Make Sure Your Medical Practice Has a Time-off Policy

October 18, 2014

Last-minute holiday vacation requests can put a strain on your practice. Here are some ways to avoid the turmoil.

You have talked about going to visit your family in another state for months now. You've purchased your airline tickets, lined up care for your animals, and scheduled the house sitter. Then, it hits you. You forgot to submit for the time off at work. Panic ensues as you drive into work. You rationalize your arguments and have your speech ready to go. As you sit down and start your speech, your supervisor says, "No, you cannot take the time off." Now what?

It happens every year, and we always seem to talk about it after it's already too late. Let's do something else this year and be a little more proactive. In our department we have a 4-month, whiteboard calendar on the wall. Every employee in my department is required to submit for time off at least 30-days in advance, and write any time they will not be in the office on that calendar. Obviously, if they're sick or an emergency comes up, submitting 30-days in advance is irrelevant. But the idea is to have a constant visual reminder that if you are planning to be out of the office, it better be submitted and approved.

Something else to keep in mind if you allow a staff member to take time off: Do you have coverage for their job duties while they are away? Particularly the front office. That is a point-of-service position, and there must be someone present at all times.

Allowing everyone to take time off at the same time should never be allowed. As a business owner you want to provide your staff with much-needed time off, but you still have a responsibility to your business.  Running on a "skeleton screw" only creates stress and resentment for those left carrying the burden. Even if you have to hire a temporary employee for a week, it's well worth the cost of not losing practice revenue through short staffing.

As a business owner, you want to be prepared for all contingencies; here are some options to consider.

• Cross training. Cross training your staff can help them better understand the nuances and required skill set for front- and back-office positions. This can help with empathy too, once employees perform the functions of other positions. It will provide more respect for those duties.

• Seasonal contract position. Does anyone on your staff have college-aged kids home on holiday vacation who might want to step in to a "contract position" (meaning a 1099 at year's end) to fill in for a front- or back-office staff member?

• Per Diem staffing. You also have access to per diem staff members through various professional organizations and websites. Ask your fellow colleagues for a reputable one.

• Temporary staffing. As mentioned earlier, calling a temporary staffing agency is also a viable option. They have a variety of people to choose from, and can be available for as little as one day or over a month.

By refusing a time-off request, do you run the risk of losing your long-term, really-good-at-their-job employees? Well, sure. But you also have to weigh the risks versus rewards. If you tell one employee "no" and another one, "yes" then you have a big problem. It's best to have the time-off conversation with your employees today, if you haven't already; and be sure you have a well-written policy to back you up, because the holidays are just around the corner.