When it’s snowing & dangerous in NJ, you have few rights at work
When Mother Nature throws her worst at the Garden State during the colder months, you probably want to just curl up at home with the family and forget about work for a day or two.
But even during extreme wintry conditions, New Jersey employees are expected to follow the demands of their employers. You're not entitled to much during inclement weather, unless your boss has a soft spot or working remotely is a legitimate option.
To get the answers to some questions you may have ahead of the next bad-weather event, we spoke with Kathleen Caminiti, a partner at the management-side labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, located in Murray Hill.
If a state of emergency is declared, do I have to report to work?
When the Governor declares a state of emergency, as he did on Saturday, employers are not required to let staff leave early, Caminiti said.
That also stands true for state-of-emergency declarations that come with a travel ban, she added.
"The travel ban is dictated by the state, but the state does not control the employer's actions," she said.
While there may be plenty of common-sense reasons for an employer to let workers out, it's not their obligation.
My kid's school is closed — does that matter?
Whether there's an early dismissal, a delayed opening or a full-day closure is also not your boss's problem.
"Employees are not entitled to that day off from their employer," Caminiti said. "They're supposed to report to work if the office is open."
What if my workplace closes early — do I get paid for the whole day?
Whether you get paid for the whole day is up to your employee, but in general, hourly employees only have to be compensated for the hours they've worked, Caminiti said.
Salaried workers, on the other hand, would be paid as if they worked a full day.
What happens if I can't physically make it into the office due to a weather event?
Hourly employees obviously wouldn't get paid in this scenario, Caminiti said. But they may be permitted to use paid-time-off or vacation time to cover for the lost hours.
As part of the state's new paid sick leave law, an employer may require documentation if an employee is absent for at least three consecutive days.
Even during adverse weather conditions, you could be disciplined for failing to show up for work, Caminiti added.
"From an employer's perspective, it's important to be consistent," Caminiti said. "So if somebody's being reprimanded for being absent or tardy, then all individuals who are absent or tardy — even your star performers — are subject to that same discipline."
This all sounds harsh. Are you serious?
While these answers describe what New Jersey employers can and can't do during winter storms, they don't at all describe the general mindset of companies in the Garden State that are all too familiar with harsh winter weather.
Caminiti said best practices dictate that, for safety and morale purposes, employers allow non-essentially employees to head home when road conditions are expected to worsen as time goes on.
And if your workday is cut short by three hours because a storm shuts down operations, some bosses could very well choose to pay you for the hours you were originally scheduled to work.
Modern technology has made plenty of occupations "mobile," and employees may be able to get as much done at home as they would in a cubicle.
For the purpose of workplace harmony, Caminiti said, it's best for employers to have these rules spelled out beforehand.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.