I’m sure everyone remembers the wait by the radio—or these days, no doubt, the Internet search—for that magic number that signaled a snow day. As children, we are thrilled to bits by the unexpected (or eagerly anticipated) cancellation of school, the freedom to race about shrieking amid freshly fallen white stuff or huddle over the fire with a favorite book. As parents, the reactions become more complex: plans set aside competing with time spent with the kids; the reduced responsibility of being stuck inside, which brings its own kind of relaxation, versus the need to clear the driveway and the reality of work undone.
In my time, I’ve enjoyed both kinds of snow day. But for decades, I have worked from home. So after the Filial Unit departed for college, snow days became a thing of the past. As a salaried employee, what excuse did I have for skipping work merely because my employer shut down for the day? The stairs from my living room to my office remained clear of ice and blizzard, whatever gale howled outside. Unless the power went out—and with it the heat, which brought other problems—I soldiered on, convinced that was what professionals did.
Enter the change to the Fair Labor Standards Act enacted in 2016. The move to expand overtime led to my transition from salaried to hourly worker, as it did for many other employees at my institution. At first, I hated the change. I had never counted the hours I worked, answering e-mail on weekends or whenever it came in, working longer than usual to get projects ready on time, doing what needed doing when it needed to be done. Now I learned that I would be violating my contract by working more than reported as much as by working less—and, to twist the knife a little more, actual overtime, for various reasons, was unlikely ever to materialize. I grumbled like crazy.
But then, this week, I got a snow day. A Nor’easter barreled into the Eastern Seaboard and dumped snow and sleet from Maine to Virginia. My institution closed, and I received a message that I would be excused from work and paid for my hours. Ecstatic as the kid I used to be, I spent the whole lovely day writing chapter 23 of The Vermilion Bird (Sir Percy, bless his generous heart, took care of the snow, insisting that he needed the exercise). Turns out hourly pay has its advantages after all.
The ides of March have already come and gone, and the prospect of more snow days appears dim—although I don’t mind too much, as I much prefer the brightening sun. Easter break will arrive soon enough, and I plan a whole nine days of writing vacation then. But next year, I’ll be ready, and in the meantime you won’t hear any more complaints from me.
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