Why we’re introducing Climate Leave: paid time off for extreme weather disruptions

The short version: At Fog Creek, workers get paid time off if they are impacted by the increasingly frequent disruptions of extreme weather and environmental conditions due to climate change. We hope other companies will join us.

Five years ago, we had a real wake-up call at our little company, Fog Creek Software. We’re headquartered in downtown Manhattan, and though most of our team is remote now, back then almost everybody was based right in New York City.

Superstorm Sandy hit us with full force in October of 2012. You probably know the broad details about Sandy, but our particular story was pretty unusual — our data center in downtown Manhattan was cut off from fuel, and keeping our customers running required days of heroics that culminated in a multi-company bucket brigade effort to carry generator fuel up 18 stories. Our team helped keep the lights on, and even took part in a short documentary film that was inspired by the episode.

It’s a striking story, but more important was the fact that much of our team was displaced, and many people had to evacuate—often bringing family, friends or pets along with them. We were reminded of those hardships as members of our team were forced from their homes again by the recent series of hurricanes that have ravaged parts of America. While there were of course far worse victims of these storms, and we’re extremely thankful that none of our colleagues were injured, it’s still incredibly important to us that Fog Creek be a company that supports its employees when they need us most. Investment in our people is the fundamental founding principle of our company.


Putting it in writing

What we found during the recent storms (and were reminded of as we warily watched the spate of wildfires that have caused so much destruction lately) was that, when our team members were forced to evacuate, we didn’t have a policy to support them. Now, of course, we did the right thing — we told our coworkers to get safe, take the time they need, and don’t worry about work while they’re putting family first. But as a CEO, I never want to be having to tell an employee, “trust me, it’ll be okay”, because taking care of employees means putting down our commitments to them and their families — in writing.

This is especially important because these situations of being displaced by weather or environmental conditions are only going to become more common. As a company, we’re already 17 years old, and we want to be around for many, many years to come, so we look carefully at official reports that explain we’ll see increasingly violent storms and increasingly destructive wildfires. The simple conclusion is that if we’re not committing to taking care of our employees during extreme weather events, we’re not fulfilling our responsibilities to our team. Our past policy of “trust us, we’ll take care of you” needs to be formalized for the same reasons that any other HR policy gets formalized: having it in writing protects workers.


Policy in practice

Once we made the decision to enact this policy, implementing it was relatively straightforward. We followed a few simple steps:

  • Our proposed policy is that employees can take up to 5 days of climate leave due to extreme weather each calendar year, and that any leave of greater than 5 consecutive days requires there to be a declared state of extended emergency, as determined by local officials in the employee’s region. This policy directly mirrors our policy of unlimited sick leave, with any absence of more than 5 days becoming short term-disability and requiring a doctor’s note.
  • The proposed policy was drafted by me as CEO, in consultation with our COO, finance and culture leaders, and presented to the entire company for review and comment. (Any policy change that affects compensation or employment agreements goes through our feedback cycle, where anyone in the company can offer revisions or ask for clarifications.) We did an advance briefing with team leads so they would know the broad outlines and be able to handle any basic questions that arose from their team members if needed.
  • We looked at the payroll and compensation tracking systems we use, as well as others on the market, and found that none offered explicit climate or weather leave (if you see a system that does track these things, let everybody know!) and decided to manually track any climate leave that’s used. Given that our team is still small and individual members are still relatively unlikely to be affected in any given year, we think this will be sustainable for our purposes for quite a while.
  • We’re planning to watch how the policy is used (and hopefully learn from examples of how similar policies are deployed at other companies) and iterate over time.
  • And of course, we’re working to do our part to reduce our impact on the climate as a company, as well. For example, our policy of being remote-first while paying for mass transit for employees in our NYC headquarters means that, in a typical week, there are zero car commutes for our employees. We’ll be evaluating more of our business processes to see how we can make substantive improvements in the future.

If you’ve got questions about how we’re implementing our Climate Leave policy, or examples that we can learn from of how other companies are addressing similar concerns, please do share.

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