I worked from home on a snow day and then was told to use vacation time for it

A reader writes:

I work for a large institution which provides bus service to our off-site office location. A major snowstorm caused the bus service to be suspended today, which I had anticipated, so I brought my laptop home last night. I had been working for several hours today when my supervisor told me that I would have to take the day as a personal day because I didn’t make it in to the office. I’m an exempt employee, and have worked from home in other bad weather situations, so I was shocked when I was told I had to take the day off and use my time. Although there are a few alternative ways for me to get to work, none were viable options. Do I have any recourse for the time I put in before learning that I would have to use my accrued time off?

I answer this question — and four others related to winter and work — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • If my company closes the office for a snow day, do they still have to pay me?
  • If my employer shuts down for a snow day, can they require that I use a vacation day for the time?
  • Is it okay to stay home during bad weather?
  • Should people be as productive on snow days as when they’re in the office?

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. ContentWrangler*

    It’s very strange this happened if you’ve worked from home in other bad weather situations. It’s also particularly off that it took several hours for your supervisor to tell you it had to be a PTO day. I think if your supervisor is reasonable, you should be able to push back on this.

      1. DArcy*

        At the minimum, if she already worked several hours on the day in question, she should only have to use a half-day of PTO since she *already worked* a half-day or so in good faith.

        1. Not Yet Looking*

          +1 on this – it is generally illegal for a company to refuse to pay you for time worked. You say the writer has “no legal recourse” but, in fact, companies can be fined for having workers do off-the-clock work.

    1. Ozma the Grouch*

      I actually quit a job because my boss pulled a stunt like this with me after he forced me to use PTO after I worked from home/worked a half day when my husband needed emergency surgery. I was exempt and we only submitted timecards as a formality noting the days we worked and the days we used Holiday/sick-leave/PTO. The night before I had taken my husband to the ER, found out he needed to have surgery in the morning. Came in early and worked that morning for ~3 hours while he was in surgery and then promptly left to pick him up, take him home and then proceeded to work remotely for the rest of the day as I had a bunch of deadlines I had to meet and I was the only person doing my job. I even had to remotely ask my boss, via my computer screen, to kindly get off of my computer because I was trying to work. So he knew very well that I was indeed working from home. Well, when I went to turn in my timecard my boss came in with a new/altered timecard and asked me to sign it. The entire day had been turned into a vacation day. I knew right then and there that it was time for me to leave. If he had asked me to give up half a day or something, maybe I would have understood because I was tired and distracted. But I put in a full 8 hours that day and tended to my sick husband while trying to please my stupid demanding employer.

      There had been other red-flags leading up to this event, but this was definitely the slap in the face that put the fire under my feet. I actually had to have a friend talk me off a ledge to keep me from burning all my bridges at that place. Instead she introduced me to AAM. And I’ve been learning to heal ever since ;)

      1. Ozma the Grouch*

        ETA… I worked a “half day” onsite and the rest of my hours from home. Not to confuse the timeline.

  2. JM60*

    Are you sure it’s legal for employers to make someone use vacation time for hours that have already been worked? I would think that since employers have to pay for time worked, even if the work was done without their knowledge, that they can’t retroactively make you spend vacation time for time you’ve already worked.

      1. JM60*

        I believe there are some states, including my state, that mostly treat PTO as earned pay. I’m wondering if it would be a violation of the law in some of those states to make someone use PTO for work already done.

        1. fposte*

          I was wondering that myself; that’s gotten a lot more common since the first airing of this letter. I know most of California doesn’t deal with snow days that often, but maybe PCBH or other CA experts can weigh in nonetheless.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            I’ve got a friend who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains: in rainy season it’s not uncommon for his town to be completely isolated by mudslides so he just works from home.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ha! Great minds ;)

            In California, employers can require an employee to use PTO for partial-day absences. In most exempt jobs in CA, if you’re working from home, those hours count and does not draw down from your PTO. But your employer can order you not to work on a “snow” day and use PTO, instead, or they can require you to get permission to work from home that day (even if they’ve always granted that permission in the past or without you having to ask).

            If the office closes for an extreme weather event (e.g., massive fire, earthquake, mudslides, flooding, Tule fog), they can make you use PTO and order you not to work that day or for part of the day. There’s a fair amount of strife, right now, for folks who could not work because of the fires and who were required to use their vacation/PTO. Some employers still paid those employees without docking leave, but others did not (or could not).

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Shout-out for tule fog!

              For them as don’t know, “tule fog” is very dense fog that lays on the ground and causes white-out conditions, huge multi-car crashes, etc. Tule is a kind of rush or reed that grows in freshwater marshes, hence the fog. It’s pronounced like “too-lee”. (We have tule elk, too, which eat it.) Apparently it grows all over north america but I never met the term until I moved to northern california.

              1. TardyTardis*

                This sounds a bit like Willamette Valley Death Fog (which has also causes multiple car crashes in its long history). One time I had to drive through it for six hours (lotta time on I-5) and I had to stop at a Chuckie Cheese to wake all the way up (with the lights, colors and stimulating noise).

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It would be an issue in California, but I agree with Frank Doyle that at the federal level it’s more squishy because of the fluidity of exempt workers’ schedules to achieve their work hours.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          So typically the states that do that treat vacation time as wages — meaning it must be paid. But I haven’t been able anything that says they must allow you to fully rest during that time; it’s treated as wages, not as inherently work-free time.

