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.
- It makes the employee aware of the true value of the services and materials, which leads to better appreciation
of the benefit.
- It keeps management aware of how often discounted products are purchased, which curtails abuse.
- It provides an easy record of the price charged for an item, so management can make sure the correct discount or
wholesale cost was used.
- By making the process more formal, we are certain that the charges are entered into the employee’s account and
paid for when they are delivered. There is a check box on the form as a reminder and indicator if charges were
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management