am I a grinch for expecting my staff to work from home on snow days?

A reader writes:

Could you speak to snow day behavior?

My staff is half on-site and half remote. We are all expected to be able to work remotely if needed, and snow days fit that bill. I’m happy to accommodate people spending time on family care and snow removal on these days. But, I also recognize that these can feel like a bonus day and that folks want to get personal things done that they weren’t able to do over the weekend. Am I a grinch for expecting folks to work most of the day? We are one of the few departments that work through snow days and holidays.

Also, I know that it is harder to work remotely when you are not set up for it every day. I notice things like emails are shorter and work is saved for a return to the office. Any advice for staying on top of things while unable to get into the office?

It sounds like you need to get aligned with your staff about what’s expected of people during snow days. If you expect them to work a full day of normal work, just from home, then you need to tell them that.

However, is this (a) reasonable and (b) necessary?

If people aren’t set up to work from home, then it makes sense that they’re limited in what they can do there. If that’s the case, you probably need to adjust your expectations — and decide whether having them do the small amount that they can do from is important enough that you’d rather they do that than take the day off altogether (in the latter case, presumably using PTO for the day unless your office is closed).

One option is to give people the choice. You could say something like, “During snow days, you’re welcome to work from home if you can truly work a full day. If you can’t, please use PTO for the day — either for a full day if you won’t be working at all, or for a half day if you’ll be putting in some work.”*

If the nature of the work is such that you really need them to be working and can’t give them the option of an unscheduled day off, then you’d need to make sure that they have the resources to do that — whether it’s a company-issued laptop, VPN access, or whatever else they’d need. (However, keep in mind that you might be fighting a losing battle there, since not everyone is cut out to work from home, particularly once you throw in the challenge of kids home because schools closed too. If working full days from home on snow days is truly a necessary job requirement, then you’ll have to start making it clear during your hiring process, ensure you’re hiring people who can do it, etc.)

And that brings us to the question of whether it really is necessary. It certainly could be; there are indeed jobs where the work needs to continue to be covered, and it’s possible that your department is one of those (even though it sounds like the rest of your company isn’t). But I’d start by really questioning that. If most of the rest of your company shuts down on these days, does your department really need to stay open? Obviously it’s better if work can continue uninterrupted, but you also need to acknowledge that sometimes the most practical option is to decide that things can wait a day (particularly when those occasions are relatively rare, as snow days usually are). Practical because of logistics — like whether you have a staff that can work effectively from home — and practical because of what happens to morale when you ask people to do something where (a) it seems doubtful that the payoff will justify the hassle and (b) others in similar roles in the company aren’t being asked to do the same.

* There’s also the question of whether you should ask people to use PTO for snow days at all. Certainly plenty of companies do, but there are also plenty that don’t. If you have a responsible, high-performing staff, it’s a nice perk to not make them use up PTO on a day when they’d otherwise be at work but for the weather.

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. tesyaa*

    In the 80s and mid 90s I worked without remote access and there was no such thing as a snow day, unless there was a travel advisory against getting on the roads or if public transportation was shut down. I remember many scary commutes so as not to take a personal day. I only remember one day (in January 1996) when a travel advisory gave us a “free” snow day.

    It’s much better, of course, that people not risk life and limb to get to work (as people routinely did before remote access). However, now I have remote access and I am expected to work a full day on snow days, barring network failure. I don’t mind because my manager is very reasonable about my taking *some* time childcare and snow clearing. If I don’t work my full hours during a snow day, I’m expected to log on in the evening to make it up. No one is counting, but I feel obligated to play by the rules and do so.

    I agree that if workers are expected to work mostly a full day on snow days, they need the tools, i.e. reliable remote access. That being said, I never had a snow day in my first several years of working and, barring network or internet failure, I don’t expect to have one again.

  2. EJeanne*

    If they are still getting paid for the day (and not using PTO), then they should try to do what they can from home!

  3. Evan*

    Alison – you put an asterisk after your suggestion as to what the OP should tell his staff, but you didn’t include any footnote for it to refer to. Is that a mistake?

  4. BW*

    I don’t know if it makes you a grinch, per se, I mean yes they are getting paid to not be there. However, if the office is closed and they can’t go in, even if they wanted to brave the elements, then I kind of think you should give them a break. If there are things that certain people MUST get done that day, then communicate with them individually to let them know that.

    I also think its important to hold everyone to the same standard. If Jane has 3 kids at home that she has to watch because school is closed and you are giving her a break on what she has to do, you can’t then say that Billy with no kids is expected to do everything.

    1. tesyaa*

      Agree! When I work from home with kids, I make an extra effort to be productive because I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking advantage. On snow days, there’s usually an understanding that people’s productivity might drop. Even if Billy has no kids, he may have to shovel out his grandmother’s walkway or help out a neighbor.

      1. Anoners*

        This! I’m always anxious that when I work from home people will think I’m slacking that I do more work than I usually do in the office.

    2. Ash*

      Agreed — there shouldn’t be a double standard for those with kids and those without. FWIW, the federal gov’t/OPM is more and more moving to unscheduled telework, meaning if you have a telework agreement you need to use it or take leave. I agree with this arrangement — if folks already on occasion work from home, they should do so on snow days. If they have to care for kids they take a leave day. Just as if I, a childless worker, had no power and couldn’t work, I should be expected to take a leave day, too.

  5. MaryMary*

    Your on-site team may also be hampered by not having resources available to them at home that are normally in the office. Someone who works from home full time has all their files and notes with them, while if the snow day is unexpected, the on-site team likely left those items in the office. Similarly, someone working from home probably has a printer, scanner, and/or copier if they need one, but the onsite team members don’t. If someone planned to spend the afternoon getting through that scanning they need to do, or prefer to print out documents for review, they may end up with a lack of things to do from home.

