Patricia Chaney

Time for a Snow Day? When to Close the Office Because of Weather

When you turn on the news or open your favorite weather app and see a severe weather forecast, as an employer, how do you decide when to temporarily close your doors? It’s a tricky decision, particularly as bad weather can get worse unexpectedly or make the roads dangerous to travel on. Your first priority is employee safety, but you also need to keep business flowing.

You’ll need to establish a severe weather policy for when to have the office closed due to weather. However, implementing that policy isn’t always straightforward. The next time you’re weighing whether to shut your doors for the day, ask yourself these questions — and consider how the answers will affect your employees.

1. Is This Weather the Norm for This Time of Year?

Snowy conditions can be concerning, but how people handle heavy snowfall varies widely by region. In the South, where snow is rare, a minor snowstorm can block roads. In the Midwest, on the other hand, it’s more likely that people will have put chains on their tires at the start of winter.

Bottom line: If the roads are clear, your employees will be comfortable on their commutes and weather is expected to remain consistent throughout the day, you may want to stay open, at least for essential employees.

2. How Do Employees Usually Get to Work?

Does your workforce use public transportation? Walk or bike? Or do most of them drive? Consider how they commute to work and how those routes are affected by the weather. If you expect large rainfall and flash floods, then expect that to also delay public transportation. Keep in mind that location affects an employee’s ability to get to work as well. For example, for urban employers, remember that areas farther outside the city may take longer to clear the roads than areas closer to the city.

3. What Could Happen During the Day?

Severe weather commonly takes the form of snow, rain, hurricanes or strong thunderstorms. Is the snow likely to pile up and strand your employees at work? Could severe storms lead to tornadoes? Will your area be affected by a hurricane or tropical storm, even if you’re on the outer edges of the storm? Don’t just look out to window to assess the situation — check the full forecast for the day.

4. Is It Possible to Offer an Altered Schedule?

Rather than closing for the entire day, it may be best to open late or close early so that employees can have a safer commute. Can your employees adjust their own schedules to come in earlier or work later?

Keep in mind as well that bad weather may cause damage to an employee’s home or vehicle, making it difficult for them to get to work even once the weather is better. Plan for accommodations you’re willing to make so that they can still accomplish their work on schedule, such as arranging alternate transportation.

5. Are Schools and Day Cares Closed?

You may feel that the storm outside isn’t severe enough to have the office closed due to weather, but there’s a chance the local school systems will think differently. If you have many employees with kids who would find it difficult to manage child care from the office, consider whether you should close or make accommodations. Can those employees, for instance, bring their kids to work?

6. Can Employees Work From Home?

If you have a remote work policy, the decision may to close the office may be easy — after all, you’re not losing any productivity. If you know a day in advance that you’re likely to close the office, have employees take home any work they’ll need to continue their tasks remotely. Also make sure to check that your IT infrastructure can handle a higher number of people using the company network remotely.

7. What’s the Best Way to Go About Closing the Office?

First, you’ll need a written inclement weather policy, such as this sample one. When you make the decision to close, it should only be a matter of implementing the policy. Communicate your decision to your employees through established channels, such as via phone calls, emails or text messages. Detail any expectations for remote work, and share the policy so that employees are aware of how they’ll be compensated during this time.

Ultimately, deciding how to respond to severe weather depends on what you think is best for your employees. Be sure to discuss your inclement weather policy and procedures with your staff as early as possible, and share the policy with them as a reminder before any bad weather hits. Workforce health and well-being are best able to improve when employees have healthy habits that keep them safe, whether that means making smart choices every day or being prepared for potentially dangerous situations.

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