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Continuing with our series on employment benefits, let's look at eye care services for staff members. Obviously, since you provide eye care, you can provide a nice employment benefit to your staff at no direct cost. But it's best to define the policy clearly in writing so all staff understand and do not take advantage of the practice.
Most eye care practitioners provide professional services at no charge to the employee and possibly for immediate family members. Optical materials are often provided at the actual lab cost, although some practices provide a pair of glasses or supply of contact lenses completely free, and some may simply provide a discount off the usual price of materials rather than bother with tracking the actual lab cost.
The exact policy is up to you, of course, but I would design a benefit that employees feel is generous. Free eye care is a strong perk that comes with working for an eye doctor!
Fine tuning your policy
Here are some concerns to watch for:
Is there a limit to how many pairs of glasses or contacts that an employee can purchase per year at cost? Personally, I see no reason to have a limit as long as they are truly for the employee.
Can an employee purchase items at cost and give them away as gifts? Is there a limit on that?
Are family members allowed to purchase products at cost or at a discount and if so, how do you define family? Does it include parents? Step-parents? Half-brothers? Live-in partners who are not married? Does it matter if the employee lives with her parents or lives on her own? Children? Stepchildren? Husband's children living elsewhere? How you define the benefit may hurt someone's feelings, but not defining it in advance can take unfair advantage of the practice and having to reduce the benefit is more difficult.
Can employees accept complimentary eyeglasses or contact lenses from a lab, even if the lab will not provide that for all employees? Should the practice track usage of complimentary products?
Should employees report their usage of eye care services and products to management and if so, how?
How is the product cost paid by the employee? What system is in place to ensure charges are entered? Can the staff be allowed credit? What if they are slow to pay the balance?
A sample policy
Upon completion of a 30 day waiting period, eye care services will be provided to employees and their immediate families at no cost. Optical materials will be provided at our office's wholesale cost or complimentary when available from the manufacturers. Family members who qualify for this benefit are spouses and children under the age of 23. An employee's mother, father, brothers, sisters, and children over the age of 23 shall receive a 25% discount off of normal professional and material fees (contact lenses are excluded from this program and are not discounted).
Whenever an employee or family member receives eye care benefits at no charge or at cost, or at a 25% discount, a cost authorization form must be requested from the office manager. This form should be completed and approved by the manager prior to examination purchase or start of a lab order. The cost authorization form shall then be returned to the office manager's desk the same day that services are rendered.
All materials must be paid in full at the time of dispensing.
If any materials are to be received complimentary (or at special discounts) from a supplier, they must be ordered specifically for the employee and not taken from stock. The supplier must be willing to extend the same courtesy to all employees, or the materials cannot be accepted.
An important side point
Labs and suppliers who are willing to give free products to our staff are much appreciated, but it prompts me to mention the potential problem of key employees accepting gifts and rebates from suppliers. I recommend that your practice have a clear policy prohibiting this practice and requiring all gifts and rewards to be sent to the practice owner. You may then distribute the gifts in an equitable manner if you wish or keep the reward as a perk of ownership.
Many eye care practitioners have had the experience where they did not even know that a supplier was giving gifts to an employee who makes buying decisions for the practice, because the gifts are sent to a personal residence. There are obvious conflicts of interest with this reward system. Talk with your staff to be sure this isn't happening and review your policy with your sales reps.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.