          For example, here’s California’s page on vacation laws:

          I could absolutely be missing something though.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s true that vacations aren’t required to be work-free, but if you work during a “vacation,” the employer has to count that as time worked and cannot dock your vacation/PTO for it.

            1. fposte*

              Wow, how much is that observed in practice? I can see it for a situation like the one in the OP, but are employers and employees scrupulous about that with two week holidays? Like a lot of people I do a lot of work when I’m out of town because stuff stops otherwise, so I’m intrigued by this notion.

              1. Someone else*

                If I only end up responding to maybe 10 minutes worth of email a day here or there in my vacation, my company wouldn’t bother with the distinction. But if someone, say, had to attend an hour long conference call every Monday, and did so during a 2-week vacation, they’d have 7 vacation hours and 1 work hour on both Mondays in that particular timesheet (even exempt employees, who still fill out timesheets since we track all work by project/contract etc).

                I don’t know how common this is, but previous jobs also did generally keep track. I had a coworker once who’d been with the company forever and he kept trying to take weeklong vacations but would always end up working an hour or two a day so he always had a ton accrued because even when he was gone “a week” it’d end up really only hitting him for 3-4 days.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                They’re supposed to be super scrupulous about it! The threshold is also pretty low. There’s a small carve-out for “de minimis” activities (e.g., looking at your email inbox but not opening or responding to the emails), but that exception is very narrow. There are a number of semi-complex exceptions to the “you must pay for time worked by exempt employees” rule, but for employers who are diligent about compliance, I’ve seen them require employees to track time once they’re working more than 5/6 minutes while on compensated leave. My last employer was especially good about this sort of thing—if I was on a work-related call or fielding emails for more than 10 minutes, I was instructed I had to keep track so they could ensure they didn’t dock my PTO/vacation.

                All that said, I suspect there are a lot of employers who are not at all scrupulous about this, and in fact, are unscrupulous about it. In my experience, exempt workers are often unaware of their state-law protections, and employers know that and exploit it.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              To clarify for anyone reading and unsure, this is referring just to California.

              PCBH, how does that work in practice for the many exempt employees who work on vacation?

              1. Earthwalker*

                I always thought that when exempt people work extra hours at home in the evenings or work while they’re on vacation, it wasn’t that they were required to do it. It simply shows dedication and loyalty, which would be rewarded with raises, promotions, and most importantly, being skipped over when people are selected for downsizing. Have I misunderstood that?

                1. fposte*

                  Sure, but the law could absolutely say “If you’re working, you’re not on vacation for that portion of the day, and your employer cannot permit the spending of vacation on that time”; think of FMLA and the fact that the employer can’t let you do more than a wee bit of work. The federal law doesn’t say that; what Alison and I are asking about is whether California law works that way for exempt employees, not just non-exempt employees.

                  It would be a really different approach; it’d be interesting.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                In my experience, it varies significantly by employer, industry, and role. But generally speaking, you’re supposed to receive credit for almost any time work (there’s a provision about “de minimis” work that cannot be categorized as administrative, but the threshold is at less than 5 minutes).

                I think it’s easier in my field (law) to pay attention to whether work happens during leave because we have to simultaneously track our time for billing purposes… and I suspect the same is true for consultants, accountants, etc. (others who also have to provide an accounting when they bill for their time). That said, my perception is that there’s a widespread failure to enforce the hours-worked compensation rules for exempt workers unless they’re egregious or widespread throughout a large(ish) employer.

                For example, I’ve heard of supervisors reviewing exempt workers’ timesheets and striking time entries from compensation (which is illegal—you can decide not to bill a client for it, but you cannot refuse to pay the employee for time spent working). I’ve also heard of exempt workers failing to account for time worked because they feel “guilty” billing for it while on vacation. In my experience, exempt workers are also less likely to file complaints or to perceive themselves as victims of unlawful wage-related activities. Exempt workers also tend not to know that they have additional protections under CA law, so they assume if an employer is meeting federal requirements that their work arrangement is lawful.

          2. JM60*

            If PTO is treated as wages in the sense that they must be paid, then I would think that making someone use their earned PTO instead of paying them for their time worked would be (illegally?) docking their pay. After all, if I started the day with 8 hours PTO, I work 4 hours, and my employer retroactively tells me use 8 hours PTO for the day, I think they should owe me 12 hours of pay if they make me use 8 hours PTO. So they’re basically not paying me for the 4 hours worked. Otherwise, what would it mean for PTO to be wages if they could make you work during your PTO? If they could make the op use PTO for time already worked, then couldn’t employers avoid paying out unused PTO when employees leave by retroactively making you use your leftover PTO on the last couple weeks of employment?

            1. JM60*

              To be clearer, the way I see it is if you have 8 hours PTO and work 4 hours, yet they pay you 8 hours and reduce your PTO by 8, you’re either not being paid for your work, for some of your PTO, or both. I would think that if the law tests PTO as wages in the sense that they must be paid, this would probably be illegal.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              That’s definitely the rule in California! (i.e., you cannot make someone use their PTO instead of paying for time worked when they’re on leave because it’s akin to docking pay.)

      2. Close Bracket*

        But there are federal laws regarding hours worked counting as a complete shift*, and days worked counting as a full week. IANAL, and IAMAM (I am not a manager), but it seems like telling an exempt person to use PTO when they worked a portion of their shift and a portion of their week would violate the terms of their exempt classification, and then the employer would have to pay them over time.