    Some of this may be expectation setting: “Hey, team, based on the weather forecast you may end up working from home tomorrow. Please plan your work accordingly and make sure you have whatever you may need to finish your projects with you.” If you have snow days several times a year, it may also be worth looking at moving your onsite team towards paperless and truly virtual-friendly processes. The other alternative is just working around a temporary dip in productivity when the office closes.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      That’s what I was thinking. At work, I have access to my full work email suite, our entire common drive of files, a printer, scanner, UPS and FedEx shipments, etc. At home, I have….email access. There’s not very much I can do other than maintain, you know?

      If snow day work from home is going to be a major possibility, it behooves management to set expectations accordingly. Not only to ensure they have the documents they need at home, but to ensure they KNOW they have the flexibility and access.

      Either you make sure they are able to work from home as much as possible, or you accept what little work they do and write off the rest of the day. It’s impossible to expect your employees to put in the same effort and get the same results as you would with them in the office if they don’t have any of the tools they’ll need.

      1. Anon*

        I actually have a lot of confusion about my company policy and am too embarrassed to ask for clarification. Our office will send out emails to all staff sometimes during inclement weather advising that the office is closed. I telework one day a week so I’m fully set up to work remotely. I bring my company laptop home every night, can connect to our VPN and work as productively as usual whether at home or in the office. But on the days when the office is closed, some people seem to be sending a lot fewer emails or not responding as much to email, while others seem to be working as normal. I’m never clear on whether I’m expected to be working a full day and those who have slowed down are slacking off, or if the expectation is that we have a free day off as those who are working at full speed are also coworkers who I think most enjoy their work and who maybe just thought they’d open their laptop and get some work done since they were stuck inside all day anyway. I end up working the full day, but I wonder if I’m missing out!

        1. Bea W*

          My first winter here my manager clued me in that we never actually shut down, and that I should take my laptop with me any time the weather is questionable. I had worked 10+ years previously for employers who actually shut down for bad storms, and did not provide most people with laptops or VPN. Here everyone is issued a company laptop that easily connects to VPN, and they have the infrastructure to handle the load. My last employer had VPN, but only for 20 people to be on at once. On a bad day, people who actually had laptops to work remotely could hardly stay connected.

          I really like having the option to work form home. It means that I don’t have to wake up and wait for an announcement to be posted to find out if I have to work. I don’t have to worry about commuting in bad weather if we are open. I have much more control over what I do on crappy days, and that makes it less stressful in the winter.

    2. Yup*

      I agree that available resources makes a difference. There are some tasks that I can perform efficiently at the office but take forever and a day if unexpectedly working from home. I probably wouldn’t spend 4 hours today on a task that will take me 2 hours tomorrow when I’m back at the office (with my dual monitors, direct server access, and physical reference library). I’d rather spend today catching up on emails and other simple things in the interim.

    3. Jen in RO*

      On the other hand, there are jobs that can be done just as well from home, assuming the VPN was working. I would never expect to get a “free” vacation day because of snow. If I had kids, I’d simply acknowledge that there’s no way I can work with them around and I’d take a day off.

    4. Ruffingit*

      +1 to all of this. It is amazing how many workplaces out there expect you to work without the necessary resources and tools to do so. If you aren’t set up for allowing people to work from home, then you can’t really expect an 8-hour full and productive day from them. That’s like asking someone to design a newsletter with an X-Acto knife, some graphics cut out from the newspaper, and Elmer’s Glue. Why bother when they could just go to the office the next day where they have all the computerized tools?

  6. Joey*

    For me, there’s no choice about it for most- it depends on operational need. If you’re needed, you’re needed. For those people not needed and who perform no work that’s probably not going to be your call anyway- the CEO or HR is going to decide whether you use PTO. But, is lean towards making them use PTO. If people perform any work like taking calls or sending emails they get the full days pay.

    For me the question is purely “are you getting the work done that needs to get done or not?” Yes=get paid. No=Use PTO. The bottom line for those working becomes do what’s necessary and possible to get us through this day, not “you’d better work your 8 hours.”

    1. Sunflower*

      I happen to work at a place that severely frowns upon working from home but has to allow it for weather. All our work has a strict deadline and if it’s not done by then you pretty much get fired. If I work from home today and there are no immediately deadlines, maybe I won’t get as much done as I would in the office. But tomorrow when I come back, I’m going to have to do all my work anyway. Not every job works that way but for me I get done what I can and I know the next day will be a bit of a catch-up.

  7. The IT Manager*

    Hmmm … I am torn becuase I know the feeling precisely. I was once working remotely during a hurricane and excited about the day off and then very unexpectedly power came back on mid-day. I could work. Mentally I wasn’t up for it. Extra people around the house. TV news still covering running full time stormn coverage, etc. And I just did not feel like working mentally even though the resources were there.

    OTOH despite understanding your employees feelings I do think it is perfectly valid to require them work from home if they are capable. If they are set up for occassional working from home which is perk, I think it is perfectly valid to ask this of them (ie missing out on a free day off) in return for the perk. Expectation management is key to this, though, them knowing in advance that announcements of wintery storms don’t mean free days off for them and that they have to take PTO if they don’t want to work.

    1. tesyaa*

      Exactly. Because I have the expectation that a snow day is not a “day off” (honed by my experiences of getting to work in inclement weather in the days before remote access), I don’t feel cheated that I have to work. The night before a big storm, I inform my family of the hours I expect to work, let them know when I have conference calls and can’t be disturbed, etc. I get up early to shovel if possible, and if I have do stuff with the kids during the day, I inform my manager by IM or email that I’ll be unavailable for an hour or whatever.

      I always expect that a babysitter might not be able to travel on a snowy day either. In my case, I have older kids who can help watch the younger kids on a day off. Someone with a couple of toddlers whose daycare is closed is in a tougher spot, and they may end up taking 1/2 day of PTO or working some hours in the evening, if necessary work couldn’t get done.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I always expect that a babysitter might not be able to travel on a snowy day either.

