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As a small business owner, you’re in control of everything. From managing the day-to-day of operating a business to mapping out your next strategic move, you’ve got a handle on all things related to your business.
But there are always a few things that are totally out of your hands—like the weather. Bad weather is bound to strike in your area. If you’re not prepared for it, your business—and you and your employees—can be in danger.
So, whether it’s a bad snowstorm, a brutal heat wave, or even a destructive earthquake, how can you take steps to prepare and protect your business and employees?
Here are 6 tips for preparing for bad weather before it knocks on your door.
Bad weather comes with a storm of logistical nightmares, safety hazards, and resource challenges. So to avoid getting caught in a total disaster when it’s too late, you should form a plan for your business in the case of bad weather.
Outlining a bad weather plan for your business is two-fold. First, you need to put a policy in place for the business and employees when bad weather strikes. And second, you need to work through how you’ll get physically get out of a bad weather emergency.
Somewhere in your employee handbook, you should have a policy for your business and employees when bad weather hits. That way, when a storm or weather event hits your area, there will be no question of whether you’ll be open and expecting your employees to report to work.
Whatever your inclement weather policy is, make sure it leaves no ambiguity for your employees. It should clearly state who will have the final word for any office or store closures and how and when that person will communicate the status to all workers.
A complete inclement weather policy will also cover how employees get during weather-related closures. Now, to work this out for your business, you’ll have to get into the nitty-gritty details of when you’re legally required to pay all your employees.
Under federal law, you can make up whatever rule you’d like for your non-exempt employees. But for your exempt employees, you need to follow two general rules: First, if your employee works part of a full day, they receive a full day’s pay. For example, if your employees come in and you have people leave early once bad weather hits, those employees will earn a full day’s pay. And second, employees need to be paid in full if the employer decides to close down the office on their own explicit decision and authority. But on the other hand, if an employer keeps an office open during bad weather and the employee doesn’t come in, then the employer isn’t legally obligated to pay the employee.
Whatever payment structure you have in place, make that crystal-clear in your inclement weather policy. You can save yourself and your employees the stress of figuring out what they’re obligated to do in a bad situation.
If the weather is really bad, you need to have an evacuation plan that gets you and your employees out of a dangerous situation at work.
Your first step to preparing this is to think about any weather or natural disaster events that could realistically happen in your area. You might operate a business in an earthquake, hurricane, or tornado zone. If that’s the case, make sure you’ve put together an evacuation plan that protects you and your employees.
Some details to include in this plan are a specific route you and your employees will take to get to safety, a protected storage location for any important business property, the directions to the nearest emergency shelter, and a list of contacts for people or organizations you need to notify in the event of an emergency.
It’s a part of preparing for bad weather that you never hope or expect to need, but having this emergency evacuation plan is crucial for everyone’s safety.
An inclement weather policy keeps the legal aspect of weather-related office closures straight, but you should also have a communication plan in place when weather hits.
It’s pretty simple—how will you let your employees know when they shouldn’t try to come into work, or when you’re expecting them to be there? That might just be over phone or email, but make sure you set expectations for communication before you find yourself in a bad weather event.
You might also want to set up a way to communicate with your customers in the event of a weather-related emergency. If you have any regular deliveries or meetings scheduled with key clients, let them know that your business isn’t operating while the weather’s bad. This will prevent people from going out in bad weather when they don’t need to, and help you maintain a great working relationship with your customers and partners.
One of the most important parts of preparing your business for bad weather is taking steps to protect yourself and your employees.
But you also need to think about protecting your business’s physical space and properties.
There are a lot of specific steps that you might need to take to protect your business. For one, if your electronic equipment or paper documents are at risk in bad weather, make sure you protect those pieces accordingly.
Or, if you’re expecting power outages, make sure you have some battery backup of some sort to keep your critical devices and equipment running. Along those lines, you might want to be continually backing up your information just in case something goes wrong while you’re out of the office for bad weather.
Whatever you need to do to make sure you don’t lose essential information and equipment for your business during bad weather, take those steps before you’re in the middle of a disaster.
While you never think an extreme weather event will take place and really hurt your business, it’s always best to be prepared for the worst to happen. And if something does happen, you’ll be glad that your small business insurance policy covered any damages to your property.
Odds are, the insurance company you use for your small business offers commercial property insurance policies. You can ask your provider to conduct a weather-related risk assessment on your business and your business property and figure out the amount of coverage you need from there.
In the best cases, your business comes out unscathed from bad weather. But in the worst cases, you could lose something that’s vital to the survival of your small business. That’s why at-risk small businesses should seriously consider having a property insurance policy in place.
If you decide to stick it out and stay open during bad weather, make sure you fully understand what your business’s liability is for doing so.
Say an employee accident happens due to bad weather. That employee could easily sue your business if they can prove that you were negligent in keeping your business operating in dangerous conditions. While that’s a dramatic scenario, it’s one that can quickly become a reality if you aren’t careful during a weather emergency.
And if you do stay open, make sure that you’ve protected your employees and customers as best you can during bad weather. If, for instance, your business’s parking lot is full of black ice and you don’t do anything about it, a customer could slip and hurt themselves. And if they can prove that you knew that the physical conditions around your business were bad but you did nothing, that’s an easy case of negligence on your part.
All in, bad-weather seasons or events are an especially important time to consider your business’s liability. Not only do you want to protect people from being hurt, but you also want to protect your business’s assets just in case something happens.
This is an obvious step that you probably do anyway. But if you don’t already, keep an eye out for bad weather coming your way.
If you know a bad storm is rolling through, you might just want to hedge your bets and have employees work from home anyway. Or, if the forecast suggests that you can weather the storm, you won’t have to deal with the hassle of closing down your business.
When it comes down to it, it’s always best to stay informed about weather emergencies so you know just what to do for your business.
There you have it—6 easy steps to take to prepare your business for bad weather events.
The biggest takeaway here? Prepare for the worst.
If you aren’t in an at-risk area, it’s easy to think that bad weather won’t come your way. But in the off chance that it does, being prepared to take on the storm will save you headache and stress down the line.