        *shift means 4 hours. If you work 2 hours, you are considered to have worked a half day. If you work 6 hours, you are considered to have worked a full day.

          1. JM60*

            But are you really say that you’re getting your full salary if you’re losing you r vacation time (and love in a state like California where vacation is treated mostly as earned income)? If your prorated salary is $300/day, and you came in with $300 of total vacation for that day, you’re basically getting paid $0 for that day if they’re forcing you to use your vacation, since the $300 of vacation was already owed to (just hasn’t been cashed out yet). If you do work on that day, I think the vacation pay should stack on top of the pay for your work, not be in lieu of it.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It depends on your state! In California, vacation time is a vested form of compensation (as is PTO), and it’s treated as if it’s part of your wages/salary.

              However under federal law, vacation/PTO isn’t a vested form of compensation (in fact, there’s no general federal rule about PTO for exempt employees). Companies outside of California can negotiate whether they want to treat your PTO as part of your compensation, but how your PTO is classified has to be individually negotiated.

    1. Anonymous for this one*

      If you are exempt, the law just cares that you get paid your salary for the week; it doesn’t care what bucket the pay comes out of. If you are non-exempt (an hourly employee), then you have to be paid for hours worked.

  3. TeacherNerd*

    I remain irritated at employers who insist their employees come to work in dangerous weather, and either penalize them or threaten penalties for using common sense and avoiding dangerous conditions such as these. It is, in fact, a good idea to stay home during bad weather.

    (One former employer – a daycare/preschool with a constituently high rate of employee turnover – required employees to pay $500 if we broke our “contract” – staying fewer than three full months. This particular daycare/preschool required a doctor’s note if we took a sick day, and on the one day I did not come in because the roads were really horrible, I was threatened with dismissal. I said that was fine, but I still wasn’t coming in. Nothing happened; there were no repercussions. My current school district should have called a snow day last year, but didn’t, “because the children shouldn’t miss any instruction!” This, of course, did not take into account the long commutes much of the faculty had to endure on dangerous roads.)

    1. LSP*

      I used to work for the State, and had an hour-long commute on a good day with traffic. Without traffic, it was more like 40 minutes.

      On three separate occasions one winter, the governor waited until well into a snow storm to close state offices. On the worst of these occasions it took me FOUR HOURS to get home. My parents had to drive the 3 miles from their house to mine to relieve the babysitter, and when they left, it took them 45 minutes to drive back the 3 miles to their house.

      The fourth time that winter, the governor decided to go ahead and announce state offices closed the night before.

      It snowed maybe a half-inch. But we still had the day off.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I don’t know why they can’t say, “If the snowfall has reached 4 inches by 6am, government offices will be closed.”

        My kid got in trouble at school for not wearing the sweater over his button-down. Because the principal hadn’t announced “no sweaters are required anymore” since it was early May. It was 78 degrees at 8am–he was going to be sweltering, and I didn’t want him to take his sweater off at school and lose it.

        I emailed them to say, “I get that you have rules, but why can’t you have one that says, If the morning temp is X, you don’t need a sweater?”

            1. Murphy*

              Yeah, we had rules like that when I was in high school. Official policy unless we were in “summer” uniform (polo shirt) was that you had to ask teacher’s permission to take off your sweater during class (seriously) and always have it on in the hallways. I had a teacher physically grab me in the hallway because I didn’t have a sweater on.

      2. Samiratou*

        We had a snowstorm last week that started a little before noon. Many districts (including my first-ring suburban district) shut down, but the city ones did not. Nearest city’s kids were on busses until after 11pm getting home (they closed both city districts the next day, obviously), and that’s with no rural roads or anything (though this city really sucks at plowing). I stayed home from work (though my husband is unemployed and could have stayed with the kids) and worked from home, and I’m glad I did–I wouldn’t have made it into the alley with all the blowing & drifting snow, let alone into my garage by the end of the workday.

        Thankfully my employer is good about WFH, but fie on people who make rules about who has to come into the office, when you know damn well that the boss who makes those rules either lives in a place where snow isn’t an issue or would stay home, themselves.

    2. AnnaleighUK*

      I once had to email a previous employer proof that I was snowed in, unable to get my car out and that there were no trains running. The problem was the snow had taken out the power, and this was back in the days before smartphones, so… yeah. I got in a lot of trouble even though I showed them the photos on my camera two days later when I could get into work. Some employers would rather you risked your neck to get in the office because of this awful culture of ‘presenteeism’ that most firms in the UK have. Luckily we don’t really get snow like that anymore and I’m high enough up on the food chain that I can work from home if I like, but back then I was but a peon.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        I know. I’m in the US in Pennsylvania, and on occasion we get dumped with a blizzard or get a snow/ice combination that is so dangerous that the governor orders people to stay off the roads. I worked in a flower shop and the manager at the time thought we were idiots for not coming in, and he was out there on those roads delivering flowers. He got pulled over by the police but just got a warning (bummer).

    3. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      Wasn’t there a restaurant in Houston last summer that got a lot of bad publicity because they posted a notice warning their employees not to miss shifts and risk being fired in spite of the hurricane and mandatory evacuations?

      1. Evan Þ*

        IIRC it was in Florida during Irma, but maybe there was another one in Houston during Harvey too?