        The thing to keep in mind here is that if the company was requiring the employee to come in and she could not because of lack of child care that would mean she’d have to take a PTO day too. Should be hte same for telework; although, if possible (not missing meetings) I do think that allowing leeway on the which hours are worked is good management.

      2. AnonK*

        It’s a “day off” for me where I didn’t have to spend a lot of time on my hair and makeup. Plus I can wear my awesome bunny slippers all day! After that, it’s business as usual. If anything, I get more done at home because there are fewer people popping in asking if I want to go to Starbucks, wanting to gossip, or other office distractions.

        I have a lot of experience working remote, however. I know that others may not find the same level of productivity. It isn’t for everyone.

      3. Bea W*

        Snow day for just means being trapped indoors and possibly a lot of shoveling, so it’s not really a good day off. If it’s a bad storm, there’s nothing on TV because everyone has preempted regular programming with a blow-by-blow of the snow. I’d rather work at least part of that time.

  8. Jillian*

    As an exempt employee I have NEVER – in 30 years at 3 companies – been told/asked/required to use PTO for a snow day. Yes, it is an unexpected day off, but don’t most exempt employees work plenty of hours without “extra” pay anyway? Non-exempt employees either take PTO or no pay, is that what everyone means?

    1. BCW*

      Thats a really great point. Most people I know who are salaried/exempt work plenty of extra hours. It just looks petty (to me) if a company has employees regularly working over 40 hours a week, but then wants to nickel and dime a PTO day when the weather is unsafe to be in.

      1. tesyaa*

        In my experience, the people who are busy working on snow days are often the people who work long hours to begin with. (Not always, but often).

      2. esra*

        Agreed. We had flex hours at my last job, but one director decided he wanted his team in @9am every day and started writing people up for being 10-15 minutes past nine. People stopped working through breaks/lunches and staying a bit extra every day.

      3. Cat*

        Yeah, this is my feeling too. If there’s a task that has to be done and can be done from home, an exempt worker should both do it and have the judgment to know they need to do it (and if not, that’s a problem with either the people you’re hiring or the culture you’re creating). If it doesn’t have to be done, let it wait until tomorrow and don’t nickel and dime people over PTO.

        1. Cat*

          (E.g., my last snow day, I took three or four conference calls that had been scheduled from home and did what I needed to do to get ready for those calls. But I wasn’t diligent about, say, getting ahead on something I was drafting in the remaining time because I knew it would be far easier from the office and that I’d have time to do it later. I wasn’t charged PTO for that and would have been annoyed had I been, given the number of weekends and evenings I’m in the office on deadline.)

    2. Kelly O*

      You know, the other thing that keyed for me was the comment about shorter emails or needing to reference something at the office, and I guess I’m unclear on why that’s bad.

      Basically they are trying to work – they might be dealing with rolling power outages and trying to be mindful of keeping things charged. And I think most reasonable people would expect that during a snowstorm that shuts down major airports and sends temperatures to single digits and below, there are going to be extenuating circumstances for everyone – no matter what their family situation.

      Jane might have three kids. Bill might have three dogs. Jane’s husband may also be trying to work from home, so they’re both doing what they can to avoid taking calls so they’re not talking over each other. Bill’s parents may live down the street, and he might be shoveling their sidewalk (as others mentioned) or even doing it as a nice thing for the neighbors anyway. Tom’s water lines may have ruptured due to the cold and he might be dealing with plumbers. Anne’s apartment stairs might be sheets of ice.

      You just never know. I guess it’s one of those times a little grace and human kindness goes a long way to creating a positive environment for your employees when it’s a 75 degree cloudy day in May (or a 100 degree scorcher in August.)

      1. MaryMary*

        Or if Mary is avoiding talking on the phone while someone is using a snow blower directly outside their apartment window! That happened to me during a snow day a couple years ago, while I was on the phone with someone for whom English was not their first language. Brutal. I had to hang up and call her back later.

      2. Anonsies*

        Agreed completely. It sounds like everyone is putting in some effort, so I find it hard to see what the issue is. If the weather is bad enough to shut everything down, maybe not everyone has a lot of issues to cover at home but *plenty* of people will. It does feel rather Grinchly to be concerned about the depth of the emails sent on the rare inclement weather day, especially since it sounds like not everyone is entirely set up to have a normal productive day even *if* they have nothing else going on.

      3. Jamie*

        I didn’t even think about power outages – that’s a good point.

        Some places have electric heat – so some without power have big issues to deal with, although the OP seems reasonable and would understand that.

        1. Bea W*

          I think it was Sandy that took out a tree which tell across the electric and cable wires in my yard and tore the 3 story mast off the side of the house. Power stayed on, but I had live wires draped over the deck and laying on the ground, and the trunk of the tree was still dangling off the wires between two poles that hadn’t fallen. Good times.

          It actually doesn’t matter in a power outage if your heat isn’t electric, you still need electricity to run the pump for your oil burner or the air handler on your furnace. :-/ Everyone without a generator is in the same freezing cold boat there. The only things that will continue to work are usually a gas hot water heater if it has a pilot, and gas cookingt hough you may have to manually light the stove. A gas boiler would probably run if it has a pilot instead of an electric starter, but if it’s oil or any system that uses forced hot air you are SOL. Better get out the extra blankets.

          The problem for some workers is that no power means no internet to check email or access the company network. Some of us are useless without it! I could have power, but without internet, not much is happening on my end.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m exempt and required to use PTO for weather-related absences. And yes, I’m also expected to respond to calls/email and even work from home if something is pressing. This is one of my least favorite company policies of all time.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not uncommon to make exempt employees take PTO for snow days if they’re mainly not working. The federal government does it all the time, and a lot of companies follow them.

