Snow Days

Its that time of year again. Freezing rain and snow making daily commutes difficult and dangerous; school closings keeping parents at home to care for their kids; businesses deciding to close operations. Thus, it may be a good time to review your inclement weather policy to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

For non-exempt employees, compliance under federal law is simple. Non-exempt employees must only be paid for time actually worked. The FLSA does not require non-exempt employees to be paid when they do not come to work due to inclement weather. However, employers do need to be cognizant that although federal law has no such requirements, some states have "reporting time pay" laws that require non-exempt employees be paid whenever the employee reports to work as required or requested by the employer, even if no work is available. (See our ASAP on reporting time pay).

The rules are a bit more complex for exempt employees, however, who must be paid on a salary basis. The general rule is that exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week in which they perform any work, unless a deduction is specifically permitted under 29 C.F.R. § 541.602(b). Section 541.602(b)(1) allows deductions for full-day absences taken for “personal reasons.” But, is a snow day a “personal reason”?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) addressed this issue in two Opinion Letters issued in 2005. DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2005-46 provides that deductions may be made from an exempt employee’s salary if the employer is open for business and the employee chooses not to report to work: "The Department of Labor considers an absence due to adverse weather conditions, such as when transportation difficulties experienced during a snow emergency cause an employee to choose not to report for work for the day even though the employer is open for business, an absence for personal reasons.” The DOL cautioned, however, that such “personal reasons” deductions “must be in full-day increments (not partial day deductions).”

Further, “[n]o deductions from salary can be made if the employer closes operations – this is considered an impermissible deduction "for absences occasioned by the employer or the operating requirements of the business."

Even when an employer closes operations, however, employees can be required to use accrued paid leave, such as paid vacation or a paid leave bank. DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2005-41 states that, since employers are not required under the FLSA to provide any paid leave to employees, “there is no prohibition on an employer giving vacation time and later requiring that such vacation time be taken on a specific day(s).” Therefore, an employer may direct exempt employees “to take vacation or debit their leave bank account” when the office or operations are closed due to inclement weather or other disasters, “whether for a full or partial day’s absence, provided the employees receive in payment an amount equal to their guaranteed salary.”

Cutting through the fog, the DOL’s guidance can be summarized in three simple rules:

  1. Non-exempt employees need not be paid when they do not work due to inclement weather or a disaster under the FLSA.
  2. If the company is open for business, an employer may make deductions, in full-day increments, from the salary of exempt employees who do not come to work due to inclement weather or a disasters.
  3. If the company closes operations, the employer cannot make deductions from salary, but can require the employee to use accrued paid leave, either in partial-day or full-day increments.

This entry was written by Tammy McCutchen.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.