents or other problems from inclement weather. No one wants that, and asking people to stay home is the fair thing to do.
Also, keep in mind that there may be rules in your state that do require you to pay nonexempt employees even in situations in which federal rules do not. To make sure you don't inadvertently violate any federal or state rules, it's a good idea to consult with a qualified payroll or accounting professional before docking anyone's pay or personal time.
Yes, it may be costly to pay people even when you don't legally have to, but in the long run a happy workforce is a productive workforce. Paying employees and allowing them to keep their vacation days when you're forced to shut down due to weather issues is probably the best thing to do.