Say It Isn’t Snow

Given the horrible winter we’ve been having, I’m not surprised that I’ve been asked this question more than once in recent weeks.  “My office was closed for one day due to the weather and road conditions.  Now, they are telling me that I have to burn a vacation day for my “day off”.  It was hardly a vacation and it wasn’t my choice to stay home.  Can they do this?

Before I answer the question, I’m going to make some assumptions about the person asking the question.  First, I am assuming that the employee is an “exempt” worker, that is exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  There are many criteria to look at to decide if someone is “exempt” but generally speaking a salaried employee who is in an executive, administrative, professional or sales position will probably be “exempt” under the FLSA.  Second, I’m assuming that the company is not docking her paycheck for the missed day.

Given that assumption, the short answer is “Yes, they can do that”.  As there is no requirement for a business to offer any paid leave, the company can decide when an employee must take a vacation day.  Although I personally think it’s a short-sited employment practice, the company is not violating the law by requiring exempt employees to use a paid vacation day for a weather related absence.

The Department of Labor issues guiding principles on the FLSA and its implementation.  The DOL’s guidelines re: inclement weather absences and vacation leave are as follows:

  • Employers who are open for business during bad weather: may deduct banked paid leave OR salary deductions from employees for weather-related absences;
  • Employers who are closed for business due to bad weather: may deduct banked paid leave from employees for weather-related absences but employers must pay employees their regular salary for the “snow day”

What about the employee who has no banked paid leave? The DOL is clear that even if the employee has used all her allotted vacation time for the year, a company that was closed for business due to bad weather cannot deduct pay from an employee for staying home on that day.

So, while companies can deduct paid leave time and (if they were open) deduct salary from employees for weather related absences, I’m not sure they should.  It doesn’t do much for employee morale to punish people for having the good sense to stay off the roads during a blizzard.  I believe the better practice is for a company to have a fair inclement weather policy and distribute and discuss it with their employees before bad weather strikes.

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