Medical Practice Staff and Bad Weather: To Excuse or Expect Attendance

January 27, 2014

If I can make it to the office in bad weather, and patients can make it, when do I require staff to also show up vs. stay home?

Since I posted two weeks ago about the icy conditions that made getting to the office treacherous, we have had another snowstorm that made it dangerous for both patients and staff to travel.

The weatherman said that the snow would start in the late morning and would be done by evening. I got to the office as usual before 8 a.m. It was cold, but no snow yet. I saw a few patients and when I looked out at 10:30a.m., the snow was coming down. Quickly, there was a blanket of snow covering everything. I told my staff that if any afternoon patients called to cancel or reschedule, they could squeeze them in anywhere that morning, even during lunch if they had to. I said they could schedule them before my usual office hours on Friday; anything to get us out of there early. Instead of seeing patients until 6 p.m. that day, we were done by 2 p.m.

I told my staff to go home then. I stayed longer to catch up on paperwork and make phone calls. When I left an hour later, my usual 10-minute drive took half an hour. But that's nothing compared to one of my staff members whose 45 minutes drive took her over 4 hours.

Well, I don't know what time the snow finally stopped, because it was still snowing when I went to bed around 11 p.m. The next day, I got up at my usual time to go to work. I knew full well that there was over 10 inches of snow on the ground, and I was fairly certain patients were going to no-show or cancel, but there was still a patient on the schedule for 8 a.m. and I'll be damned if I'm not there when a patient trudges her way to the office for an appointment. As I was getting ready, one of my office staff texts me to say she'll be late because the roads are bad. What am I supposed to say? Yes, I want her at the office, but I also want her there in one piece. I told her to leave when it was safe and to drive carefully.

Now, as I said, I live close to the office, and the roads were surprisingly clear in our town, so I made it to the office with plenty of time to spare. And I needed it, because although our snow removal service plowed the parking lot and shoveled the walkways (mostly), the steps and ramps weren't salted or sanded. So as I spent some time doing that, wouldn't you know, a patient showed up. Several of the morning patients either no-showed or cancelled, but by mid-morning, most people had dug themselves out and the rest of the day was business as usual.

Now that was a really long introduction to what I want to ask, which is:

When do you tell staff not to come in because of weather conditions? Sure, there are times when it's obvious. Had the snow still been falling that morning and the roads were impassable, I would have told them to stay home. Had the patients cancelled the day before, there wouldn't be an issue. But just as last week I talked about what's best for the patients when the weather is bad, I also have to weigh what is best for the practice and safe for my staff. I wouldn't want them traveling in unsafe conditions, and since we live in different towns, I don't really know what their roads are like. On the other hand, while I got a lot of flack for not paying them for taking the day before the night before Christmas off (and I'm sorry, Christmas is the holiday, not pre-Christmas Eve), I am paying them despite the office closing for weather, therefore, weather-permitting, I want them here. If the patients can make it, and I can make it, they should too, although I will cut them some slack to allow for safe travel time.