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Safety and Security Feb 09, 2021

How to Create an Inclement Weather Policy for Your Business (+ Policy Example)

Learn the importance of an inclement weather policy to your business and understand what you should think about as you’re creating yours.

Inclement weather is disruptive. For hundreds of years, humans have attempted to predict the weather, with varying levels of success, in an effort to minimize disruptions and plan ahead. As early as 650 B.C., the Babylonians tried to forecast near-term weather changes based on atmospheric conditions, such as clouds’ appearance. More than a millennium later, meteorologists can now accurately predict the weather five days in advance 90 percent of the time. Yet, much is still unknown about the severity of weather events—including the areas that will be most affected—until they’ve arrived, making it all the more important to have a plan in advance.

AlertMedia’s resident meteorologist Jason Moreland explains further:

“Research and improvements in computing power have made weather forecasts markedly better than where they were even just 5-10 years ago. However, forecasts generated by even the most powerful supercomputers are only as good as the available weather observations being assimilated. Even as storm events begin to unfold, meteorologists routinely have to monitor many variables, like temperature and dewpoint, not only at the ground surface but throughout the troposphere. Temperature and moisture values aloft can greatly dictate whether a location receives snow or merely a cold rain. There always comes a point in time when forecasters have to set the guidance tools aside and monitor real-time observations and adjust as needed.”

Whether due to a hurricane, flooding, winter storms, or another event, inclement weather often forces organizations to rapidly enact crisis management plans to get accurate information to at-risk employees or make urgent accommodations to avoid business disruptions. And for organizations that lack a comprehensive inclement weather policy, a sudden change in weather can leave employees scratching their heads as to if, when, and how it will impact their daily work.

While severe weather is unpredictable—your company’s response to it shouldn’t be. A well-written inclement weather policy provides helpful details about your company’s procedures and helps to set appropriate expectations with employees about what to do when bad weather strikes. For example:

  • If it’s snowing, should employees venture into the office or work remotely?
  • If local authorities have put voluntary hurricane evacuation orders in place, do you expect employees to put in a full day?
  • What steps should remote employees take if they lose power or their internet connection?
  • When should outdoor workers seek shelter indoors?
  • How will employees be notified of closures or reduced work hours?
  • Will employee pay and benefits be affected for nonexempt employees if there are closings due to weather?

The middle of a major snowstorm or just before a hurricane hits is not the time to start pondering these questions or how you’ll communicate this vital information to employees.

Creating an inclement weather policy is a great way to ensure you have answers to questions like these before they’re asked. With an inclement weather policy, you can better prepare your organization for the next time bad weather threatens to disrupt normal business operations. It will also help you better protect your people and fulfill your organization’s duty of care.

In this blog post, we’ll explore how inclement weather may impact your business, why you need an inclement weather policy, and what your policy should cover.

a white van drives under a bridge in extremely snowy conditions
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What Does Inclement Weather Mean?

Inclement weather is defined as any severe or harsh weather condition that makes it unsafe or impractical to travel, commute, or work outdoors. And while the term “inclement weather” may bring to mind visions of snow-packed streets and icy walkways, it’s not just companies in snowy climates that need an inclement weather policy.

Every region and every business faces weather-related threats and challenges. Snow, sleet, frigid temperatures, heavy rain, hurricanes, high winds, tornadoes, and wildfires are just a few of the inclement weather events your business may encounter.

Unremarkable weather in one region can also be considered inclement weather in another. A light dusting of snow in Boston, for example, likely wouldn’t be enough to disrupt local travel, schools, and businesses. But in Southern states, it can wreak havoc due to the lack of snowplows, de-icing equipment, driver experience, and general winter weather preparation.

Why Your Business Needs an Inclement Weather Policy

An inclement weather policy is a written document that outlines the rules, expectations, and operating procedures when bad weather causes disruption. By eliminating ambiguity, you can avoid confusion about whether an employee should report to work and how the organization handles employee pay and benefits. Defining policies and procedures for inclement weather before it happens also helps accelerate communication, increase productivity, and keep your business moving when you’re juggling a multi-faceted emergency response plan.

When an employee braves dangerous winter driving conditions only to arrive at the office to find it closed, or an employee is told to stay home and then finds their next paycheck isn’t what they were expecting, communicating your policies after the fact is much too late.