  4. Menacia*

    My company has a policy around snow days, which we discuss as a group before any major snowstorm is anticipated. On the days when the company is closed, only essential personnel are on call as needed, but everyone else gets a day off, we don’t need to take PTO. If the company is open, and you can’t come in, you have the option to either take PTO, or to work from home (if approved by supervisor). This type of situation happens rarely because everyone is expected to come in the office if they can (and if we’re open). It’s unfortunate that what the OP expected would happen did not, and that the supervisor did not let them know until they had put in a few hours of work that a PTO day had to be taken.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, if you live in a place where the weather could interfere, you need to get out in front of this.

      That’s called “management.” Or, maybe “proactive management.”

  5. Phoenix Programmer*

    I am surprised at Alison’s answer which is factually correct, but didnt provide any language for OP to push back on using PTO for hours already worked or for discussing this in a non confrontational way with their manager.

    1. Chriama*

      Yup, I was wondering why the focus wouldn’t be on that. Unless PTO can only be deducted in full day increments, I would stop working and take time off for whatever hours I needed to cover. Unless the goal is to get the boss to back off for future occurrences, I don’t think focusing on precedent is the priority here.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From the answer: “However, I’d push back on this with your boss. If you’ve worked from home in bad weather in the past, what changed this time? I’d point out to your boss that you made a reasonable assumption based on what was allowed in the past, and ask why he felt differently about it this time.

      You’ll have the best chances of the outcome you want here is if you don’t approach this in an adversarial way, even though you’re rightly angry. Approach it from the stance of genuine confusion and trying to understand where he’s coming from so that you’re on the same page in the future, even if in your head you’re thinking he’s being unreasonable.”

      1. Casuan*

        If your colleagues have the same issue it might help to band together, in a non-adversarial way, of course!

      2. Phoenix Programmer*

        Yes but that’s more – I’ve wfh before what changed?

        I was just expecting one of your brilliant scripts for addressing the require PTO for hours worked issue.

  6. Brett*

    This sounds like a case of unleashing a blanket policy to deal with a small handful of employees who were abusing a situation, instead of addressing the behavior of those employees individually.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      That happened at my place. My company has a “generous PTO policy” (true), and told people they couldn’t WFH with a sick kid or when waiting for the repair person. Which is fine, except that sometimes you have deadlines and you still need to get the work done, even when you have the PTO available.

      On the last “snow day” here, though, they did send out a special email to tell people they could WFH if they didn’t feel safe driving in. Except that they sent the email at 8:00 am. . .

      1. Teal Green*

        My employer did the same thing with the email on our last snow day. “Use your best judgement and WFH is an option” but sent it out at 7:50 am. Thanks guys…real helpful when 90% of us are either already here or on our way. Area schools had cancelled the night before, so it’s not like the weather was a surprise.

        1. Pollygrammer*

          I don’t know why workplaces don’t just go by the local school district. In the DC area, lots of businesses follow the federal government on snow days and delays, so you always know within plenty of time.

          1. paul*

            That’s what we do and it’s had some unintended side effects. For one thing, over winter or summer breaks, it leaves our CEO totally confused about if they should cancel. For another the superintendent before this one had a real bugbear against canceling classes for any reason. I still think it’s a reasonable policy in general though.

          2. Judy (since 2010)*

            In our area, the school district closes a lot more often than any business does. Our county is hilly with the city limits only half the size of the county, and they have to make sure the school buses can run safely. We don’t get lots of snow, so they’re not as prepared as other places.

            1. fposte*

              We get some snow and a fair bit of cold, but same here–the school bus concerns and the worry about kids standing out in the cold and dark means that schools close with too great a frequency to follow (there are also like four different districts that don’t coordinate to boot).

              As it happens, my employer officially never closes for weather, but my unit has a fair bit of flexibility.

              1. paul*

                Dang, I wish the schools I went to were like that. I attended a small town high school in the Rockies and near as I can remember they only canceled like 2-3 times over the whole time I was there :/

                The district here…I think in 10 years with this employer (ind ifferent roles) we’ve closed maybe 3 or 4 times although one of those was for 3 days (That storm SUCKED).

                1. fposte*

                  I went looking to see if I could figure out whether schools closed more often now than when I was a kid (it feels like it, but that’s also a pretty common dirty lens) and I found this amazing map of how much snow it generally takes to close schools across the country. (It does note that in a lot of places it’s cold rather than snow, which isn’t represented on the map–definitely true in my area.)

                2. Yetanotherjennifer*

                  fposte: That’s a cool map, but I can think of a couple other variables. The timing of the snow can be more important than the amount if it will be snowing during typical commute hours. And especially if snow is forecasted for the end of the school day. They have to make that call at 5 in the morning and nobody wants kids stuck at school after hours so districts here are more likely to cancel for small amounts. Those are the cancellations that parents complain about because if the snowfall is less than the forecast it can seem like school was cancelled for nothing. And school here in New England is often cancelled for icy conditions too. We get a lot of rain in January.

                  I grew up in a Midwestern city and we knew what to do with snow and had plenty of equipment to take care of it. I think school was cancelled once, maybe twice, total during the 13 years I was in school. My sister’s kids in the same area now seem to have 1-2 per year. Now I’m in rural NE where we also know snow but get significantly more and have to contend with rural vs “urban” roads within the same district. Most years we have 3 – 4 snow days.

            2. Stormy*

              Many of our school districts don’t have bussing, so they close based on whether it’s safe for the kids to walk.