      1. NonProfiter*

        Recently discovered that exempt employees must take PTO for snow days is the policy at my job because even if we can work from home it’s “not fair to those whose jobs don’t allow them to work from home.” This drives me nuts.

        1. Jamie*

          I don’t agree that you should have to take PTO if you’re really working from home (as opposed to being available for the odd question) – but it’s a slippery slope when people start using the word fair.

          I know some who complain they have to be available off hours for questions and isn’t fair that Mary Ann and Gilligan can just forget about work when they leave for the day. But Mary Ann and Gilligan don’t have jobs that can be done remotely and they have set start and close times and have to be in the office on schedule – where the Professor and Ginger have jobs that bleed into their personal time so while they may have dinner interrupted with work, they can also come in late or leave early if they need to because they can flex the time.

          The people who can’t do their jobs from home also can’t work remotely during the year while waiting for the plumber…they need to use PTO for that.

          But yes, IMO if you’re actually really working they shouldn’t pull PTO.

      2. BCW*

        Just because its common, doesn’t mean its good practice. If hours needed to be justified, it would be better to just say “make up the time over the next 2 weeks”. That way they could do an hour extra a day or something. These are probably the same companies that separate vacation and sick days, but won’t let you count it as a sick day.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I’m not arguing in favor of it (see my last paragraph in the original post), just responding to Jillian’s surprise that it happens.

      3. Joey*

        The difference though is that the federal government does it because citizens would be up in arms about tax dollars wasted if they didn’t. Companies don’t really have to worry about that

          1. Joey*

            I’ve never heard shareholders complain when the stock is doing well. An when it’s not there are much sexier problems they worry about.

      4. Chrissi*

        Well, kind of. I work for the federal government, and for our agency some people can easily work at home and others cannot. A few times a year the weather is terrible enough here in Chicago that they let us know one business day in advance that we can either work at home, come into work, or take PTO. But then on days like today, it’s so bad that they close the federal building and we do, in fact, get a snow day where we are not expected to work nor do we have to take leave. That’s obviously because people that can’t really work at home don’t have the option of going to work. That’s only happened three times in the last ten years. I think that it’s reasonable and instills goodwill to give snow days off when the weather is truly terrible, and do the telework/PTO option the rest of the time.

        1. De Minimis*

          At our federal facility we just get a snow day….but almost everyone here is non-exempt, and the nature of the work is such that for most people it cannot be done from home, and for the few that could work from home there would too big a potential for IT policy violations and/or HIPAA violations.

    5. fposte*

      As we were just reminded, it’s official university policy here. Might be official state policy, since it’s a state university and the policies often come from the state.

      1. Tina*

        I just found out my University has a policy I didn’t know about. As many schools do, we were closed from Dec 23 and re-opened on Jan 2 – a Thursday. Several of my coworkers scheduled that Thursday and Friday after as vacation days. Well, on Thursday afternoon, the school closed at 2 and closed for Friday. I asked if they would get their vacation days back since the school was closed, but nope. They were already scheduled to be out anyway.

        1. tesyaa*

          This is my company’s policy also. Pre-planned time off that falls out on a day when the office unexpectedly closes is not returned.

          1. Liz*

            That’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked for the past 15 years (and over 2 different continents).

          2. Cat*

            We’re the opposite – you schedule time with your manager beforehand but don’t officially record it until you get back and its been taken . So if the office is closed, you get a freebie.

  9. Kevin*

    If people are capable of doing their job from home and are set up with everything (minus home internet), I think the bare minimum is to allow them to telecommute. It’s super nice to provide a snow day for free and your staff will really appreciate it. It’s nice on a really snowy day to be able to just sit around. People generally don’t like it when they have to risk their lives to come in or be forced to use PTO.

    I work for a large university and with this past snow storm we were closed, which is unusual from what I hear (still pretty new). Usually they make everyone come in even though many are set up to telecommute.

    1. tesyaa*

      It really depends on the weather where you live. It sure is nice to sit around on a snowy day, but in a climate where there may be 4-8 storms in each of the winter months, it’s just not possible to lose so much productivity. In climates where the weather is snowy, people are equipped to deal with it (and work through it, either remotely or not). In places where snow is rare, sitting home on a snowy day may be a nice benefit to give employees because you’re only losing one day each year or less.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Exactly, and this is true of many types of conditions. For example you can declare a heat emergency in Boston at what would be a totally normal summer temperature in Texas. It’s because the infrastructure of the city, people’s homes and residents in general are not well prepared for it. In hot climates people either have air conditioning or are adapted to it. By the same token in cities where it very rarely snows they are ill equipped for snow so they may cancel school with a totally minimal amount of snow due to not being able to mobilize plows, salt, etc. whereas a colder climate is well prepared for that.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Even if they are better prepared, there are some areas where the plows don’t go and it’s harder to get to work. So it’s good to be able to plan ahead and take your computer home, for instance. Lucky snow is pretty easy to predict; it’s either on the radar or it’s not. It’s the amount that is sometimes tricky.

  10. Felicia*

    One thing that is unreasonable , that I just heard that my former company did 2 weeks ago, was require people to work from home when there were massive power outages. Most people actually couldn’t, because roughly 1 million people in the city were without power. But they got a rather rude talking to from their bosses for not doing it.
    It usually depends how much can be done from home and how equipped they are to work from home. But with massive power outages it’s not ok to expect

        1. Felicia*

          I agree too. When I heard about it I was soooo glad I don’t work there anymore. It was a place that often did stupid things. And the vast majority of people here have electric heat…did they want people to freeze and use up all the data on their phones?

    1. Jamie*

      I am always curious as to how that goes – when people get spoken to about completely irrational things.

      If there is no power there is no power – if you ask the boss what you should have done, what’s the answer? Unless generators are part of their remote work package how do you not look like a total asshat deriding someone for what? Not having enough hamsters on the wheel to generate the juice for their laptop? Not defying the laws of physics and using electrical equipment without the benefit of current.

