Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
With winter in full swing, let's take a look at how companies should handle snow days. Here are five questions from readers:
1. If my company closes the office for a snow day, do they still have to pay me?
My company announced they were closing one day last week because of snow. Will I still get paid for that day?
It depends on which pay classification you fall into: exempt or nonexempt. These are categories set by the federal government.
If you're a non-exempt employee: If your office closes because of the storm and thus you don't work on those days, your employer is not required to pay you for those days. Some employers still will, but the law doesn't require it. It just depends on what your employer's policy is.
If you're an exempt employee: If you work any portion of the week, you have to be paid your full salary for the week, even if your office closes because of the storm. They can, however, require you to use a vacation day for that day. (But if you're all out of vacation days, they can't dock your pay to cover it.)
2. If my employer shuts down for a snow day, can they require that I use a vacation day for the time?
My office is great about shutting when the weather is bad, but they've started asking us to use vacation time for those days. That's time I was saving for a trip, so I really don't want to use it on a snow day. Can they make me do that?
Yes, they can. That said, smart employers won't do this, since it's a recipe for demoralizing good employees, who were ready to come in if road conditions allowed it.
3. I worked from home on a snow day and then was told to use vacation time for it
I work for a large institution which provides bus service to our off-site office location. A major snowstorm caused the bus service to be suspended today, which I had anticipated, so I brought my laptop home last night. I had been working for several hours today when my supervisor told me that I would have to take the day as a personal day because I didn't make it into the office. I'm an exempt employee, and have worked from home in other bad weather situations, so I was shocked when I was told I had to take the day off and use my time. Although there are a few alternative ways for me to get to work, none were viable options. Do I have any recourse for the time I put in before learning that I would have to use my accrued time off?
Not legal recourse, no. Your company is allowed to structure vacation time any way that it wants, which includes what they've done here. However, I'd push back on this with your boss. If you've worked from home in bad weather in the past, what changed this time? I'd point out to your boss that you made a reasonable assumption based on what was allowed in the past, and ask why he felt differently about it this time.
You'll have the best chances of the outcome you want here is if you don't approach this in an adversarial way, even though you're rightly angry. Approach it from the stance of genuine confusion and trying to understand where he's coming from so that you're on the same page in the future, even if in your head you're thinking he's being unreasonable.
4. Is it OK to stay home during bad weather?
What do you recommend employees do during severe weather? I rely on public transportation and my city is recommending that everyone stay home and off the streets. I think I could get to work, but I'm worried that I won't be able to get home easily. My manager emailed our team to say she's working from home and to use our judgment about getting to the office. I decided to stay home and I'm just curious what your thoughts are on the matter.
Obviously, the office is open (to what extent staff is actually there, I'm not sure). I'm mostly curious because I'm new to the company (started in the spring) and corporate culture in general. Previously I worked at a nonprofit (in the arts) and that company always stayed open during severe weather, so I don't think I have a good gauge about what to do.
When your city is telling people to stay off the streets, you stay off the streets. They issue those warnings for a reason.
You should also take your manager's words at face value when she tells you to use your judgment about whether or not to come in. And note that she herself is working from home.
Reasonable employers (and even many/most that normally aren't especially reasonable) don't expect people to put themselves in harm's way to get to work. Your employer is sending you a very clear message. Believe it!
5. Should people be as productive on snow days as when they're in the office?
I manage a small team and I let people work from home on snow days if they want to. Is it reasonable to expect they'll be as productive on those days as they would be if they were at work?
It's not always reasonable to expect people's productivity to be the same as if they were in the office. If there's an ongoing snow storm, they may need to stop working throughout the day to go out and shovel, or may need to supervise their kids if schools are closed. As a manager, you need to be thoughtful about the morale impact if you're not realistic about those factors, and need to make a judgment call about whether you'd rather have a lower level of productivity on days when people are snowed in versus none at all.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.