          3. Oryx*

            Eh, I live in Northeast Ohio and without sounding all “kids get off my lawns!,” the city schools have shut down so much this season (compared to what I remember from childhood 30 years ago) that it wouldn’t be feasible for a business to close as often as they do. Plus, we have a large enough metro area with multiple school districts, so how do you decide which to follow? What if my side of the city is shut down but over by my job on the east side, things are fine (which does happen, and vice versa).

            1. Cobol*

              They do, but people are more cognizant of safety now. A couple extra days off per year isn’t as bad as the possibility of a school bus careening off the roads.

              Same reason calling in sick is more encouraged now.

          4. WellRed*

            The bar is lower for schools, usually. Where I live, it’s been cancelled once or twice because, although the roads were cleared and the sun was shining, the sidewalks were impassable for students.

          5. Rebecca in Dallas*

            That’s what my office does, we follow the school district as far as weather closings. And because any kind of potential snowfall is a BIG DEAL in Texas, they always send out a reminder about the policy if snow/winter weather is in the forecast. A lot of my coworkers live way out in the suburbs, so they just plan ahead and take work home just in case the roads aren’t safe.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          The school where my dad used to teach once kept insisting they were open even though it was still snowing. He’d called before setting off asking if they were definitely open, they said yes. He was giving a coworker a lift there, rang from her house and asked “Are you sure you’re open?” They still said yes. He got there and they literally took the decision that minute to shut and send everyone home.

      2. Globe Trotter*

        Not sure how waiting for a repair person and dealing with a sick kid are even remotely the same thing. One is an all-day distraction; the other is not. It’s not like the employees are sitting by the front door looking out the window for the repair dude for six hours. I work from home – should I not be waiting on my grocery order because it will take up three minutes of my time when it arrives? Strange.

          1. oviraptor*

            I immediately thought of ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and was picturing the boy and girl looking out the window.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          ITA, but the theory is even a new grad new hire will get 3 weeks PTO, and they felt people were taking advantage of working from home and not being productive, so they are forcing you to use that PTO you have anyway. A big part of our business moves desks every time they get a new assignment for co-locating teams, so there is a cultural issue that you cannot be fully productive remotely. My dept. is not in that situation, so I can be productive at home other than having sucky internet. I’m also bumping along with 10 weeks banked PTO, but I’m freaking busy!

      3. Samiratou*

        School districts aren’t always the best indicator, as they may have to think about things like time kids spend at bus stops and how much rural roads get plowed that wouldn’t necessarily apply to businesses. We also had an issue with our daycare that they had a policy to close when the district closed, but then it got cold enough that schools shut down (because of the kids-waiting-for-busses-thing) but there wasn’t really any reason to close the daycare, so they amended the policy slightly.

        My company will never close. Ever. But we can work from home. I’m not sure what they do for facilities staff or people who have to physically be on the premises to do their jobs.

  7. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    My company has stated flat out that they WILL NOT and WILL NEVER close for weather. Even when there’s an inch of ice on the roads and the authorities are telling people to stay home. I’m sorry, we’re just not that important. We are forced to use PTO. I think this is insane.

    1. AlexandrinaVictoria*

      WFH is not an option because we deal with information covered by HIPAA and “What if a neighbor came over to borrow a cup of sugar and saw the information?” Yes, that’s a real quote from our CEO.

      1. PlainJane*

        Do they not realize that a lot of medical transcriptionists and billers work from home exclusively? This is a very normal thing. Train employees on how to handle PHI, make sure company laptops have appropriate security, and expect that people will act like professionals. Sheesh.

        1. Penny Lane*

          Are they also not aware that doctors make/take phone calls from home, where (theoretically) other family members might overhear a conversation?

      2. AC*

        For us, the justification for no WFH is that we’re supposedly in a line of work that leaves us susceptible to bribes or malicious manipulation, and so they want to have all of our interactions monitored via our work computers and office phones.

        First of all, no one in my office has ever been approached for a bribe, and the most lavish gift I’ve received from a client was a fruit basket at Christmas (one time).

        Second of all, while we can’t WFH, we *are* allowed/required to do the exact same work from conferences, where all the people who supposedly would want to bribe us are gathered in a single location, where we can have in-person conversations that leave no digital trail.

        And finally…we can access our emails and remote log-into our computers from our personal devices. It’s the strangest policy.

      3. Stormy*

        Apparently your CEO thinks WFH involves time travel, because I haven’t heard of neighbors borrowing sugar since the sixties.

        1. a different Vicki*

          Or have very close relationships with the neighbors: the only neighbor who ever came over to borrow an egg was on the short list of people I would answer the door to without putting clothes on. Someone I’m that comfortable with, I can trust not to sneak a look at my files.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      OldJob used to have that policy, but after Snowmaggedon I and II back in 2010, they started making adjustments that ultimately ended up with designated Essential staff who would be notified ahead of time to bring overnight kits and would be put up at a nearby hotel during emergencies. The first time we actually full-out closed the office for any reason was the Freddie Gray riots (which were nowhere near us, but we were very close to a metro station so there was some thought that things might morph their way in our direction).

      1. Yvette*

        I worked somewhere that handled it well, I thought. (This was before the days of technology allowing you to work seamlessly from home.) People who could not make it in were not penalized by having to use a vacation or sick day and paid for the day, people who managed to make it in were rewarded with an extra personal day.

