With an unprecedented amount of snow falling in Massachusetts over the past three weeks, businesses have been forced to close early or not open for business on numerous occasions. Private employers want to know if they are obligated to pay employees during these wintry storms. The answer depends on whether (i) the employee is paid on an hourly basis and/or eligible for overtime after working 40 hours in a work week (non-exempt employee); or (ii) the employee is paid on a salary basis and is exempt from any overtime pay requirements (exempt employee). Employers might also have a snow day policy that offers additional benefits to their employees but those are strictly voluntary.
When the office is open and an exempt employee does not come to work because of poor driving conditions or limited public transportation, the employer can deduct a full day’s pay from the employee’s weekly salary. In lieu of deducting one day’s pay, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) does allow an employer the option of requiring the exempt employee to take accrued vacation or other leave time, or debit the time from a leave bank. If an exempt employee has no leave time available, the employer does not have to pay the employee for not reporting to work for one or more full days during the work week.
The answer differs when the office closes early. An employer cannot deduct any pay from the exempt employee’s weekly salary when the employee has worked only part of the workday. Nonetheless, DOL does allow an employer to direct an exempt employee to use the employee’s leave time for a partial day’s absence as long as the employee receives the employee’s entire weekly salary. This rule also applies when the exempt employee has no accrued leave. The employer must still pay the employee’s guaranteed salary although the employer can deduct the leave time at a later date once the exempt employee accrues the leave time.
An employer only has to pay a non-exempt employee for time worked. An employer has the option of creating a policy or practice that requires the non-exempt employee to use his/her accrued leave or vacation time when the office is closed.
Massachusetts, however, has a reporting pay requirement. When a non-exempt employee, who is scheduled to work three or more hours, reports to work and the employer sends the employee home due to inclement weather, the employer must pay the non-exempt employee for three hours at the basic minimum wage rate. (This rule does not apply to organizations granted status as charitable organizations under the Internal Revenue Code.) Issues will arise when it is unclear whether the employer notified the non-exempt employee before the non-exempt employee reported to work. Thus, it is important for an employer to communicate office closures to employees in a timely manner.
If you have any questions about the information presented here, need assistance with reviewing policies, or would like to learn more about how Prince Lobel can address any of your employment law concerns, please contact Claudia Centomini, the author of this Blog is at 617 456 8064 or ccentomini@PrinceLobel.com, or click here to contact any of the attorneys in the firm’s Employment Law Practice Group.