Snow? Blizzard? Just work at home.

I work for the stingiest non-profit organization on the planet. I know that sounds like hyperbole but given that during DC’s recent snowstorm, while just about everyone, except essential personnel like emergency workers and plow drivers, was home enjoying four days off I was home working 8 hours a day. And why is this?

Because unlike every other non-profit the city, we do not follow the Federal government for our inclement weather policy. No, our inclement weather policy is, effectively, we have no policy. Actually, that’s not true. Our inclement weather policy is that a 20-something man with no responsibilities outside work gets to determine if our office is open or our office is closed.

See, the non-profit I work for operates out of several of our offices, including the one in DC, what’s called a field canvass. Ostensibly we send people out door to door to educate and garner support for the issues we work on but the reality is it’s a fundraising/sales job. Full-time canvassers receive a base hourly rate, it’s true, but they also receive a bonus based on how much money they raise in a set time period (a night, a week, etc). Not only do the individual canvassers receive a bonus based on how much money they bring in, the Canvass Director also receives a bonus if they exceed their fundraising goals. If the canvass doesn’t go out, the Canvass Director only makes his base salary.

According to our Managing Director, who I should mention is based in Miami, FL, if the field canvass is open, the office is open which means office staff are expected to work. So, we’ve given responsibility for determining whether or not our office is open or closed to someone who benefits financially from us never closing. There is an inherent conflict of interest here. And I’m not the only one who sees it.

After exchanging several e-mails via our local staff list with said Canvass Director about how it was completely insane to send canvassers out last Wednesday while DC was under a blizzard warning, a blizzard warning that was so bad that local government was telling people to say inside because the weather was “life threatening,” BigBoss, who is also on the local staff list, recommended that we continue our discussion with just each other and that if either of us had concerns we could contact him directly. So, I did.


To be honest with you, I’m completely and utterly livid over the fact that our inclement weather policy is, effectively, “we never close.” When I asked ManagingDirector about this on Monday, and why we don’t follow the Fed, the sane, reliable thing that most other non-profits do, her response was: “I know the weather is bad and I lived in DC for 20 years and did have a few snow days. But you know the government should not be the benchmark – they close for 1 inch of snow.” Quite frankly, this is a knee jerk, inaccurate reaction.

First, In the 8 years GW Bush was President the Fed closed maybe half a dozen times for weather related reasons and had maybe half again as many “liberal leave” days. In eight years.

Second, no, you aren’t here. Neither is ManagingDirector. This city is paralyzed. Our public transportation isn’t running, and won’t be running right probably until the end of next week, if then. Most of the streets downtown haven’t been adequately plowed enough for Metro to deem them safe to run buses on, and most neighborhood streets, at least in wards (like mine) that aren’t predominently white, which means most of the city, haven’t seen a plow at all. We haven’t had mail delivery since last Friday and as of last night there were still from last Saturday nearly 6,000 people without electricity.

It does not make any sense to have someone who is not here who can not accurately assess the conditions making the decision about whether or not we should be open.

Third, to have a policy which is, effectively, that a 20-something with very few responsibilities outside work gets to decide whether or not the office is open – according to ManagingDirector if the Canvass is working, the office is open – leaves staff members subject to unecessary anxiety.

We have no idea whether or not we should be working, are expected to be working, are going to be penalized if we don’t work, or what. There is no reliable yardstick, like following the Fed, that we can use. And since our internal communication is so poor, people are left to do nothing but wonder.

There is also the issue of the position this puts employees, like DudeCoworker, who simply can not work from home. I, and others like ChickCoworker and DataBaseAdmin, have been working this whole week while the DC office has, ostensibly, been open; DudeCoworker has been home with no way to get into the office, assuming of course it was safe for him to do so. So he’s supposed to burn a week’s vacation, or more, because we have no snow closing policy while I can elect not to? Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair.

Lastly, while I recognize and appreciate that working from home is a benefit, it feels more than slightly exploitive to be required to work from home. I can’t describe it more accurately than to say that it feels very Victorian in nature (if you can work, you must!).

The canvass already has a separate pay schedule from office staff, and a separate leave, work, and holiday schedule so it doesn’t seem reasonable to tie our open or closed policy to whether or not they are working. If MouthBreather, et al. deem it safe for the FCV to be out, and I heartily disagree, obviously, that it is, then that is their call, but when all our other processes are separate, why tie these two together?

I strongly recommend that you put in place a policy that for inclement weather the DC office follows the Federal government for closings and “liberal leave” status. It makes bad weather a “set it and forget it” situtation.

Thank you for your time.

It took him exactly 15 minutes to send me back a one line response.

You are right and I’m concerned about the lack of on-site decision making by a senior staff person. I am going to fix this. Stay tuned.

The thing of it is: I’d mind this mismanagement less if they’d just admit they are the cheapest people on the planet – most non-profits recognize that they pay below market rate and compensate for it by providing better benefits (more time off, better insurance, a full slate of public holidays and then some); mine does none of these things – and that they will never, ever give time off they think they can get away with not giving and, most off all, will never turn down an opportunity to get cash in the door.

We’re expecting more snow starting Monday afternoon. Admittedly, the predicted 2-6 inches of accumulation is nothing compared to the 40 inches we’ve gotten since February 3rd but I have to wonder: how long should I wait before I poke him about instituting an actual policy?

And, of course, I’m resisting the urge to ask if the Miami office will be open during the next hurricane warning.


  1. Wow.

    For comparison (in my “for profit” world, though sometimes it doesn’t seem that way), our official policy is that the executive team will declare the office closed and we have the option of taking a sick day or no pay. In practice, they’ve only done this once during four opportunities in the last few years, and that was not until 10am, after I was nearly at work. We take the “defer commitment” thing to a high art.

    Pay is in the second quartile. They do a lot of research to ensure they don’t pay above median. They’re proud of being cheap, though.

  2. I think you need to re-visit the company who offered you a job about 6-9 months ago.

    I must say – when the snow hit here, one of the nicest things about being unemployed is I didn’t have to deal with this. If municipal governments are saying, “Stay off the road, please stay inside,” I think it’s reprehensible for companies to ask staff in “non-essential” jobs to report to work. If I slide off the road into a ditch, are you going to take care of the repair bills? OF COURSE NOT.

    There’s a difference between looking for every loophole – “Oh look! A rain drop! I should stay home,” and “Acts of God and Mother Nature” that prevent business from moving forward. If the airlines are grounded, I’m grounded! And my pay shouldn’t be effected. Although I *like* to think I’m in charge, this proves I’m not.

    I’d be doing the same when the next hurricane warning hits. But then again, please note, “currently unemployed” … because sometimes I have/had a big mouth. 🙁

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