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Within a two-week period, Mother Nature managed to shower the metro Atlanta area with a snow and ice storm not once but twice. The Governor of the State of Georgia, Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency advising all citizens to stay off the roadways due to hazardous conditions.  Employers from Henry to Hall county were forced to implement its inclement weather procedures as employees proceeded to either leave work early or were unable to report to work for a couple of days as a result of the storm. This left  many employees wondering if they would be compensated for the missing time.

As the ice began to melt, many learned their absence will be considered as o my unpaid time off. Others learned that they would have to use their benefit time to cover the absences.  On the other hand, “Essential” Personnel  (those who were stuck at work for an extended period of time; in some cases two days), learned that they will only be paid for the time in which they actually worked. The question I always get during these times is, “Is this legal?” and the answer in a nutshell is, “Yes”.  The most common response to my reply is “That’s not fair!”

As an employee and a member of management, I clearly understand both sides of the argument.  But in my opinion the real injustice is the fact that most employees are not aware of their employer’s policy on inclement weather either because there is not one or it is poorly communicated.  So how can you settle the score?

Get an Understanding

If your company does not have an inclement weather policy, employees should appeal to management.  As with all emergencies, employees need to know what to do, who to call where to seek information and what to expect in order to make informed decisions.  Things to consider are who would be responsible for deciding early departures, closures and/ or operating with limited staffing.  Will employees be compensated?  If so, will they be required to use their benefit time?  What accommodations will be made for employees who are unable to leave the property?  When will employees be given a break?  Is there a designated place for them to rest?  Will they be compensated at the regular rate?   And what about meals?  Will they be given a meal allowance?

Communicate

The inclement weather policy should not be a mystery.  It should be a part of the new hire manual and posted in community areas or an online portal accessible by everyone.  If there is a storm warning, management should begin planning immediately to decide how things will be handled.  All decisions should be discussed with the employees who are at work if and when the warning is issued during regular business hours.   If the decisions are made after hours, depending on the size of the organization, the employer should consider using a phone tree, text  or an email blast to deliver the message.

Negotiate

If policy states the absence will be unpaid, employees should inquire about working an additional shift or shifts before the end of the pay period.  This will allow them to make up the hours and receive a normal paycheck.  If the business is a  twenty-four hour operation with “essential personnel” the extra shift can be offset by allowing those who worked during the inclement weather additional time off to recuperate.  In this case employees will swap shifts, allowing management the opportunity to possibly reduce overtime which is a win-win!

There is no doubt the Winter Storms of 2014 have given employees and employers alike much to consider.  As usual, Mother Nature has managed to not only get us thinking but talking as well.  Take this time to learn from this ordeal make some changes in preparation for future events.

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