To address the issue of payment during natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, snow), we must first understand the large scope and laws that govern employment in the United States. Americans aren’t strangers to hard work and dedication. Because of that spirit and history of working hard, checks and balances are required to ensure that employers don't take advantage of employees' eagerness to work. To address this problem, the federal government enacted legislation after the Great Depression to establish standards and guidelines for the workforce and employers throughout the country.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted to establish standards for minimum wage, overtime, sexual discrimination and child labor laws. In addition, the FLSA defines the two types of workers that generally make up the majority of the working population: exempt and non-exempt. (There are other options for employers, such as independent contractors, but we won’t get into the details of that here). The terms non-exempt and exempt refer to how the law treats those types of employees. The non-exempt workers are fully covered by the FLSA, meaning they cannot be paid below minimum wage, are entitled to overtime pay when working beyond forty hours in a week, etc. While the exempt employees are also guaranteed a minimum salary, they do not get the benefit of overtime pay. Because of this exemption, some exempt employees (depending on profession) could work as much as eighty hours a week and are paid the same salary as if they worked a forty-hour week. No one way is better than the other, as there are pros and cons to each designation. However, because of these differences in characterization, legislators, employers and employees are sometimes confused regarding worker's rights to pay in times of natural disasters and inclement weather.
Non-Exempt (Hourly) Employees
The law is fairly straight-forward in regards to non-exempt employees; if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. If an employer’s business is closed for a day, non-exempt employees (who are usually hourly employees) will not be paid for that day. In some instances, an hourly non-exempt employee could be “on call” for a weekend or a day and get paid even if they never report to their place of business. The law protects these "on call" workers to avoid a situation in which a non-exempt employee is not paid but doesn’t receive an actual day off due to the possibility of work.
On the other hand, exempt employees are afforded more compensation during times of natural disaster and/or inclement weather. In almost every situation, if an employer is closed for the day, exempt employees are still paid their salaries. This is done irrespective of any sort of benefits plan that includes paid time off or vacation. In the instance of an employer’s office being open, but a particularly employee cannot travel to work due to the weather, in almost every instance, that exempt employee will also be paid. Here, the employee will need to use their paid time off or vacation time. If the employee doesn’t currently have accrued time to take from, the employer is not required by law to pay that employees salary for that day.
It is vital for employers to communicate their expectations and policies with their employees. This is best done through an employee handbook. In addition, it is incumbent upon employees to read said handbooks and be well aware of the duties and responsibilities owed to their employers. At P.K. Hammar Legal, P.C., we have experienced attorneys that can counsel you on your specific situation, whether you’re an employer or employee. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you find yourself in a similar situation to the examples described above.