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November 15 2017

Do Winter Blizzards Call for Paid Leave Too?

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Snow days aren’t just for kids anymore. Companies are starting to formalize paid time off for inclement weather and that’s exciting for workers in areas prone to bad weather. Unfortunately mandated leave laws put these creative time-off ideas at risk.

So-called “climate leave” is an emerging trend among companies looking to offer the benefits that will attract talent to their offices. While many companies will close when bad weather hits, many don't have a formal policy about whether employees will be paid and what happens to their jobs if they stay away from work for more than a day or two.

One Manhattan software company, Fog Creek, just announced a new benefit for its staff to address this:

Our proposed policy is that employees can take up to 5 days of climate leave due to extreme weather each calendar year, and that any leave of greater than 5 consecutive days requires there to be a declared state of extended emergency, as determined by local officials in the employee’s region...

This company endured the harrowing experience of trying to keep their data center operational after Superstorm Sandy. Fog Creek staff along with two other small tech companies formed a bucket brigade to haul generator fuel up 18 stories to back-up generators. It was like a modern-day fire-fighting human chain.

Previously, Fog Creek would permit time off due to hurricane, wild fires, and other natural disasters on a case-by-case basis, but following this year’s devastating hurricane season they decided to formalize the policy and make it company-wide:

“There’s no reason not to make your employees feel secure about this,” Dash said. Putting the policy in writing, he said, takes it from a “good intention” to a “promise.” The company hopes its announcement encourages others to implement similar policies.

This is an innovative approach to meeting the needs of workers.

In a tightening job market, employers will craft attractive benefits to hold on to their valued employees. Climate leave is not common, but it is an indicator that companies recognize one type of time off may not address the varied needs of their employers:

“Am I seeing companies want to create a specific disaster leave? We’re not,” said Julie Norville, who heads up absence management at Aon Hewitt, an HR consulting firm. Organizations are, however, rethinking leave policies for a broader array of situations. “People need more time away to care for themselves and their families,” Norville said. “This leave falls into that theme.”

Instead of creating new leave categories, some companies are moving away from siloed leave (i.e., vacation, personal, sick, maternity/paternity, climate, etc.) altogether and are just offering a bank of leave time that employees can use for whatever reason they need. That works too.

A part of this discussion is how do you ensure that work gets done when bad weather hits or when workers take time off. Flexibility makes that happen. Some workers desire to work from home, work a compressed schedule, or to share their job duties with others.

Unfortunately, policymakers and activists are pushing for one-size-fits-all, mandated-leave policies at the state and local level that lead to less flexibility and freedom for employers to craft the policies that work for their workers.

Congress is exploring ways to ensure that employers can retain their flexibility such as the Workflex in the 21st Century act, which allows employers to provide paid leave for any purpose and offer a flexible work arrangement. That would trump state/local mandates.

There’s no perfect leave policy and there doesn’t have to be. What workers need are options not mandates.

Flexibility and choice make it easier for workers to take time off when they need to without fear of losing their job security and for employers to craft the policies that keep their employees satisfied.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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