Do Exempt Employees Have to Be Paid for Snow Days?

Posted by Scott A. HoltOn February 9, 2010In: Policies

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With the weather forecast predicting record-setting snowfall in the Northeast, many employers are preparing to close operations again tomorrow. But how to handle snow days when it comes to calculating payroll? Here's the run-down.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits employers from reducing the pay of any exempt employee based on the quantity or quality of his work or when he is ready, willing, and able to work but no work is available. Applying that basic principle, the U.S. DOL has taken the position that employers that decide to close because of weather conditions must pay exempt employees their regular salaries for any shutdown that lasts less than one full week.

On the other hand, nothing prohibits an employer from requiring employees, including exempt ones, to use accrued vacation time or other time off to cover the missed work. The FLSA doesn't require you to provide vacation or leave time at all, so there's nothing to prevent you from giving your employees vacation or paid time off (PTO) but then requiring them to take it on certain days. A private employer may therefore deduct the period of absence due to bad weather from an employee's remaining vacation or leave time, whether the absence is a full day or a partial day, so long as you pay exempt employees their regular salaries for that time.

The practical problem, of course, is that when bad weather hits, some exempt employees may not have any vacation or leave time left. Or they may have already scheduled to take off — and received approval to use — whatever vacation or leave time they have remaining. Even if an exempt employee has no time off remaining, she still must be paid her regular salary when the organization is closed because of bad weather for less than a week. The DOL has made it clear that you must pay employees in those circumstances, even if you offer no vacation or PTO benefits at all and even if you provide those benefits but the employee has no remaining accrued leave available.

There's no legal prohibition against applying PTO to days missed because of a facility closure and canceling part or all of approved vacation time for exempt employees who have time remaining but have approved plans to use their PTO on other days. You should first consider the inevitable negative effect of that practice on employee morale, however.

4 Comments

Fascinating analysis, but I'd like to see employers weather not just the negative morale but the embarrassing press that is sure to follow. Using PTO for company-ordered closures totally clashes with employees' expectations and sense of fairness and is sure to cause a revolution.

What about non exempt emploees?

What about when the agency is open and the exempt employee chooses not to come in?

Our organization is in Minnesota where we obviously have to deal with inclement weather a lot. We have several employees who live out-of-town (their choice to live elsewhere and work 20 or more miles away from their workplace) and who sometimes choose to not come to work when the weather is rough. However, many of us in the office live in-town and can get to work almost 100% of the time, on-time, as scheduled. I have made it very clear that work cannot be taken home due to the confidential (even HIPAA-related) nature of much of our data unless I have approved that before-the-fact. Yet I have certain employees who try to say they are "working from home" on days when they do not wish to travel to-and-from work. Even worse, one employee is not even notifying me or anyone else when this happens because she is exempt and feels obviously that the rules do not apply to everyone. When I question the validity of this practice with these few employees they hide behind the, "You are questioning my integrity?" or, "You don't trust me." facade. I assume we can require them to use PTO on those days even if they claim they worked a full day "at home". Please advise if you have any comments.

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