Now that most practices have been closed or have been working at reduced hours for 2-3 months it is necessary to review your vacation policies while considering your year end goals. You have a lot of patients with unscheduled treatment, due for hygiene and hours of work to catch up on. Additionally, many of your staff may have had "time off" due to restrictions but that doesn't necessarily mean it was a vacation.
Last year more than half of Americans hadn't taken a vacation in the previous 12 months with 42% not taking a single day off. That is an astronomical statistic! A lot of employees don’t feel like someone else can do their job and don’t feel comfortable taking time off. However, when we take time off, we are more productive when we come back to work. Part of team building is training others to take over your responsibilities when you are gone and making sure each employee has that set up.
Do you have a dental office vacation policy in place? If you don't, you need to and if you do this year might be a bit tricky. Vacation time is just one of the many dental employee benefits you should have outlined in your employee handbook. There are state and federal laws you must adhere to. With summer already here make sure to check with your state laws when creating and updating the vacation policy for your practice.
Elements to include in your time off/vacation policy are:
Differences between types of time off:
Sick days are exactly what they sound like. These are accrued, paid days off, that are allocated for days where the employees are sick and can’t (or shouldn’t) come into work. They're not planned days off. In the dental field, these are important days to have offered to your employees. You do not want a sick employee coming to work when you are performing dental procedures and cleanings. Bosses may require a doctor’s note for sick days, especially if there are a lot of sick days taken in a row. The average number of paid sick days a company offers in the US is 8. With the country reopening you must send your sick staff members home. Create a back up plan for when an employee might be sick, how can your team adjust and cover their work. Consider having more staff members available on call, and increase training so staff members can cover each others duties.
Some companies offer personal days that are different than sick days or vacation days. These are days an employee can use for personal reasons such as a child being sick, last minute emergencies, etc.. These are not planned in advance and most companies offer at least 2 days of personal leave.
Vacation time is a planned time where an employee will be away from their job. Vacation days can be accrued throughout the year or given all at once at the beginning of the year. Employers can regulate how far in advance they want their employees to request time off to make sure they can cover those shifts with other employees or plan for patient scheduling appropriately.
Different employers decide on how they will handle unused vacation time. Laws may require you to payout unused vacation time when an employee leaves the company. Some dental practices use a "use it or lose it" policy where if the employee hasn't used their vacation time by the end of the year, it doesn't roll over. Other practices will allow for vacation rollover but may limit it to a specific timeframe.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), "The number of annual paid vacation days workers receive varies with the worker's length of service. Below are some statistics:
- After one year of service, workers are most likely to have 10 to 14 days of paid vacation (38 percent).
- After 10 years of service, workers are most likely to have 15 to 19 days of paid vacation (39 percent).
- Workers with at least 20 years of service are most likely to have either 20 to 24 days of paid vacation (32 percent) or more than 24 days of paid vacation (29 percent). "
Holiday pay is up to the employer. There are no laws requiring a dental office to close on certain holidays, pay their employees more for working on those holidays (unless it’s overtime work), or paying holiday pay if the practice is closed. Most dental offices are only open 4 days a week, so many holidays fall on days that the practice is already closed. Whatever you decide, as the employer, it needs to be outlined in your employee handbook.
Bereavement leave is for when a death in the family occurs. However, there are no federal laws requiring employers to give paid or unpaid bereavement leave. Oregon is the only state that requires it. An employer can choose to offer bereavement leave but if they do not, an employee can use personal or vacation time to cover the time off.
The Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA, is in place for people needing to take an extended period of time off that falls under certain situations. This leave is not typically paid for by the employer unless they choose to, but it doesn’t protect employees from losing their job or benefits while away.
"Covered employers must grant FMLA leave for one or more of the following situations:
- The employee cannot work because of a serious medical condition.
- The employee must care for an immediate family member that has a serious medical condition.
- The birth and/or subsequent care of the employee's child.
- The placement and/or subsequent care of an adopted or foster care child.
- A "qualifying exigency" that arises out of the fact that the employee's spouse, child or parent is on active duty or has been called to active duty for the National Guard or Reserve in support of a contingency operation."
Time Off Request Notice Policy
You will want to have a well thought out time-off request policy that includes the amount of time needed when requesting vacation time. Remember, you cannot regulate sick or personal days to this same standard as those are not planned days off. Make sure to include a policy for employees who either aren’t eligible for paid time off or have used all their paid time off, personal days, and/or sick days. This unpaid leave could occur in the event of an emergency that doesn’t fall under the FMLA. As the employer, you have the right to grant that time off or not.
Eligibility for Paid Time Off
The standard for paid time off eligibility is for full-time (30hrs+) employees after 1 year of working at the company. At that point the employee earns a specified amount of paid time off to use the next year. One way companies can provide incentives for employee loyalty is to offer more time off the longer they stay with the company. This is usually done in 5 year increments but can be whatever you like.
Time Off Approval Policy
One of the most frustrating things for an employee is not knowing how time off is decided. Have an outlined vacation policy for your dental office in your employee handbook for how time-off requests are approved. Do you go with seniority: someone who’s been at your practice the longest gets first dibs? Or do you prefer a first-come-first-served approach? Either is fine, just make sure that your employees know what it is. If they feel you are choosing favorites, you are going to frustrate them and potentially lose good employees.
Whatever you decide, as the employer, make sure that you understand the benefits of having paid time off, the legalities involved, and how to make sure everyone knows the policies and procedures. Cleary communicate how to request vacation time in your dental practice, what the benefits are, and who is eligible for them in your employee handbook. Your employees will thank you for the clarity and ease of requesting time off.