      (I think the only person who could do that was Jen from the IT Crowd – when she was chatting on the phone and typing away on her com-pu-tor when Moss came in to point out that she wasn’t plugged in.)

      1. Joey*

        It goes because its similar to calling in because your street is flooded- there is work and its not being done regardless of the reason.

        1. Jamie*

          I meant how does the conversation go. Of course work needs to be done, but that doesn’t change the fact you can’t remote in without power. You address that by creating a plan B in case of lack of power, not reprimanding people for not being able to defy the laws of physics.

        2. Tinker*

          By that logic it goes because it’s similar to calling in because you’ve had a heart attack — that doesn’t make the work any less there, does it?

        3. KellyK*

          There’s a huge difference between saying, “You weren’t working, so you need to use PTO,” and telling someone you expect them to power their computer with–what, magic?–so they can get work done.

      2. Tina*

        I’ve met some people for whom it just seems to be a case of “I want to yell at someone for something just to prove I can.”

        1. Felicia*

          They are people that seem to like to yell, so that’s probably it! They were also working like teh second they got their power back instead of dealing with spoiled food, warming up and the ice that was their driveways. It was a crazy place. The majority of the clients didn’t have power either, so what theoretically could have been done was also veyr little for the lucky 20% that had power .

      3. Jen S. 2.0*

        The hamsters on the wheel visual was kind of awesome. “Look, rodents, y’all need to run faster! I have a deadline!”

      4. Jen in RO*

        I just finished watching The IT Crowd – I can’t believe I didn’t find it funny the first time I tried to see it!

        …So Jamie, I’ve been wondering… what does “IT” stand for?

  11. Merry*

    For us, if the office is open we’re expected to a) show up, b) work from home, or c) take PTO if we don’t want to come in. But also, for us, if the weather necessitates a snow day, the office is closed – period.

    No one is ever expected to work from home on a snow day. The expectation is that in addition to the dangers of travel, you’ll have more than routine home maintenance to deal with, possibly unexpected childcare needs, and possibly interruptions in internet service.

    When we’re notified of a snow day, non-exempt employees are always paid for their time off and not expected to work – it’s like an unexpected holiday. Exempt employees are not expected to work unless there’s something that legitimately can’t wait for the next day, and we’re instructed to use our judgment on that.

    My room mate’s situation at a different company is much worse. Because she’s non-exempt, she’s expected to come in, no matter what, regardless of the dangers of travel, or take PTO. Meanwhile all the exempt employees are allowed to work from home or not work, as they choose. Result? She feels her employers have no concern for her physical safety, she feels no sense of loyalty to her employers, and she’ll be leaving soon for someplace that values her physical well-being as well as the presence of a warm body.

    In places where snow days are rare, I doubt this would be much of an issue. But in the Northeast, where we generally get four or five snow days every winter, how they’re dealt with can have a huge impact on morale and turnover.

    1. bad at online naming*

      I agree with how it can impact morale.

      Also, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like snow days in New England (and elsewhere) should be planned for as occasional business expenses – computers can fail, the plumbing can leak, and the entire area can shut down for snow.

      Snow happens.

  12. Jamie*

    Also, I know that it is harder to work remotely when you are not set up for it every day.

    I’ll go ahead and speak for your IT staff and put in a plea that you let people do what they can from home if this is an anomaly for them.

    I have several remote users and they are problem free…now. Took a lot to get there though. Someone who rarely works from home will need someone to walk them through the VPN or other log in methods, remind them of passwords, check to make sure configs don’t need to be updated…valid certs, etc. That’s the easy part.

    Explaining ad nauseum about why it’s slower than when you’re at your desk and how I have zero control over their home broadband and no I will not call your cable company to see why you can’t download files because your keep freezing…because everyone else on your block is home today too and they are all online and watching movies and that impacts your speed.

    Oh – and people who don’t have redirected printers set up expect me to remote in and set it up so they can print to their home printer from their desktop via vpn. If you’re a remote worker I’ll absolutely hook you up…if this is going to be one day a year or less. I’ll tell you to email the files to yourself, go web based download them to your local machine, and print from there.

    Seriously – I’m just imagining some IT dealing with 10 or so users who rarely work from home having a zillion issues.

    Pay them to lie on the couch and watch tv – answering the odd email. That’s my vote.

    1. tesyaa*

      In many environments, business continuation planning requires that workers be prepared to work from home. If there’s no such requirement, expecting people to be all set up with everything working is just silly.

      1. Jamie*

        Oh I know, and I’d agree in that kind of environment because if it’s the expectation then it should be tested on a regular basis and updated as needed.

        My response was to her comment that some aren’t set up for it. In my environment if I roll out new VPN software I’m going to take care of remote users, those I know who do it semi-regularly, but I’m not going to worry about the person who did it once 3 years ago because of weather and hasn’t touched it since.

        1. fposte*

          And this gets a little at the challenge of snow days–there’s no one-size-fits-all, but I’m not sure there’s a reasonable level of granularity that’s fair to everybody because situations vary so greatly.

    2. Colette*

      I work from home semi-regularly (i.e. when I’m waiting for the plumber, have to go somewhere during the day, etc.) and it really depends what I’m working on whether I’m more or less productive. Some times I’m working on something where focus is important and I’m far more important. Other times (like today) I’m completely unfocused and begging for human interaction. Since I have two monitors at work, there are some things that are just harder to do from home, so they’ll wait until I get into the office (hopefully tomorrow, if my furnace hangs in there).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      “because everyone else on your block is home today too and they are all online and watching movies and that impacts your speed.”

      Thank you for saying that, Jamie. I have tried telling my cable provider that they lines are bogged down on snow days. “oh that is not true, you don’t know what you are talking about.”

      Because we are fairly rural they are not going to do anything to fix it. Many times if the kids are home from school I can forget about getting online. And I have Well Known Cable Company. Sigh.

