Q&A: Workers' rights when weather strikes

Owners check on their boats along Willow Street

Owners check on their boats along Willow Street in Babylon Village around 7:30 a.m. in Babylon Monday. (Oct. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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When a natural disaster strikes and a company temporarily closes or employees are unable to make it to work, a common question is "Does my employer have to pay me?"

The answer, experts say, depends on whether the employee is "nonexempt," which generally means being paid hourly, or whether the worker is "exempt," which means salaried and exempt from overtime and minimum-wage regulation.

Here are some frequently asked questions about pay and inclement weather:

If my employer closes because of bad weather, does the company have to pay me?

 If you are nonexempt, then by law your company only has to pay you for the hours you work. Some employers will allow employees to use their paid time off so they get compensated for the full week.

When nonexempt employees work at home, their company has to pay for the time, said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.

Exempt employees are another matter. If the company closes for a couple of days, for example, it has to pay them for the entire week. It can legally deduct from the exempt employees' accrued vacation days or other paid time off to cover the lost days, but it cannot dock the exempt employees' pay in that scenario.

If the company closes for an entire week, however, it doesn't have to pay exempt employees, Kass said.

"If they don't work at all during a workweek, then they aren't entitled to be paid," he said.

 If my company remains open but I stay home because local officials order residents to stay off the roads, does my employer have to pay me?

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 Again, if nonexempt workers don't work, employers aren't required to pay them. Some companies will pay employees, but they don't have to by law.

If exempt workers miss a full day when the company is open, the employer can legally deduct that time from their paid time off, Kass said. When they run out of accrued time, the company can dock their pay.

If I use a vacation day to stay home in bad weather and I then work 40 hours for the week, would my vacation day qualify me for overtime?

 No. To qualify for overtime, nonexempt workers must actually work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

 Where can I get more information?

 Call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.

Or go to http://1.usa.gov/WYRSjh.


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