Creating a clear inclement weather policy is important for employees so they know ahead of time what to expect when the weather turns bad. While some companies may “leave it up to the employee” on whether or not they should come into work, that’s a bad idea. Experts recommend putting an inclement weather policy in place before the first snowflake falls.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) cites the advice of attorney Paul DeCamp of Epstein, Becker & Green in Washington, D.C. and former administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division: “Employers should give serious thought to allowing employees to stay home on days when there is a significantly elevated risk of a traffic accident, as no employer wants to see an injury or fatality occur because an employee felt obligated to come to work even though the roads were not safe.”

"No employer wants to see an injury or fatality occur because an employee felt obligated to come to work even though the roads were not safe.”

Organizations have a duty of care—a legal, moral, and ethical obligation—to keep employees safe while working on their behalf. If an outdoor worker is injured on the job due to severe weather, the company may be responsible if it failed to take reasonable measures to protect that employee from foreseeable harm. And even though duty of care doesn’t typically extend to an employee’s commute, an employer could face a negligence or wrongful death lawsuit if an employee is involved in an accident while in transit to work. With inclement weather policies, companies should consider worker safety first. The business may be interrupted if the office shuts down, but when it resumes, everyone can safely return and get back to work.

What to Include in Your Inclement Weather Policy

An inclement weather policy typically focuses on two important items: worker safety and employee pay and benefits.

Nothing is more important than making sure your employees arrive safely at work. But you’ll need to put some structure in place so employees know your expectations when a fierce storm approaches. Here are some items to include:

  • How far in advance will the company notify employees of closings due to weather?
  • How will your organization notify employees of weather-related schedule changes, closures, and other pertinent information?
  • Are employees paid when the business is closed or hours of operation change due to inclement weather (more on this below)?

Remote work

If travel conditions make coming to work a dangerous proposition, consider telecommuting as one way to keep business humming along. If possible given the nature of your business, non-exempt workers (generally speaking, hourly employees) should keep track of hours while working from home and ensure any overtime is approved beforehand.

With the rise of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home is now the rule, rather than the exception, for many employees. But even for organizations where employees exclusively work-from-home, an inclement weather policy is still just as important. You need to decide how you will approach weather-related emergencies—such as power outages and voluntary evacuations—and have a documented policy in place.

Employee pay and benefits

Make sure your policy also states how your company will handle employee compensation if the office is closed, employees cannot safely get to the office due to inclement weather, or remote employees are unable to perform their regular duties due to some other mitigating circumstance. You’ll need to decide if the time is paid or unpaid for non-exempt workers. If it’s unpaid, can employees use paid time off (PTO) or sick days? Can employees make up unpaid time later? Exempt employees must be paid their salary if they performed any work during the workweek, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). So, if your company closes the office for the day because of a monster snowstorm, exempt employees must be paid.

Communication protocols

Finally, your inclement weather policy needs to establish communication procedures before, during, and after an inclement weather event. When and how will you notify employees of closings due to weather? Will they receive a call or text from your organization, or do they need to call an emergency hotline to check? Ideally, employees also should have guidelines for how they should report they are voluntarily staying at home, and how they should report their time (if applicable). Laying out these protocols in advance ensures everyone knows what to do, what to expect, and how to communicate when the storm is at your doorstep.

Common Inclement Weather Scenarios

It’s not just snow and ice that can threaten employee safety and disrupt businesses. For some regions, inclement weather takes other forms: Dangerously high winds, erratic wildfires, even extreme heat or cold. And inclement weather isn’t exclusive to the winter months—it is a year-round concern. Regardless of where a company does business, it should have an inclement weather policy in place to address the types of weather-related hazards its people may experience.

As you assess the specific types of inclement weather your business and employees may face, consider the following:

Winter weather

Winter weather impacts almost every location in the United States. Even parts of Hawaii get snow. But the impact varies wildly by location. Locations in the North might face blizzards or snow-ins but are generally more resilient to snowy weather. Locations in the South, by contrast, might not see much snow but could completely shut down with the slightest precipitation. Make sure your policy includes the most likely winter hazards your business will face.

Hurricanes

If you have business locations on the Atlantic coast or near the Gulf of Mexico, it’s highly probably they will be impacted in some way by hurricanes. Hurricanes commonly bring severe and prolonged inclement weather, including strong winds, heavy rains, and, of course, flooding. Indirectly, hurricanes will cause food and gas shortages, impact travel, and disrupt supply chains. They can even cause massive displacement and forced evacuations. How will your business and its employees react to these challenges?

