Paying Employees During the Texas Winter Storm

I couldn’t open my practice last week due to the historic Texas winter storms.  Do I have to pay my employees even though they didn’t work?  Can they file unemployment?  Help! 

Let’s start with…must you pay them for the time although they didn’t work?  

Keep in mind this is a super simplified explanation.  I am not an employment attorney.  If you have complex questions you should seek advice for your specific situation.

Hourly employees:

If they were able to work a few hours, you must pay them for the hours they worked. If you have a written policy for bad weather days (like paid vacation or paid personal time off, etc.), you must pay them according to that policy. If you have no written policy, you are not required to pay them for any hours they did not work, even if they were willing but could not reach the office or the office was closed.

Salaried non-exempt employees:

They may use paid leave according to the leave policy you have in place. Or they may choose to have their pay docked instead of using their paid time off. [Note: you must always get written authorization from the employee before deducting any monetary amounts from his/her pay.]

Now…could you pay them for the time they didn’t work even though it’s not in your policy? 

Certainly. Call it goodwill and bank it! Or allow employees to use their PTO balances even if that’s not your policy.  

As for whether you should pay them for the closure if you’re not required?

The decision to pay your employees that couldn’t work is one you will have to make personally. Remember, they’re going to be hurting from the lack of income just like you are. Hopefully, you can find a balance that will benefit your practice and your team. Just make sure whatever you decide, you apply it to the entire team. Don’t pay one for the time and not others. Being selective will likely turn into a problem down the road.

Can they file for unemployment if I don’t pay them for the time they didn’t work?

According to the Texas Workforce Commission website, because a disaster has been declared, there is an option for your employees to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DAU).  The eligibility period begins 2/14/2021 and ends whenever the practice reopened.  However, just because it is available, does not necessarily mean it will be approved.  There are many variables that ultimately play into final approval by TWC.  The TWC is still overwhelmed because of the pandemic.  That definitely won’t make the process quick.  But the employees should at least apply and attempt to receive the assistance.  And they should do so as soon as possible.