        But I do think it odd that her boss seemed to change his policy on the fly like that.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah if a company is going to go this route, they’d better A) really be providing essential services that are time sensitive and cannot be done from home, and B) be prepared to assist their employees, such as by having overnight rooms like hospitals do, calling in shifts early – and compensating them – whatever it takes. If companies could not externalize these logistical problems onto the employees, they’d rethink this policy real fast.

    4. Bea*

      I hope you make a shitton of money because nobody should put up with suck BS treatment. Do you live in an area where jobs are scarce? I only ask because I want you all to leave that hellhole!!!

    5. ThatGirl*

      My husband really can’t work from home – he’s a counselor and you can’t really see clients remotely. But he has a ton of PTO so taking time off for bad weather isn’t a big problem. And on rare occasions the university closes altogether.

  8. Pollygrammer*

    People who absolutely HAVE to be on the road really appreciate it when everybody who has the option to stay home stays home.

    1. PlainJane*

      This. People can die if emergency and medical personnel can’t get to work safely. Nonessential folks should stay home rather than be the reason an ambulance gets in an accident.

      1. Bea*

        And emergency trained folks tend to have proper vehicles and knowledge of navigating the conditions! Instead of watching out for people trying to drive their cars they can barely drive properly in the best conditions siiiiiiiigh

      2. Parenthetically*

        Just a couple of weeks ago a county north of me declared an emergency during an ice storm to keep non-essential personnel off the roads. An ER doc going in to work his shift was fine; Cletus trying to get to Wal-Mart was not. I was incredulous at how many businesses continued to expect their employees to report for work or be penalized. Seems to me a business that knowingly endangers the lives and safety of its employees should be subject to some kind of penalty itself.

  9. Justin*

    Well, yeah, as with most of these, legal but bad way to build goodwill. If you can express this without causing too much agita, do so.

    Sort of similar question: my colleague lives very far from work. Not like, “it’s cheaper so lower cost of living area,” (we’re in/around NYC), but like, full on more than a full state away. They bought a house they liked and chose to give themselves a 2.5 hour commute. Whatever.

    But genuinely, the weather is different for them than for most of us. On a day when the city and nearby areas might be fully functional (schools open, everything running pub trans wise), it might just not be possible for this colleague to travel in.

    Personally, I don’t care. I’m glad I don’t live that far away, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me. But a (different) colleague thinks it’s unfair that this colleague is told she can stay home without using PTO.

    What do you all think?

    1. k.k*

      I think it’s nice that your company cares about the safety of their employees, and your other colleague is just being petty. Sometimes you can’t take a one-size fits all approach and need to treat employees different is special situations. I’d bet your complainy colleague wouldn’t think it’s unfair if they had a unique situation arise and they made a special accommodation.

      1. Arielle*

        Yeah, I have a colleague in a similar situation and he does get leave to work from home more frequently than the rest of us. And while sometimes it feels unfair, I remind myself that I don’t WANT to move to Maine and have a 2-hour commute each way. (But if I did, the company would accommodate me in the same way.)

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Eh, I get the “it’s not fair” kneejerk reaction. We are all human and it’s not a huge moral failing to be a little mad that someone seems to have a better deal than you. But in the end, when I feel like that I can’t argue that it’s anything but a little, petty feeling and get myself over it. As long as the Jealous isn’t having to make up work all the time for the Commuter, the s/he can’t really be righteously upset about it.

      I have a 40 minute commute on a good day and the closest public transportation is over ten miles away so I have missed work once in a great while when others who are closer in came to work. But until the company makes it a requirement to live withing a certain radius or within reach of public transportation, I don’t think they can really make too much of a fuss.

    3. paul*

      How often is it an issue? And are there standards that are in place that could be applied? Example: if y’all close for school closures or government closures in your city, base it on that for him, just using his location?

    4. Bea*

      I’ve been the manager who has always came down on the side of “your safety and health are more important than you being here today/tomorrow.”. I’ve had staff live on hillsides that ice up and everyone else lives around the block or whatever else. This isn’t about “Tracy gets extra time off!!” it’s “I prefer Tracy not risk her life to be here.” Like if someone travels to Boston from Dallas and gets caught in a blizzard. I’m not going to punish or dock their pay because of weather.

      Lots of us commute and the reasons vary. It’s the nature of having the best team possible.

      Anyone who whines someone not risking their lives is unfair just shows how selfish they are. They better never get a favor due to their circumstances because then they’re just hypocritical AF.

        1. Bea*

          I’m so PNW that my mind went blank. We don’t “do that here” in terms of long commutes that require no driving and I had a minute where I was going to say “nobody drives?! How do you get to work?!”. My ignorance was self filtered but I’ll let it be known anyways, woah.

    5. Kiki*

      My husband and I are moving one state over from where we currently are. My husband told his boss that he’d be willing to stay at the company if they could accommodate a largely WFH situation, but he understood they may not be willing to do that. The company chose to keep him on. He’s WFH 4 days per week and drives the 2 hours to the office once per week. Anything that must be done in person is done that day.

  10. DCGirl*

    My former employer followed the New York Stock Exchange for closings (if the stock exchange was open, we had to be open to allow people to trade in their accounts). The challenge with that is that my former employer is located in Washington, DC, which can often have significantly more or less snowfall than New York, plus the New York Stock Exchange rarely closes even for blizzards. The only time it closed during my time there was for Hurricane Sandy, which barely touched DC. So, yeah, I had to use PTO to stay home when there was two feet of snow on the ground and no way in heck I could even get out of my subdivision since my street wasn’t plowed. Just one of the many reasons I no longer work there.

