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Creating a Medical Practice Holiday Policy: What to Include


Don't let lack of forethought regarding holidays harm morale at your medical practice. Here's how to create a smart holiday policy.

The holiday season in a physician's office can be fraught with frustration and hurt feelings. Most can be avoided by thinking ahead and clear communication.

A recent blog described a situation where a physician/owner and her staff were frustrated and disgruntled with plans for Christmas Eve office hours. The root problem was that expectations had not been clearly communicated. By the time the physician identified the problem, a reasonable compromise left them all feeling put upon.

An office policy on holiday hours would not necessarily have made everyone happy, but it would have eliminated erroneous assumptions and the resulting frustration.

The elements of such a policy should include:

Holidays when the office will be closed. Each office should observe holidays based upon its patient makeup, the preferences of the owner(s), and the composition of employees. A statement describing the rationale for the holidays chosen promotes employee acceptance of the selections.

Religious holidays can be a challenge in a multi-cultural society. There is no requirement to observe the special days of every religion, but it is important to list the specific holidays the office will observe. It is also wise to address the accommodation, if any, that can be made for a practitioner of a religion whose holidays the office does not observe.

Secular holidays present a challenge because some are more important to particular folks than others. To avoid confusion, list the specific holidays to be observed, and note that holidays not listed will not affect normal office hours.

Holiday pay. Each category of employee (salaried, full-time hourly, part-time hourly, and probationary) should be addressed.

This section should answer the questions:

Will staff be paid as if they worked on a holiday?

How will staff be compensated if they actually work on a holiday? Double time, triple time, and time off on another day are all options to consider.

Observed holidays that fall on a non-work day. These holidays can be observed by closing the office the day before or the day after the holiday. The holidays can also go without observance if they fall on a weekend.

Closing early before a holiday. For some holidays, it may make sense to close the office at noon the day before.

Additional time off around a holiday. Staff may want to take off additional time around some holidays, Your policy should address how that time will be charged, how many employees can be off at the same time, and if too many employees want the time off, how you will determine which time off requests are approved. The details of a policy are not as important as clearly communicating them.

Review the holiday schedule and policy in January of each year, and block out the schedule accordingly.

Additional holiday considerations:

Decorations and holiday greetings. This is another multi-cultural issue. Some physician/owners want strictly secular decorations and greetings because they want to be inclusive, or because their religion is different from that of their staff and most of their patients. Others are excited about what the holiday means to them and want to celebrate it.

To determine what's right for your practice, initiate a practice-wide discussion, and consider the sensibilities of everyone in the office and their sense of patient preferences.

Gifts from patients. Patients often fail to distinguish between a gift to the physician and a gift to the office. When it is unclear, the physician tends to assume the gift is for her, and staff assumes it is for the office.

The physician should always have first choice of what he wants to claim, but he needs then to take it home at the end of the day. There is little more irritating to staff than to see the doctor's office fill up with unopened and unshared gift baskets. Whatever the patient intended, it is always good to share at least some of the gifts.

The holidays should be a happy time for physicians and staff. Don't let lack of forethought and poor communication diminish that.

What additional tips would you share regarding effective holiday policies?

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