Optometric Management Tip # 163   -   Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Staff Eye Care Benefits

We all agree that it’s expensive to offer employment benefits to our staff, but one of the nicest perks that optometrists can offer, without breaking the bank, is eye care. Not only is good eye care important to everyone, but having your staff wear contact lenses, or fashionable frames with anti-reflective lenses, is a great way to promote eyewear to the patients they serve. But how do you decide what kinds of benefits to offer and how do you keep the policy fair to all?

Practice owners should sit down and develop an office policy for eye care services and products. If you already have a policy about eye care benefits, now is a good time to review it and update it, and make sure it’s in writing as part of your office manual. If your policy is fairly loose, it may be wise to make it firm. It’s too easy to forget the details and it’s important that all staff members receive benefits equally and fairly. Of course, how liberal to make the program is up to you, but here are a few factors to consider:

Define the discount

Since there is a cost of goods associated with eye care materials, and not with services, you may want to set a different policy for each. Many practices provide eye exams at no charge to employees, but might provide materials at invoice cost. Other practices will simply specify a discount off the usual and customary fees, and still others will provide some quantity of materials per year at no charge. In addition, many offices will extend free or discounted care to family members of the employee as well. Also, consider if part-time employees should receive the same benefit as full-time.

Define family members

If benefits are provided to family members, it’s important to list and define them in the office manual. There may be varying discounts as family members become more distant, such as 50% off for immediate family and 20% for other relatives. But exactly who is immediate? Anyone who lives in the household? Any age limit on children? What about stepchildren? Former spouses? Would you include parents of an 18-year-old employee as immediate family? If so, would you always include all children and all parents? What specific relatives qualify for the lower discount?

Set a policy for premiums and gifts

Many vendors provide free gifts and awards to accounts as part of their marketing plan. Allowing staff members to accept these gifts directly from the supplier may work in some offices, but I know it can be a source of trouble for many. It may be impossible to distribute gifts to all staff fairly and some company reps may directly reward key staff members whom they work with, but not others. Worse, they may give the gift privately. This could present a conflict of interest for the employee who makes buying decisions, if selections are made based on gifts rather than what’s best for the practice. My practice prohibits employees from accepting free gifts directly from company representatives, but rather all gifts and prizes are accepted by the practice in a centralized manner. Later, they are distributed to all staff in a rotational, free-choice manner, or in a lottery style drawing. We often save enough gifts for distribution to all during the holiday season.

Set a policy for comps

Another challenge can occur when employees go directly to a wholesale optical lab, frame vendor or contact lens rep and ask for free product for their personal use. In theory, it’s a nice perk when companies provide their accounts with some complimentary product, but I feel it should be provided to all employees equally. If our office policy is to provide products at cost to employees, but some of them have relationships with corporate representatives, an unfair situation can develop. I feel free product must be all or none, with the company willing to provide enough for all, with an eye on frequency and quantity, and the availability of the free product made known to all staff.

Approve and track usage

All of the nuances listed above point to the need for tracking and approval. That’s why my practice requires each employee who is receiving free or discounted goods or services to complete an “Employee Eye Care Benefit Form” in advance and have it approved by the office manager. The form is also completed if a family member is receiving eye care discounts. The form indicates the employee’s name, the date and a description of the service or product to be received. There is a place to record the usual fee and the price actually being charged in this case. These forms are kept in the employee’s file.

There are some nice benefits to this administrative record: All this accounting may seem like a lot of bother, but it’s one more step toward a happy and cohesive staff.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management