  11. Thornus67*

    This reminds me of when I had to evacuate for Hurricane Matthew a couple of years ago. I was living on an island, and the entire county was under mandatory evacuation. So I left at noon on Thursday when the office closed. Sunday night, the county was still under a curfew with no one being let back in. So I texted my boss to let her know that due to the curfew and me being four hours away, I wouldn’t be able to come in Monday if the office were open. She responded with some snide remark that I could just let them know I had to work and they would let me in (untrue according to the FAQ) and that she didn’t evacuate so it wasn’t bad. The office didn’t open, and I was docked pay from Thursday afternoon through Monday (2.5 days) because the company didn’t give any PTO.

  12. CleverGirl*

    I had a job where I was forced to use PTO if there was bad weather even if I worked from home that day. I was told it wasn’t fair to let us work from home because not everyone is equipped to work from home. Uh, okay, is it also fair that we don’t all get paid the same amount? Or that we do totally different kinds of work? I got a new job and quit that one. It’s a ridiculous policy.

  13. Lauren*

    I don’t like AAM’s advice on opting for confusion (#3). I really hate having to fake that I’m confused when I have every right to be mad / upset or even just to get a straight answer. Why can’t we all just be professional and honest? How did being direct become ‘adversarial’? I can’t help, but draw parellels with gender-based feedback of ‘too assertive’ here when asking for anything.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not feigning confusion — it’s taking the stance that you ARE genuinely confused because so far it seems illogical and so you’re seeking to understand his perspective.

    2. Someone else*

      The advice isn’t to pretend to be confused. Most likely part of the reason you’re angry is that what the manager is doing doesn’t make any sense (which is confusing). So the advice is, you are currently confused, angry and wanting a straight answer. When you ask about it, be professional and honest, but omit the angry part, since that’s unlikely to be productive.

    3. Cobol*

      Also as a direct person, being direct is often (not always, or even usually) adversarial.

      There’s a difference between “this pasta has too much salt,” and “is there a way to get this with less salt,” and feigned confusion “I’m sorry I think somebody may have accidentally put more salt on this pasta than they intended.”

      1. Lauren*

        I was interpreting ‘confusion’ as the latter example. In my own personal experience, I can’t seem to win any which way. I’ve been told ‘you’re too direct, you should consider how to soften your ask’ about how I should be emailing people at work to ask them for things I need to do my work on time. I’ve been told by the same boss, that I need ‘stop dancing around the ask, and be more blunt to get what I need on time’. Conflicting advice … so even though I’m fuming inside – I put on my confused face during these conversations.

  14. Beth*

    Am I the only who read this and wondered if the supervisor had any idea that the employee was working at home?! This could be a simple communication issue. If you’re already at home, say “I’m so sorry, I’m actually working from home, which I have done in the past, and was planning on doing so the rest of the day”?

    And where was the communication prior to this, such as, “Oh hey, I’m just working from home today, FYI.” How is the supervisor supposed to have any idea you are working from home?

    I dunno, just seems like this could be as simple as a miscommunication to start, and easily remedied.

  15. Fuzzy pickles*

    So in my experience, “use your best judgement” is an outright lie. I’m trying to accept that but it’s difficult. Especially when they say that to me after spending five minutes why everything’s fine and then when I drop something by for approval in the same hour, they’ve left early because of the snow without telling their employees. How do you not get mad? Seriously I need to know because the gut aches from the stress are just awful.

    1. a-no*

      ugh yes. When we had the massive flood in Calgary a couple years ago – my bosses literally made us stay there until they put out a warning saying within the hour the ONLY WAY left in and out of the area would likely be flooded over so if you don’t plan on spending a few days go home and even then it was an argument. For context, there was about 7 or 8 ways to our office and only 1 of them hadn’t be closed for flooding yet but was starting to. But they pulled the “use your best judgement” and then guilted us into going back to work.

  16. amy l*

    I don’t get how an employer can demand your presence at the office when the Governor of the state requests that everyone please stay off the roads. Old Job had a phone alert system. During bad weather ( including heavy flooding to the downtown metro area) they actually used that system to send a message that everyone was expected to be at work or take PTO. And no, it’s was’nt a health care related job. This has probably been discussed, but – yeah that sucks.

    1. Mike C.*

      This is something that continually mystifies me as well. When you have officials setting curfews or declaring emergencies, why don’t states start punishing employers who require workers to come in to work anyway? I’ve also seen employers require people to stay really, really late before a hurricane shows up while everyone else is frantically leaving.

      I don’t normally talk about legislation here, but given the danger to the public and to employees being forced to come in causes, there seems to be a massive externality that requires government support to deal with.

  17. blondie*

    I used to live on the east coast and occasionally the site would close due to an incoming storm. We often had to wait until late in the evening or even the morning into know whether or not the site would close.

    That’s fine but what frustrated me was inconsistency about what was “severe enough” to warrant closure. Some days we’d be closed and there’s hardly any snow (though plenty of winter warnings on the news etc) and other times just as strongly worded news warnings/potential for very dangerous conditions but the site opened anyway and a lot of people had a hard time coming in/going home. I don’t think we’d had many closure days so it’s not as though we’d run out of them.

    Does anyone have insight into how these site closure decisions are made?

    1. Mike C.*

      Like everything else with the vast, vast majority of businesses? It’s arbitrary. At best it’s the well informed good intentions of someone who cares about the safety of their employees with lots of proactive discussion and planning, at worst it’s a petty tyrant who takes on unreasonable amounts of risk and expects others to do the same.

