Winter storms that turn the state’s roads into swirling snow globes can make getting to work dangerous, or sometimes impossible.

But how workers get compensated when that happens remains a gray area for many employers.

The situation is different for salaried workers and hourly workers. Some companies have policies about traveling to work in bad weather, others don’t. Further blurring the lines are companies, like MaineGeneral and Hannaford Supermarkets, that still expect some staff to come in during snowstorms.

Employers aren’t required to pay all types of workers who can’t get to work because of snow, or even allow them to take vacation days to cover the time off, according to attorneys specializing in employment law.

Most businesses are realistic and won’t require employees to drive in dangerous conditions, they said. But some companies will punish, or even fire, employees who don’t show up because of a snowstorm.

Many companies determine whether an employee is paid for the time on whether they’re paid hourly or a salary and what a company’s policy allows for taking vacation time.


Peter Lowe, of Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston and Portland, specializes in employment and public sector issues and said employers, like the state government, will sometimes close for the day if bad weather is creating dangerous driving conditions. Even if the businesses remains open, most employers typically understand that not all employees may be able to get to work, depending on factors such as where they live, he said.

“I think employers are always considering the safety issues of people driving, and people clearly have different comfort levels driving in adverse conditions,” Lowe said.

But whether workers will be paid if they can’t get to work or if their workplace closes isn’t guaranteed.

Companies’ policies and practices can vary, but whether employers have to pay workers for snow days depend on whether the employers are hourly or salaried.

Salaried workers aren’t paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week, so they’ll still be paid for a day if their office is closed because of snow, Lowe said. If the workplace is open but they can’t drive in, they will likely be paid because they’ll still be expected to get their work done, he said.

Hourly workers stuck at home when a workplace is open will only be paid for whatever time they worked, Lowe said. So if they spend a couple of hours checking and writing emails, they’re supposed to be paid for those hours.


Employers don’t have to pay hourly employees if they don’t work, so those workers won’t be paid if they spend the day shoveling rather than working for the company.

Lowe said employers typically let hourly workers use vacation or personal days to cover the time, but they aren’t required to do so.

But there are other employers, such as fast food restaurants, where employees can’t work from home and may be part time, not getting vacation or sick time. In most cases, those workers simply don’t get paid.

Not all workplaces shut down for weather, even during the blizzard at the end of last month that dropped up to two feet of snow in some areas.

Scarborough-based Hannaford Supermarkets, which operates 184 stores in five Northeast states, typically stays open in bad storms with limited staff to ensure people can get medication and first responders can get what they need, said Eric Blom, a spokesman for Hannaford.

During the the Jan. 27 blizzard, the supermarket chain closed many of its central Maine stores early though, he said.


If workers can’t make it, they can use their personal or vacation time to still be paid, Blom said.

“Our policy is employees should stay home if they have any concern that their safety is in jeopardy,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to come into work if they feel that that would put them at risk at all.”

At MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, the hospital plans staffing needs ahead of when a storm hits, identifying essential employees who will need to be there, said Jennifer Riggs, vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer.

There are about 1,100 employees at the north Augusta hospital on typical work day, and that can drop by up to 50 percent in a storm, she said.

Not all departments are decreased. Some, such as facility management, will need more employees during a storm, Riggs said. Employees will sometimes get to work early or stay later if they need to, she said.

“We certainly encourage our staff to get here when it’s safe to drive,” Riggs said.


During the blizzard last month, a large number of employees stayed in a nearby hotel, packing their pajamas, and were transported between the hospital and the hotel by hospital security, she said.

“It was a real sense of teamwork,” Riggs said. “We’ve very lucky to have dedicated staff to do whatever it takes to come here and care for our patients.”

In his 25 years of representing employers, Lowe said he can’t recall a dispute between an employer and employee over someone not being able to come into work because of the weather.

David Webbert, of Johnson, Webbert & Young in Augusta, who specializes in employment, civil rights and complex litigation, said a woman contacted a lawyer at his firm two or three years ago because she was fired for not traveling in a snowstorm when the National Weather Service advised against travel. Overall, he thinks most employers are fair and reasonable when it comes to dangerous traveling conditions.

However, a worker would likely have recourse if he or she were fired for not going to work when the governor declared a state of emergency or if the National Weather Service advised people not to travel, he said.

In those cases, Webbert said an employee would likely have a defense using the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, because the law gives employees the right to refuse directives that could cause serious personal injury.


Webbert said he doesn’t recall any court case on the issue. Most businesses use common sense, he said.

“I think most companies in Maine realize it’s part of doing business here. We don’t have hurricanes and tornadoes here, but we do have some snow,” Webbert said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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