Inclement Weather and Retail/Hospitality Operations: Have A Plan In Place

When Wintery Weather Comes, Associates Need a Clear, Easy Way to Know, “Do I Need to Come Into Work?”

by Christian Stegmaier

A local weatherman has made some news around here with the projection that South Carolina could be in store for a blizzard early this week (see the picture from Chesterfield County on the right – from the 1973 blizzard in South Carolina). To his credit, he stated the chances for such an event were slim; nevertheless, the very mention of snow down here has caused everyone to become very excited.

With the possibility of snow, people get to thinking, “Do I need to come into work?” Anticipating that your retail/hospitality associates will have the same question, it’s important to have a game plan in place prior to such an event to avoid any ambiguity when winter weather does come.

Our law firm has a very good policy, which every employee knows. We look to what state government does. We have three offices: Columbia (Richland/Lexington Counties); Greenville (Greenville County); and Myrtle Beach (Horry Country). Our policy is this: If the governor closes or delays the opening of state offices in any of those counties, we follow the same directive. That way, there’s no need to try to call or email every employee about whether our firm will be open or try to get word to the television or radio station about what we’re going to do. Government closings or delays are easily obtainable on the television, radio, and internet. By having a stated policy that facilitates an easy answer to the question “Are we going to be open?,” our folks are able to easily determine what the expectations are regarding whether they need to come in or not.

Hospitality: Of course, there are some employees in the hospitality context that are essential to operations no matter what the weather does. If you have guests in your hotel, there needs to be at least some staff on hand to keep the operation going. The same thing can arguably be said for food service establishments located near interstates or other well traveled roads. Everybody can’t stay home if the plan is to stay open. Accordingly, in addition to having a stated winter weather policy, there needs to be a plan in place that designates those employees who are “essential” and need to be at the property even if 6 inches of snow are on the ground. Further, there should be a back up plan when employees designated as “essential” can’t get into work. Finally, there are some winter weather events that will make operations impossible. When that scenario occurs, an emergency exists. Your hospitality-related entity – especially hotels – therefore needs an emergency plan in place that sets into motion an orderly and safe evacuation of guests and the secure closing of the property.

Retail: For retailers – unlike the hotel example – there are no guests staying in your establishment. Accordingly, the duty to stay open is lessened. Nevertheless, being closed means a loss of revenue. Therefore, the inclination is to be open if possible. However, as stated above, there needs to be a clear plan in place, which outlines your expectations regarding operations in wintery weather. Don’t have your people wondering. Further, if you are in a tenant in a shopping complex, be sure to know what the landlord’s winter weather protocol is. If the shopping center or mall is going to be closed, it will likely make your operations difficult, if not impossible. Plus, if the media announces the shopping center or mall is closed, many of your associates will assume this announcement pertains to them and will not report. Again, the important thing is to plan, coordinate, and communicate so that there is no ambiguity about operations during a winter weather event.

Finally, regardless of what your business is, there needs to be an understanding with employees that they are permitted to use discretion regarding travel on wintery roads. Some roads may be more passable than others. Some employees are confident to travel, while others aren’t. It is not a good policy to force employees to come to work when – in their judgment and discretion – traveling from their home to your establishment would be treacherous and hazardous to their health and safety.

About Christian Stegmaier
Senior Shareholder

Christian Stegmaier is a shareholder and chair of the Retail & Hospitality Practice Group at Collins & Lacy in Columbia. He is also active in the firm’s professional liability and appellate practices. Stegmaier welcomes your questions at (803) 255-0454 or