      So now I have two problems. The original problem and the fact that my cable company thinks I am too stupid to figure out what is wrong.

      But it is something for bosses to be aware of, yeah, Jane has high speed internet but no one goes anywhere in a traffic jam.
      Same deal with cell phones.

      I was working on a project for school with some international students. The internet went down- 9 out of 13 worldwide highways became useless. My professor refused to believe that would interfere with our work at all. We were not allowed an extension. Meanwhile, I could not contact my team. I wrote what I could of the paper and handed that in. The moral of that story is to pay attention to what you read in the paper especially if you are a leader of a working group.

    4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Jamie, you ARE my IT guy pretending to be a woman who loves Hello Kitty, right?

      Because you’re the same person. And I love you both.

      Explaining ad nauseum about why it’s slower than when you’re at your desk and how I have zero control over their home broadband and no I will not call your cable company to see why you can’t download files because your keep freezing…because everyone else on your block is home today too and they are all online and watching movies and that impacts your speed.

    5. Jen in RO*

      I could never do support. Posts like this make me sad. I don’t expect people to be knowledgeable, but not believing me even after I’ve explained? Ugh.

      On topic, at my previous job support was mostly outsourced and mostly clueless (to the point where, if you wanted something done and just didn’t have admin rights, *you* had to walk the support person through the steps that you found by googling for 30 seconds). The instructions for settings up the VPN consisted of a 2-page Word document and, if something wasn’t covered there… well you were screwed. I only managed to get it working when I moved and changed routers – I guess something was blocking the connection, but no one could tell me what ports and whatnot I need to allow. It was annoying, but the policy was probably a good idea in general – my personal router, my personal problem, not IT’s.

    6. Hooptie*

      This, this, this.

      Wouldn’t it make more sense that if you’re going to offer remote work to have employees do a test day at home?

      Once our employees hit their 30 day mark, they are eligible (depending on how ready their supervisor feels they are) to go into the work from home rotation.

      We set a planned day (usually a Friday), and their supervisor/team lead walks them through getting onto the VPN, gives them cheat sheets including known issues, gets them onto the network, shows them how to get into remote desktop if VPN is down, and gives the expectation sheets for availability, etc. (remote work is not a substitute for day care, they must have a work area with a closeable door if they have pets or anyone else is in the residence, etc.).

      They also run speed tests including testing file open/save speeds and ensuring that the employee’s connection is fast enough to accommodate VOIP calls.

      We also have a rule that they can tie up the IT Help Desk for no more than 30 minutes. If their issue can’t be fixed in that time they need to either take PTO or come into the office.

      I hate bugging the Help Desk unnecessarily, so I try to do everything in my power to trouble shoot and prepare employees to work remotely.

      It’s such a huge perk that I want to make sure it works as perfectly as possible so we don’t get complaints and risk having it taken away.

  13. Stephanie*

    Speaking from personal experience, it’s a giant PITA to work remotely when you’re not set up to do so and then only do so when there are weather issues. OldJob only let me work from home during Sandy and for a weather day and those were probably some of my most unproductive days ever since I only had my (ancient) personal laptop and Web Outlook (which is hellish, btw). I was also a textbook case for not working at home as I never had the dedication (“Ooh, let me put in a load of laundry!”) or a proper workspace (tiny apartment with a roommate).

    OP, I agree with Alison. If you want your employees to work from home, get them laptops, VPNs, etc.

    Plus, with spotty power issues and all that, your employees might not necessarily be sipping cocoa during a fire all day during a storm.

    1. Stephanie*

      *bad weather day during a snowstorm

      During that one, my roommate at the time was a federal employee who got the day off. He had some friends over and they spent the entire afternoon getting drunk and watching movies. My private sector self was on deadline. Trust me, not everyone is properly set up to work remotely.

  14. Anonsies*

    I know this will get me branded as lazy and irresponsible, but gosh– can we just take a break on snow days? You don’t even have to just declare it a free day, just cut everyone some dang slack so while they’re standing with their dog outside in the snow going “Please, please Patches, I know it’s cold but please just PEE” they’re not also stressing out wondering if they’ll be in trouble at work for being late.*

    I mean, at least just don’t try to predict or regulate how much time and attention people have to spare on a bad weather day. You can’t really know all of what issues can possibly arise for your staff, and respecting their ability to sort their time appropriately is a really small gesture that goes a long way. And people always say to just get up early, but that’s assuming you know in advance there will be a storm and accurately predict what will need dealing with the next morning and that nooothing else will go wrong.

    *This has not happened to me yet but my old dog recently figured out I can’t force her to pee if she doesn’t like the weather, so it’s only a matter of time now.

    1. De Minimis*

      I’m there right now with our two old dogs….one is the most stubborn dog ever, I’ve never seen an animal that has such a strong aversion to using the bathroom. Gaaah!

      1. tesyaa*

        Not trying to make fun, but the idea of a dog “using the bathroom” is humorous. I know you just want to keep things PG-13 here.

      2. Anonsies*

        Right?? What kind of animal up and decides they hate to pee? But this is her new hobby, as of this fall– standing stark still and frowning at me, unmoving, until I move at all toward the door. Then she bolts there like her butt is on fire. Once inside, she waits until she knows she will be unnoticed before peeing in the dining room.

        It’s not a medical problem, either, she’s just decided this is her way. I’ve sunk a decent amount of money and time in getting several opinions to that effect. I guess it was always her way *sometimes* in the past, and age has not made her more amenable to my rules.

        1. the gold digger*

          What – you can’t train her? :)

          A friend once asked on a facebook post with a photo of my cat on the counter why I just didn’t keep the cats off the counters. I answered that he had obviously never owned a cat.

