By Emilie DiChristina MBA for PracticeFirst
“Snowvember” and Your Medical Practice
If you were a medical practice in the South Towns or to the East of Buffalo your practice may have been adversely impacted by the recent snow storm for anywhere between 2 – 5 days.
So how did you handle the storm?
Medical practices, like all small businesses have to have a set policy for human resource issues causes by weather events. If you listened to the radio or the TV you heard countless people worrying about their paychecks due to missed days, and/or disciplinary action if they could not get into a business that was open.
So? What is your practice policy? If you were closed did you pay your staff? Did you require them to use PTO or vacation time?
It gets more complicated if your practice remained open, but staff could not get in because of weather, closed roads, states of emergency. What is your policy for paying those who really could not get in safely?
Do your policies match both Federal and NY State Labor Law? The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has guidance regarding payroll obligations and rights when bad weather affects employee attendance. This guidance particularly warns employers to exercise caution in docking the pay of exempt employees who miss work because of inclement weather.
Exempt Employees – Pay when an employer closes because of inclement weather is governed by The Fair Labor Standards Act which prohibits you from reducing the pay of any exempt employee based on the quantity or quality of his work or when he is ready, willing, and able to work but no work is available.
As a rule, the Department of Labor takes the position that employers that decide to close because of weather conditions must pay exempt employees their regular salaries for any shutdown that lasts less than one full week. The good news is that nothing prevents the practice from requiring employees, including exempt ones, to use accrued vacation time or other time off to cover the missed work.
As most medical practices are considered private-sector employers, they may deduct absence due to bad weather from an employee’s remaining vacation or leave time, whether the absence is a full day or a partial day, so long as it pays exempt employees their regular salaries for that time.
The bad news is that if an exempt employee has no time off remaining, she still must be paid her regular salary when the organization is closed because of bad weather for less than a week. The The DOL states that employers must pay exempt employees for weather emergencies even if employee has no remaining accrued leave available.
But what if your practice was still open and exempt employees couldn’t make it in to the office? The situation changes because even though the employee may experience bad weather conditions, if the office is open,she isn’t considered “ready, willing and able” to work meaning the basic FLSA rule applies: If an exempt employee fails to report to work because of inclement weather for an entire business day when you’re open for business, he may be docked that day’s pay. As a practical matter, many employers pay anyway or allow employees to use available vacation or PTO to cover the absence.
An employer that remains open for business during a weather emergency may lawfully deduct one full-day’s absence from the salary of an exempt employee who does not report for work for the day due to the adverse weather conditions.
Partial day deductions are not allowed, so the employee must receive a full-day’s pay for the partial day worked.”
Hourly Employees: Your practice can decide whether to pay non-exempt employees for snow days because the FLSA doesn’t have the same requirements as for Exempt Employees. You may allow or require non-exempt employees to use vacation or PTO to cover the absence, but that isn’t a requirement.
Work From Home?: With the advent of EMR and EPMs, there is some work that may be able to be done from home in the event of a weather emergency. But…what is your policy? Do you have secure VPNs to avoid potential HIPAA violations? What about the on-call schedule?
So it makes sense for an hour or so per day to be worked at home for an assigned receptionist or manager to call and reschedule patients – is this done in a secure fashion? How are your tracking staff time?
What about your transcriptionists or coders? Do you have a policy and VPN setup for that?
And then there is the on-call schedule. One person can handle call when there is receptionist triage, and patient appointments haven’t been cancelled, but what about the calls coming in from patients who may have been cancelled for an entire week and/or cannot be seen for a month or more after being rescheduled? What is your plan for secondary and tertiary call? What about pain scripts?
Accomodating Cancelled Patients: It is extremely important to have a plan to accommodate patients who have been cancelled, particularly when they may be post-op, or have time driven issues for medications, tests, etc. Will you expand your office hours until caught up? Can you add a Saturday or two?
In closing, it is important to have policies and a plan! Minimally, your plan should include:
- Annual review of your policies and practices so all of your employees understand how absences due to bad weather will be handled from a payroll and attendance-tracking standpoint.
- Information for employees and patients on how office or facility closures will be communicated and who decides whether to close or remain open;
- Policies for handling employees who are able to report to work but have children whose schools or daycare facilities are closed (can children be brought to work?)
- Which employees are permitted to work from home and what conditions apply (e.g., use of VPN, requirements for remaining available via computer or telephone);
- How eligibility for pay will be determined if you choose to pay employees who are unable to report to work because of bad weather conditions, even when the office is open for business and the law doesn’t require you to pay them (employees who’s regular commute would involve travel through a county where a snow emergency was declared or over roads that were closed by local law enforcement authorities)
- Whether non-exempt employees who miss work because of weather conditions and aren’t eligible to be paid may make up some or all of the time missed within the same workweek.<