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Can you deduct from an Employee’s Pay for a Snow Day? 02/06/2014

Posted by Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton in Employment.
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This winter’s polar vortex and its seemingly unending supply of snow and cold raise the question of how to pay exempt and non-exempt employees when an office closes due to inclement weather, and whether deductions from pay for those closures are permitted.

Can you deduct when the office is closed due to weather?

When an employer is forced to close its business for a full day due to weather conditions, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) does not require that the employer pay non-exempt employees for that day, even if they were scheduled to work, since the employees are unable to provide any work for that day.

The employer may not, however, take a deduction from an exempt employee’s salary for an inclement weather closure without risking the loss of the employee’s exempt status. (N.B., though, that if the closure lasts for one week or more, then the employer does not need to pay the exempt employees for that week).

Can you deduct when the office is partially closed due to weather?

Although federal law does not require that employers pay non-exempt workers during a partial closure, in some circumstances Massachusetts law may. If a Massachusetts non-exempt employee reports to work but there is no work to be performed, or there is less work than the employee was scheduled to perform, the employee is entitled to “reporting pay” of at least three hours pay at the minimum wage. For example, if the office is closed but an employee wasn’t aware of the closure and reports to work, or if the office closes early because of inclement weather, then a Massachusetts non-exempt employee is entitled to reporting pay.

If the employer’s office is closed for only part of the day due to inclement weather, the employer cannot make a deduction from an exempt employee’s salary without losing the employee’s exemption.

Can you deduct when the office is open but the employee is absent due to weather?

The rules shift slightly when the employer remains open for business but an exempt employee is unable to make it into work due to inclement weather.

Nothing changes in this situation for a non-exempt employee; a non-exempt employee does not need be paid for hours not worked, and so an employer may make a deduction for a weather-related absence.

However, the usual rule that an employer cannot deduct from an exempt employee’s wages without risking the loss of the employee’s exemption changes in this situation. The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has advised that when an office is open, but an exempt employee is absent due to inclement weather, the Department of Labor will treat the absence as one for “personal reasons” and the employer may deduct that day’s wages from the employee’s salary without losing the employee’s exemption.

Note, however, that this loophole only applies if the exempt employee takes the entire day off for weather-related reasons. An exempt employee who chooses to leave an hour or two early to get a jump on weather-related traffic should not have a deduction taken – to do so would risk the loss of the exemption.

For more information on how to pay exempt and non-exempt employees when an office closes due to inclement weather, please contact a member of the Employment Law Group.

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