Related Reading: How Organizations Use AlertMedia During Hurricane Season

Heavy rains and flooding

Each year, 75 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet pavement and 47 percent happen during rainfall. Heavy rain and wet weather can make driving a white-knuckle experience, reducing vehicle traction, maneuverability, and visibility. Some businesses may also have hyper-local concerns, such as having offices in flood zones or near landslide-prone areas. In severe thunderstorms, lightning, hail, and flash floods can come on suddenly and be particularly dangerous for employees that must travel or work outdoors.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes can occur with little to no warning. For Midwest businesses that may find themselves in the path of a tornado, planning ahead and ensuring everybody knows what to do when a tornado watch or tornado warning sounds is key. Tornadoes and high winds can threaten life and property, devastating entire communities in a matter of minutes. To prepare for a tornado, your written policy should include details on when employees should take shelter, suitable places to take shelter, and how all personnel will be accounted for.

Inclement Weather Policy Samples

Every business needs an inclement weather policy, but starting from scratch can be daunting. To help, below you’ll find two free inclement weather policy templates that can be tailored to your company’s needs. Each of these policy examples has draft language filled with placeholders to make customizing them quick and easy.

Policy sample #1: employee pay and compensation

In this adverse weather conditions policy sample from the world’s largest HR association, SHRM, the document clearly establishes how employee pay, benefits, and compensation will be handled for both exempt and non-exempt employees in the event the facility is closed or employees voluntarily choose to stay home:

“If the facility is announced to be closed on a given day, all exempt level staff will receive their regular pay for the day of closure. For hourly employees on a day of closure, an employee will receive an amount equivalent to four hours of base pay for the day. If an employee elects not to report to work when facilities are open, the employee will be required to use his or her available paid time off or take leave without pay.”

Policy sample #2: inclement weather employee communication

In this inclement weather policy example from Integrity HR, the document clearly outlines when and how employees will receive notification of inclement weather and associated closures:

“[Company Name] makes a decision by 8:30 a.m. during periods of such inclement weather and communicates this to local media including [insert radio station and television station]. The company will also post the closure on the homepage of the website.”

How to Communicate With Employees During Inclement Weather

Once you’ve created the inclement weather policy for your business, you’ll want to make sure it’s included in the employee handbook and that each employee receives a copy. By using emergency communication software, you can also rapidly reach any employee, anywhere in the world with urgent, time-sensitive information as inclement weather events arise.

As one example, New England-based Rockland Trust uses AlertMedia’s emergency notification software to reliably communicate with employees about winter storm-related outages and closures—even during inevitable power and internet outages. And on the west coast, AlertMedia’s emergency communication system helps Kawasaki keep its people safe and connected during severe weather events that impact the region. When wildfires raged across Southern California, AlertMedia’s location tracking and geofencing capabilities made it easy for Kawasaki to rapidly identify and communicate with affected employees.

With a mass notification system, organizations can reach employees on any device through various channels. By sending notifications about inclement weather across multiple channels—including text, phone call, email, mobile app, social media, and even desktop takeover—organizations can ensure maximum deliverability. Two-way messaging enables employers to stay in touch with employees, even in emergencies.

Other features of an emergency communication system that are particularly valuable during inclement weather include pre-built notification templates to expedite communication, real-time delivery performance statistics to confirm message delivery, and HRIS integration to ensure accurate contact information. The ability to quickly conduct employee wellness check surveys can also help you determine which employees may require assistance. And with event pages, you can ensure employees always have access to the latest news and updates via a single online repository.

Finally, choosing a system with global threat intelligence capabilities enables your organization to take a more proactive approach to inclement weather. It does this by monitoring severe weather developments around the world, assessing the potential impact, and automatically alerting employees that may be affected based on real-time location data.

Why Preparation Is Key to Being Inclement Weather Readiness

Etched in granite over the entrance to the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue are these infamous words: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And while this noble sentiment might have worked for postal carriers in the days of yore, today’s workers have other guidance.

Today, every organization needs an inclement weather policy. Creating an inclement weather policy protects employees and the business. By having a solid policy in place and the means to communicate with employees, you’ll ensure they stay safe, connected, and informed during any severe weather event that may arise.

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