Last week, I posted on how private employers are not bound by what the state government does in terms of sending home employees early for snow storms.  But that doesn’t mean that private employers ignore what the government does.  Many will send employees home when the state tells non-essential workers they can leave.

Yesterday’s snow storm, which dumped a foot of snow, was a prime example of that. Around the same time that the Governor allowed all non-essential workers to leave around 12:30 p.m. yesterday, the largest private employers in Hartford followed suit — sending their 85,000 employees onto the streets.  That dismissal led to gridlock for much of the afternoon with 20 minute commutes taking over two hours.  (Who’s to blame? Probably everyone, since the storm’s intensity was hardly a surprise.)

With a lack of formal authority over private employers, Governor Rell late today tried a different approach — public pressure. According to a press release she issued today:

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced she has written to the heads of the 12 largest private employers in Greater Hartford, asking them to join her in a new system to coordinate their early releases of employees when inclement weather threatens the region. …

“Any employer wants to make sure their employees get home safely when a storm of Thursday’s magnitude strikes,” Governor Rell said. “However, it is critical that all of us – the state and private companies alike – coordinate our decisions when it comes to early dismissals.

“I am asking the major Hartford-area employers to join with me in coordinating these releases so – first and foremost – we can make sure everyone gets where they need to be in the safest and quickest way possible,” the Governor said. “These coordinating calls will also help us minimize the disruption to highway preparation and clean-up. I am asking each company to designate a person to work with my office on this effort, which I want to become a regular feature when big storms hit on work days.”

The companies contacted by the Governor employ a total of about 85,000 people, while about 35,000 of the state’s 55,000 employees work in Hartford County.

If large private employers are going to follow the state’s lead in shutting down their offices (or use the decisions as a guidepost), then the Governor’s request is a reasonable one. 

However, private employers should be wary when the government intrudes on their business without any legal authority to do so.   A request to stagger dismissals can have an impact on a company’s bottom line and employee morale. Do you think employees will "understand" that they can’t leave work for an hour to allow others a head start? Employers will bear the brunt of an employee’s frustrations.

I’m not advocating that the rules regarding private employers be changed to give the Governor that authority either. Ultimately, these types of decisions are best handled on a case-by-case and employer-specific basis.  There is a always a slippery slope (to use the phrase of this snow day) that is created when private employers start listening to "recommendations" from the Executive Branch — no matter how well-intentioned.

Getting information on what others are doing can certainly help efforts; a simple website or e-mail chain would suffice. Anything further just seems an additional step that most employers would probably prefer to avoid.

(Hat Tip: CT News Junkie)