SOUTHPORT, CT, Feb. 19, 2015 –Snow days can hit employees hard in the pocketbook. While the cry of “snow day” can bring a smile to a fifth grader’s lips, that forced day off won’t make their parent’ smile when the next pay check comes in.
Why? Because most hourly employees don’t get paid if they don’t work because of storm-related closings. Even if an employee wants to brave the blizzard, if the employer shuts down because of the weather, they don’t have to pay their hourly workers. “In Connecticut the rule for many hourly employees is that you get paid for each hour you work. If you don’t work, for whatever reason, you don’t get paid,” says employment attorney Daniel Green. Green is a partner in the Employment Practice of the Southport law firm of Begos Brown & Green.
The issue came up for Green recently when a friend called for his advice. She was worried that her employer would be shutting down for a predicted snow storm the next day. “She’s an hourly employee and she was fretting because she would lose pay. She asked me if it was legal for her employer to pay her less because of a weather-related closing. The unfortunate answer is, ‘yes’ because she’s an hourly employee. If she was a salaried employee and worked some part of the week, she would get her full salary. But snow days have their downside for salaried employees too. Their employers can force them to use accrued leave or vacation time for missed days, even though it’s Mother Nature and not them who chose the days,” says Green. He adds that if an employer is open on a dicey weather day, he or she can also fire a worker who doesn’t show up. “Connecticut is an at-will employment state,” reminds Green. “And that means employers can fire workers for most reasons, unless they violate Federal or state statutes limiting the at-will doctrine.”
And what happens if an employee shows up for work and the office has to close during the work day? The hourly worker gets paid only for the time he or she worked. By statute though, employers must pay a two or four hour minimum if their employees report to duty. These include those workers in beauty shops, laundry establishments, cleaning and dying operations, retail stores, hotels and restaurants.
While states have their own laws covering these issues and the federal government has the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is ultimately an employer’s policy that governs these kinds of situations. “It’s up to the employee to know his or her employer’s policies and it’s up to the employer to put these in writing and communicate them to avoid difficult situations like this,” says Green. “Employers need to be clear about how and when they’ll inform their employees about weather related closings.”
Green offers this advice to employees:
- Find out what your employer’s weather-related policy is. “That’s what matters,” says Green. “It’s helpful to know what to expect and to know how and when your employer will let you know about a closing.”
- Don’t drive into work without checking to see if your employer’s open. “You don’t get points for getting there, no matter what the conditions are,” says Green. “If you’re an hourly worker and you drive into work to find the door is locked, you don’t get paid.”
- Know what the law is. “If you are a salaried employee who’s worked during a week, your employer can’t dock your pay for the days they are closed,” he reminds employees. “On the other hand, they can require you to use vacation or accrued leave under those circumstances.”
“It’s been a tough winter for employers and hourly employees,” concludes Green. “Work’s getting delayed, deadlines are getting snowed out, meetings have to be rescheduled and, for some, there’s less in the paycheck to help them ride out these storms. I’m sure both employees and employers are looking towards spring fondly at this point.”