Emergency / Disaster

When to Close the Workplace? Tips for Creating an Inclement Weather Policy

Grainger Editorial Staff

Inclement weather is in the forecast—snow, sleet and perhaps ice. Your employees are envisioning snuggling by the fire or playing in the snow with their kids. But inclement weather means managers must decide whether or not to close the office. And with nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population living in areas that receive more than five inches of snow each year according to U.S. Department of Transportation, this question is one that many employers will face sooner or later.

Closing the office means lost productivity and could also mean that your customers in other regions will experience service delays. Leadership must carefully balance the likelihood of difficult travel for employees with the impact that a lost day of work will have on the business. While safety is paramount, it's also important to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which has guidelines that can affect employee compensation during snow closures, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The organization cautions to also consult employee contracts and collective bargaining agreements when making these decisions.

Keeping Employees Safe During Inclement Weather

Commuting can be dangerous in winter weather. Employees who drive can encounter treacherous conditions on the roads. Those using public transportation risk exposure-related injuries during dangerously cold temperatures, and injuries from slipping and falling on ice can also occur. Additionally, employees who travel by car and safely arrive at the office may encounter icy sidewalks and roads walking into the building.

Closing Due to Inclement Weather: 4 Questions To Consider

As inclement weather approaches, the following four questions can help you decide whether to shut down during a winter storm. A human resources professional can also offer important perspective on issues including compensation.

  1. Have local officials issued any travel bans during the storm? What advice are emergency officials providing regarding safe travel? If authorities are recommending people stay off the roads, strongly consider listening to their warnings. If a travel ban has been issued, there may be no way for employees to legally reach your workplace.
  2. Is public transportation operating? If local officials declare that operating public transportation is not safe during the storm, some employees may be unable to get to the workplace. Additionally, this decision may mean that road conditions are not safe for employees to drive themselves.
  3. Where do the majority of your employees live? Are travel conditions safe from their homes to the office? In addition to weather near your office, think about the routes employees must travel to get to the office, especially if employees are traveling from far away.
  4. Is working from home a viable option for employees? Many companies allow employees to work from home during snowstorms. This may be a viable option if the majority of employees can safely make it to work, but those in outlying areas are unable to do so. If employees are required to work from home during inclement weather, be sure to have clear instructions for working remotely and have an employee available to assist with troubleshooting. Again, this is an issue where the advice of a human resources professional can be helpful.

Because snow forecasts are often unpredictable, it’s often challenging to know exactly when to stay open or close the office. If you make the decision too late into the storm, employees may have already put themselves in dangerous conditions trying to get to work.

Regardless of the choice, it’s essential to let employees know ahead of time how you will communicate closure information and when an announcement will be made. By carefully considering all aspects of the decision and communicating proactively with employees, you can make the call of whether or not to close the office or remain open during inclement weather in a way that makes the most sense for your business while, most importantly, keeping your employees safe. 

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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