      For the large sites I work at, there are specific procedures written to account for the specifics of our business – first listen to officials for any mandatory actions or serious warnings and go with those. Otherwise it depends on the weather conditions. Outside work stops if there’s lightning in the area or wind above specific levels for a certain amount of time. I’m not sure how we detect the latter, but the former is little more than a NWS weather station hooked up to a computer. Other types of weather/natural disasters have similar plans. Local emergency services have templates for these sorts of situations and are very willing to help people and groups plan for and manage these issues.

      And it’s important to note that when meteorologists are communicating to officials who are then communicating to the public that severe weather is difficult to predict, and you have to account for both the likelihood and magnitude of bad weather occurring. There’s also the issue that simple plans are more easily understood and easier to comply with, so you may have situations where more people are told to stay home or evacuate or whatever than really need to because giving spotty information can cause those who really need to act to doubt, to get confused or ignore advice that would otherwise help them.

  18. Laura*

    This is too funny–from my perspective. My job *never* closes. I work for the Post Office and we process mail that is scanned from all over the country, so we have work 24/7 (and yes, that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and all the rest). We are expected to get to work. The top boss will *sometimes* forgive our being late, but not always; she sometimes decides that, since snow was forecast, we should have left home earlier (this also depends on the shift and whether the snow plows have been out on the small roads or if the snow is heavy enough they can’t even keep the major roads clear). But we are expected to work are scheduled shift, and must use leave if we are late, even if she forgives the late (we can use leave in 1/100 of an hour). I should point out that being late for our shift is one of the biggest sins we can commit, second only to having more than two unscheduled absences in a quarter. There have been times I have left for work 15-20 minutes early and still been late, I have a 7 1/2 mile drive to work and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle (practically a necessity in Utah winters).

    1. Laura*

      I should also say that some canyons are closed during snowstorms (and some for the entire winter), but I have never known any city to shut down. They tell people not to make any *unnecessary* trips and they occasionally close the schools, but there are always people who have to work. Restaurants, malls, the Post Office and other governments services are all open.

    2. Bea*

      The Postal Service is notorious for being horrible to work for and I still can’t see any amount of compensation that would make it worth working for. Funny y’all never close technically but deliveries sure have a ton of days off and lulls.

  19. Environmental Gone Public Health*

    My current supervisor recently commented that even if the county decides to issue a travel warning and keep everyone off the roads, she expects me to come in, since I only live 5 minutes away from the office. But since everyone else lives 20+ minutes (ish) away, they won’t need to.

    We work for the county, though a separate dept orders the travel advisories. Plus, we’d still have to close the office, since I do not have the training nor the access to issue birth/death certificates or give vaccinations, and that’s really the main reason anyone walks in to the office. I mostly do field work & technical reviews.

    One of many reasons I’m frustrated with my current place of work.

    1. MoodyMoody*

      One commenter above mentioned that her place of business had the policy of allowing people to stay home without PTO in bad weather, but gave an extra personal day for those that showed up anyway. That might be something to suggest to your boss.

      1. Environmental Gone Public Health*

        The county’s policy is that any add’l days for my dept have to go through the health officer himself prior to needing to use them. My supervisor can’t give me any extra days. Gotta love local gov’t red tape! But if the county closes the roads, we do get paid regardless (I believe they actually call it closure pay), so it’s not like we’re forced to use up PTO or stay home unpaid. When I asked Boss Lady why exactly we would need me to come in, her answer was that we should to keep the office open even if we can’t offer any services, which doesn’t make much sense to me.

  20. Adjuncts Anonymous*

    Looking at this, I see one big advantage for working for the local community college (in NC): we usually close for snow/sleet/freezing rain. We don’t close as often as the public schools (who are notorious for closing if a flake drops), but I rarely have to worry about my commute. Unexpected ice can be a problem, though; we had icy roads yesterday morning and I still had to be there.

  21. Shark Lady*

    I (and my department) am considered critical staff at SuperMegaBank, so even if it’s snowing and icy and everywhere else is closed, I’m expected to be at work if there’s any feasible way for me to get there. We *almost* never close for weather. If our building is unusable for whatever reason (tornado? earthquake? hit by an asteroid?), my boss and I will be on a plane to a facility in another state to work from there until we can return. I like my job a lot, but really wish I could work from home when the weather is bad.

  22. Mad Baggins*

    Late to the party, but can anyone shed light on why it is acceptable to force employees to use PTO when the business is closed?

    I don’t work in the US, but just recently we were told to leave due to a snowstorm. My obligation to work was “exempted” due to the weather so I didn’t have to use PTO.

    I understand there is a line between what is bad practice and what is illegal (and that nothing is wrong without a contract), but how is this different from forcing employees to use PTO for weekends or holidays or other days the business is not open?

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      As an hourly employee, I’m not contracted to work on the weekends (usually), but I’m also not getting paid for that time. I only get paid to work 35 hours a week and/or claim up to 35 hours of PTO. I have good benefits and so get paid holidays, but plenty of US workers *don’t* get paid if the business is closed and have to use PTO if they even have any.

  23. I can do it!*

    Regarding believing your employer when they tell you not to come in, at my last job, they would grant time off/staying home/working from home, and then later corner me like “you took a day off, do you even want to be here?” LOL ok great happy to be working here.

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