How to Prepare Your Business for Inclement Weather
Regardless of where companies do business, they should have an inclement weather policy in place. Whether your business is located in a region prone to hurricanes, flooding or snowstorms, the risks posed by adverse weather conditions — both to company operations and employee well-being — are serious enough to consider implementing such a policy.
Just as with other challenges to a business, such as data theft or workplace accidents, establishing a policy for handling adverse weather conditions can minimize risks to a business. If, for example, a flash flood occurs in your region, are employees still expected to come to work? What if road closures occur, making it exceptionally difficult to access the workplace?
Establishing an inclement weather policy and preparedness procedures can address these and related questions. It may also serve to decrease confusion and uncertainty, and to heighten employee safety.
How to prepare for inclement weather
If you choose to add an inclement weather policy and procedures, it should clearly outline your business’s approach to inclement weather and be communicated to all employees. Ideally, the policy and procedures should be written and communicated well in advance of a weather event.
Ensure that everyone receives a copy, that it is included in your employee handbook, and that it's reinforced to workers by management. Be sure to address:
- Company policies regarding office closures
- Implications for employee pay, time, and reporting
- How and when employees will be advised of an office closure
Consider these action steps as part of the implementation process:
Protect your most valuable assets
Any initiative of this type worth implementing should have employee protection at the top of its priority list. For employees, this includes:
- How to safely evacuate the workplace
- What safety tools and resources to keep in stock
- Compiling updated employee, customer, and supplier contact information
- Conducting annual or semi-annual "mock emergency drills" to test employee preparedness
Also, be sure everyone receives an emergency organizational chart detailing who's in charge if the owner isn't present.
Ensure protection of business information
Data storage and backup are key steps to help minimize losses following a bad weather event or a natural disaster. Don't depend on having the use of a computer in a physical location susceptible to damage due to flooding, fire, earthquakes, etc.
Instead, explore the use of a cloud-based data storage system that's not vulnerable to weather events and sharply reduces the time needed to get your systems back up and running. Storing data in the cloud means your business can function from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection. This is equally important in terms of protecting sensitive data from cyber criminals.
Coordinate emergency planning with suppliers
Your supply chain may be particularly vulnerable in the event of bad weather or a natural disaster. The U.S. Small Business Administration advises determining if your key suppliers have a recovery plan in place and maintaining a contact list for important business contractors and vendors you plan to use in an emergency.
Know how you will communicate externally
As important as internal emergency communications are, your plans should also include a contingency policy for communicating with your customers. Options include:
- Assign individual employees to contact everyone on a preset list of customers.
- Post updates on customer services on the company website and/or social media channels.
- Establish local media contacts (TV, radio, print) to whom you can reach out during a crisis.
It's important for your customers to know if your business has to temporarily close during inclement weather, and when you plan to reopen. The more information they have, the more likely they will trust your judgment and resume business with you once the event has passed.
Key features of a business's inclement weather policy and procedures
While some details may differ from business to business, certain key features should be included in every inclement weather policy's final draft. These features are designed to clarify any questions employees or customers might have.
1. Define what constitutes "inclement weather."
Again, much depends on the area in which a business is located. Companies with physical locations on the West Coast, for example, are subject to drought, extreme heat, flooding and related events. Heavy snowfall is not a big threat. As a result, California-based businesses should focus on the types of adverse weather events most likely to affect operations.
Also, the policy should differentiate, where necessary, between bad weather and natural disasters.
2. Specify how employees will be notified
As noted, the policy and procedures should reference how employees will be contacted regarding workplace conditions, during or after a severe weather event. This information should be communicated through copies of the information sent out in the employee handbook and/or at all-staff meetings and other forms of employee communications.
3. Explain payment protocol to employees during inclement weather
Clearly state how payment to employees will be handled when (a) the employer is closed for business due to bad weather; or (b) when employees cannot report to the office.
Describe how partial workdays will be compensated, and how time and reporting will work. For example, will time be paid or unpaid? If unpaid, are employees allowed to use an option of vacation, sick time, or PTO? These rules typically relate to your non-exempt employees.
Based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, exempt employees must be paid their salary if they performed any work during the work week. Other state laws may also apply. Companies should understand the laws and regulations that impact their policies around payroll and communicate their policy clearly to employees.
4. Assign unavoidable tasks and duties
Certain key operational tasks must be maintained regardless of bad weather conditions. Mit clear that specific employees may need to come in to work (or work remotely) to keep the business running, even under adverse conditions.
5. Set expectations for telecommuting and working from home
If an office is closed due to bad weather or if travel conditions impede an employee's ability to report to the office, telecommuting may be an option.
As a result, employers should ensure there is a clear telecommuting policy in place. In particular, if a company allows non-exempt employees to work from home on severe weather days, it should make sure employees properly record their hours and are aware of the need to request approval before working any overtime hours.
Prioritizing employee safety and customer service
Every climate has challenging weather, which could include snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes or other severe weather. Establishing a clear policy around what employees can expect on bad weather days can balance the need to prioritize employee safety with customer service and health.
Payroll, HR and Benefits outsourcing providers like Paychex have experience helping businesses learn how to prepare for emergencies, and maintain business continuity. They can help bring a sense of calm during the chaos of a natural disaster and give businesses confidence that an important and necessary part of your business will continue to operate while you deal with the issues at hand.