Wintry weather testing work snow-day policies

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Company “snow-day” policies that determine when it’s alright for employees to miss work seem to vary as much as the snowfall amounts expected throughout much of Indiana on Monday.

Those rules, many of which are spelled out in employee handbooks, are giving human resources managers a workout this winter and, in particular, in February.

Coping with the wintery blast of white stuff is made easier by advancements in technology that enable many employees to be equally productive from their homes.

“For organizations that are trying to position themselves as an employer of choice, [they’re saying] you can still be productive while you’re in your pajamas,” said Karl Ahlrichs, a local human resources consultant. “There’s a psychological boost to that.”

That culture pertains to Indianapolis pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co., the state’s second-largest public company. Its employees who would rather avoid braving intense winter conditions can either work remotely from home or take a vacation day, spokeswoman Lauran Cislak said.

Laptops make telecommuting much easier at Lilly. But even on a bright, sunny day, Cislak said, employees might be conducting conference calls outside the office with folks from all over the world.

“We’re all pretty connected, so we can access all the systems from work,” she said.

In many cases, company policies are not a one-size-fits-all approach and may even differ from department to department.

Some depend on local governments for guidance. Indianapolis-based AIT Laboratories, as well as the local office of the Cincinnati-based Frost Brown Todd LLC law firm, rely heavily on the declaration of snow emergencies.

Frost Brown Todd closes its downtown office automatically in the event Marion County officials declare a snow emergency. And employees in outlying areas are encouraged to stay home if an emergency is announced in their particular county, although the office would be open.

The firm also builds some flexibility into its policy to take into account different scenarios, said Vicky Accardi, human resources manager for the Indianapolis office.

“The more flexible you are,” she said, “I think [employees] respect that.”

AIT Laboratories is accommodating as well, to a degree. Many employees are allowed to stay home only if a snow emergency is declared. That’s because a lot of them work in the company’s laboratory, conducting forensics, clinical and pharmaceutical testing around the clock.

“The samples come in through UPS or FedEx,” company spokeswoman Raquel Bahamonde said. “They might be late, but they’ll be there and they have to be processed.”

Many hospital employees aren’t afforded the comforts of working from home either.

Those at Wishard Hospital afraid to test the elements will be picked up and  brought to work, courtesy of one of Wishard’s four-wheel-drive vehicles. But those instances are rare, said Chuck Ford, associate vice president of emergency preparedness, protection and response.

Hospital personnel, in general, understand their obligations and make the necessary plans to ensure they’re able to make their shift, Ford said.

Taking that into account, many at Wishard already have their own four-wheel-drives anyway, he noted.

Four to 7inches of snow is expected Monday in Greenwood and in areas to the south of Indianapolis, while 2 to 4inches could fall in the metropolitan area. To the north, 1 to 3 inches is forecast.

That’s on top of the 5.3 inches that fell in Indianapolis on Feb. 5 and the 3.6 inches that followed four days later.

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