    2. AB*

      The younger of my two dogs HATES rain. The older one loves it. If it’s raining, I have to put the the younger one on a leash and drag him out to go potty. Which is a feat given that he’s a St. Bernard. The older one has to be begged to come in from romping in the rain (he’s a Scottish deerhound)

      The younger one’s never seen snow, I’m not sure if he would love it or hate it. He likes the cold but hates the wet.

      1. De Minimis*

        One of ours [the less stubborn one] seems to enjoy snow unless it’s just too cold outside period, the way it is now.

        I have to laugh at the other dog [Ms. Stubborn] when the cold outside air first hits her, she always tries to turn back around and go inside, you can practically see a thought balloon over her head that reads, “Are you crazy? No way am I going out there!”

        Both dogs moved over here back in the fall and this is the coldest weather they’ve ever had to be in. Where they came from it usually got below freezing during the winter, but no snow/ice and it rarely if ever got much below the 20 degree mark. We’re investing in some sweaters/booties….

        1. AB*

          That’s our St-ie. If it’s raining, he plops his big butt down and refuses to go out the door. If it starts raining while he’s out, he’ll sit up against the door and cry.

          Our deerhound hates the cold. Of course, he’s skinny, all legs and tail, and his fur isn’t that thick. We got a child’s sweatshirt from Goodwill for him that he wears when it’s cold. There is nothing funnier than seeing a massive deerhound streaking through the woods wearing a mickey mouse sweater.

          1. LJL*

            Yes, I do need a picture. I have to say, though, that my dog’s response to the “come” command has been pretty snappy the closer the temp gets to 0. Plus, potty time is quick too. :-)

    3. Chinook*

      I have the opposite problem – my dog loves the cold and snow and literally snorts the freshly fallen stuff while running through it (he is a shitsu/standard poodle cross, not a husky). As a result, he paces back and forth to the door constantly and whines to go out. His newest tricks is peeing in front of me when I ignore him but I am smarter than him and bought doggie diapers instead, which he won’t pee in.

      1. Christine*

        Same here! My dog took forever yesterday morning because she had to sniff each and every bunny track in the fresh snow before she would go. It’s hilarious and frustrating at the same time.

  15. AB*

    First, I feel like the OP is just a little bit grinchy. She’s complaining that people are sending shorter e-mails. That seems really nit-picky.

    While I understand that requiring the use of PTO for unexpected snow days isn’t a novel idea, I must say that I really dislike it. Snow days are very rare where I live. But when we have them, it’s for a good reason (we have no way to clear the snow, no salt trucks for the ice). A few years ago, a monster storm came through and dumped a moderate amount of snow which immediately turned to ice on the roads. With no way to remove it, the roads were closed for nearly a week and a state of emergency was called. My boss at the time didn’t believe in working from home so we had nothing set up that would allow remote access. He had no choice but to close the office, but forced everyone to take 4 days of PTO for the time. PTO was not generously given (and we were not allowed to take unpaid time off unless it was for serious illness), and it was the start of the year. I had planned to use the time to go to my BFF’s wedding that summer but had to cancel because I didn’t have enough days left to cover the trip.

    1. Joey*

      Would you feel better if they did what some schools do and do a make up day – say a holiday or a weekend?

      1. AB*

        If that were a possibility, then yes I would have preferred it. But our office was one where four days down didn’t cause a major back log. I can’t find a really good way to express this, but spending an extra holiday or weekend working (or extra hours in the evening) wouldn’t have increased productivity or made up for any lost productivity for the days down. The nature of the job didn’t work like that.
        Besides, I like having the autonomy to take my days off when I need/want them. Being forced to use them for something out of your control is really frustrating.

      2. Mike C.*

        Why not an additional hour over several days rather than forcing someone to come in for what sounds like a rather unproductive detention?

        1. De Minimis*

          One of the local schools is doing this to cover the snow days, I believe they’re starting half an hour early and ending half an hour late for the rest of the year.

          We had a lot of bad weather in December and in our area that isn’t very common since January/early Feb are usually the bad weather months. A lot of schools have already reached their limit for snow days this year so I’m guessing a lot of them are going to have to come up with ways to make up for it.

          1. VintageLydia*

            That’s what we did for Hurricane Isabel. We were out for over a week so we got out 30 or 40 minutes late every day for a while (I don’t think the whole year, but its been a decade so I’m foggy on the details.) It sucked, but it was either that or come in on Saturdays for a while and there was no way in hell that would’ve flown.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP- don’t be this boss!

      I did not get the reference about shorter emails. If you do not have everything you need to work then, yeah, the emails are going to be shorter, if there is any emailing at all.
      I would not equate shorter emails with lack of work effort. I would assume people are working harder to make this all work out okay.

      OP, how frequently do you have snow days? How big a hit is your department taking in terms of lost time? Do you think your people are cheating the system? Do you work from home on snow days yourself?

      If you do not know what your people are up against then yeah, you are grinchy. We would get up at 3 AM to get to work by 8 AM. One day my husband was a half hour late for work. His boss called him on it. “You need to start out earlier on snow days!” Through clinched teeth my husband said “I got up at 3 AM. What time would you like me to get up?”
      Really, try to understand what your people are up against.

      1. the gold digger*

        A few years ago, there was a storm here that left enough snow that it took my husband and me several hours to shovel and snowblow. We couldn’t even go out the back door: snow was piled about three feet high in front of it.

        So yeah – it takes time to do this stuff.

    3. The Clerk*

      I remember that. My school got shut down so I didn’t get paid for that week…I think we ended up cutting a vacation short or something to make up for it. Meanwhile I’m from way up north and just rolled my eyes every morning at the cancellation notice.

      The South is just not equipped for weather. Or, well, any kind of crisis, actually.

      1. Jen in RO*

        Us Europeans in colder climates get our yearly dose of fun whenever 1 inch of snow falls in the UK and Heathrow shuts down. And then my Finnish friend tells me how she bikes to work at -15C (5F) and laughs at me for being cold…

  16. Steve G*

    My question would be – if they have to work remotely, are they going to be spending 1/2 the day downloading files from a share drive and fixing password/computer certificate issues on their computers at home, etc. as opposed to actually getting work done while “working?”

