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Snowstorms Prompt ‘Work-or-Not’ Dilemma [AUDIO]

On many occasions this winter, New Jersey’s nasty weather has forced some workers to make a tough decision: Should they drive to the office, or stay safe and warm at home?

Another Winter Storm Bears Down On Northeast
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

The factors surrounding the decision vary from field to field and from storm to storm.

“There’s a common misconception that when the governor declares a state of emergency, businesses are closed. That’s not true,” said Kathleen McLeod Caminiti, a partner with employment law firm Fisher & Phillips in Murray Hill. “They can be open, and employers can require employees to report to duty.”

Employers would, hopefully, examine the travel conditions before making a decision on whether to open or close, but that’s not always the case. They would also be wise to monitor the environment at the workplace itself and see if ice on the walkways is unavoidable and if the heat indoors is working properly.

Caminiti said the best approach for employees is a PTO (paid time off) day if they determine the weather or road conditions are too harsh to travel through. However, the decision obviously depends on the nature of the business.

“If someone is a bookkeeper in a small accounting firm and it’s unsafe to go to work, that’s a very different situation from someone who works in emergency services,” Caminiti explained. “You know the job you’re hired for and the essential duties of that job.”

An employer has the right to discipline for absenteeism, Caminiti said, but that tends to be more of an issue for part-time or non-salaried workers.

“It would be a rare occasion where an employer would discipline someone for taking a single snow day, but if you’ve got an individual who has performance issues because of tardiness or absenteeism, and then they take five snow days, that could lead to discipline,” Caminiti said.

An employee faced with the work-or-home decision may want to communicate with co-workers and make sure they’re not the only one skipping out on work, while everyone else is braving the storm.

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