  17. Judy*

    And I guess I believe there could be a difference between “garden variety snow days” and today, at least here. They’re talking about 20 year low temperatures and windchills. I’m not sure I’ve seen a day that our local libraries have been closed.

    I took a vacation day. The schools are closed. The daycare that my kids go to for before and after school care offers snow day care, but the daycare was closed. In 9 years of using various day cares, I’d say the daycare we use have been closed 4 times over that period. My husband has class prep to do. If it were a real emergency that I get work done, I could have plopped the kids in front of the TV, or tried to convince my parents to drive 10 miles to babysit. My kids are just at the age to get along fine, and then 10 seconds later have a big blowup.

    We already know that the schools will be closed tomorrow. We also know that the daycare will be open, and I’ve sent a response email to reserve two spots. I’m concerned what my office will be like, since last week when it was in the 20s outside, it was 61 at my desk, I had a heater going under the desk, long underwear, an extra sweater and fingerless gloves on. Who knows how cold it will be tomorrow.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, this polar vortex thing has turned the snow day on its head. The sun was out all day today and I was dying to shovel the driveway, but I could not do that in -24 F wind chills. So I worked.

      Tomorrow it’s going to be 30. Hallelujah, break out the beach balls.

  18. LizNYC*

    OP, this may not work for your office, but last Friday, when LI got hit with 4-8 inches of snow and the LIE was closed for a period overnight, our office made the determination before EOD Thursday that everyone would be working from home (as best they could) Friday. Everyone got set up with remote logins, we took our computers home, and I know I have a neverending list of “when I get an hour uninterrupted, I’ll be able to *finally* do this project,” which I took home with me. Was it the most productive day ever for our office? No. Did anyone have to worry about getting stuck, taking time off, sliding off the road, being reprimanded? No.

    Yes, emails were fewer and there was overall “less” happening, but I know I worked in between shoveling shifts. And I appreciate it, especially since I regularly put in a regular full day of work a month given all the times I work through lunch/stay late/come in early.

  19. smallbutmighty*

    An aside to this conversation: allowing your employees some work-from-home flexibility all the time is a great way to make sure they’re prepared to actually be productive if they HAVE to work from home due to a snow day or other extenuating circumstances. VPN can be finicky. It definitely took my colleagues and me a few goes to figure out how to get and stay connected and to access all the files and use all the tools we need regularly. I’m really glad I got to be on the phone with the Help Desk on a random day when I was waiting for the cable guy and not on a snow day when every other employee was also trying to get connected. If a snow day came around, my team wouldn’t miss a beat, but there was definitely a learning curve to our current work-at-home efficiency.

    1. Anonymous*

      Our VPN is not hard to sign in to, but it definitely bogs down on days when everyone stays home bc of the weather. If there’s snow predicted, I usually will copy off the files that I need so that I don’t need to be logged in all day.

    2. KellyK*

      Ooh, very good point. Much better to get those issues ironed out on different random days for different people, rather than everyone having issues all at once because they’re snowed in.

  20. Decimus*

    Late comment but – it really does depend on the work and the resources. In OldJob you either worked from home or took PTO if ANYONE could get to work – and we were consultants who worked on client locations, so pretty much somebody could get to work any day. The only time everyone got paid excused absences was Hurricane Sandy, when the entire city/southern part of the state shut down.

    The very first time I ran into it, I’d walked an hour and a half through the snow (buses were very limited) to get to a client location, found the client was closed (they’d not told me), so I walked an hour and a half home. And didn’t get much done (I was exhausted!), and was told I’d need to be charged PTO. I grumbled and told them if they were doing that, they could at least grant me the 3 hours I’d spent getting to the client and back as “work time!”

  21. Me*

    Are the employees exempt or hourly?

    I’m assuming exempt. In that case, this is an easy decision. They don’t need to put in a set number of hours on a given day. Don’t worry about a snow day. Are they getting their work done? Manage their work and not their minute and seconds.

    1. Ruffingit*

      “Manage their work and not their minute and seconds.” That right there is an excellent goal for all managers. Don’t nickel and dime people to death on their hours. Manage the work. Love that!

  22. Amy*

    Last year I was working as a temp at a mortgage office (a satellite branch located abt 30 miles from the main corporate office). There were 4 FT bank employees and just me as the temp, so we were a tight bunch who often made allowances for each other and essentially worked flex hours. One snowy day, our ‘office manager’ had been out sick, and it was just myself and the most workaholic-est of the Loan Officers. The bank was considering closing, but my LO said he could use the help and asked if I wanted hours, so I headed in.

    Now, the weatherman the night before had said our area would get 2-3 inches. 3 or so hours after arriving, there was a solid 7-8 inches of snow in the lot and we were snowed in! By then corporate had sent out an email for employees to go home, but we had to wait for the plow to come again before we could leave. I guess there’s no real point to this story, except that it’s kinda the reverse problem; instead of not being able to get *to* work in a storm, we couldn’t leave!

  23. Pissed at work*

    All I know is that I’m getting so tired of having to come to work on these snow days/icy days because I have no children but those that have children get to stay at home. Our company has just given us links in order to check our email from work but we do not have VPN access. I understand a parent having to stay at home when their children are too young to care for themselves, but I have a co-worker (the golden child) who constantly stays out if there is a drop of rain that could possibly turn into snow or ice if the conditions get right and her children are well within the age to stay home alone. She is treated totally different than the ones of us who do not have children or our children are grown. I just found out this morning that she’s been allowed to stay home AND is getting paid and doesn’t have to use a PTO day but I was expected to make the trip in. I’m really not happy. Since she’s the golden child, there can be no complaining about it or I’ll lose my job. It’s totally frustrating.

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