Usually, when I see an employment policy manual from an optometric practice, it has the legal language one would expect from an attorney. These documents are long and complex. I don’t like that style of manual because it is often too difficult for anyone to actually use it. Part of the problem is that manuals like that are often adopted from a template and they are filled with general boilerplate information that could apply to any office.
I think you are better off writing your own staff manual and keeping it simple. Don’t try to cover every situation in your manual because you often take away your own flexibility for managing various problems. Once you put a process in writing, you have to follow it.
In each of the next few tip articles, I will focus on one topic for your employee manual. This week we will consider vacation and sick pay (or paid time off).
How do you decide on the policy?
This may seem like the tough part in writing an office policy manual, but it really isn’t that hard.
• For existing practices, you already have the policies. You are already doing things a certain way. Start with those policies and write them down. Remember rule #1 from last week is never take anything away from employees.
• Learn what typical employment policies are for other occupations. You want to be a good employer and you compete with other companies to attract good workers. Your practice is a company and your employees will compare the benefits you provide with those of their spouse or friends.
• Ask other ODs about their staff policies. I’ll share some of mine, but what others do is not necessarily smart or right for you. Some of my employment policies are remnants of what I decided when I opened cold in 1976. I definitely did not know what I was doing back then! Many of my policies have been updated, but some have remained because that is just how we do it.
• Decide on your own balance of cost vs benefit. Most employment benefits cost money and as CEO of your business, you must decide if you can offer the most generous benefits ever heard of or if you need to keep your costs low. Or you can be in the middle. This balance may change as your profits increase over time. Keep in mind that a great staff is a huge asset to your business. That is how you grow and become more profitable. You have to spend money to make money. Don’t be shortsighted.
Your policy for paid time off
Paid time off (PTO) is the new term for sick days, personal days and vacation days. There are other reasons for employees to be off work, such as educational meetings, jury duty and holidays. Using the PTO approach generally puts most of these days together with the idea that the company does not care how you use the days. The reason for the day off does not matter.
In my experience, most companies offer entry level full-time employees two weeks paid vacation and five personal days off. If we consider a typical work week to be five days, that would equate to 10 days of vacation. Personal days are days off for illness or for any purpose at all. If we call all of these days PTO days, the company would offer 15 days off per year.
Here is one PTO policy to use as an example:
The amount of PTO that employees receive each year increases with the length of their employment as shown in the following schedule:
• Upon initial eligibility the employee is entitled to 120 hours (15 PTO days) each year, accrued biweekly at the rate 4.62 hours per pay period.
• After 3 years of eligible service the employee is entitled to 160 hours (20 PTO days) each year, accrued biweekly at the rate of 6.17 hours per pay period.
• After 6 years of eligible service the employee is entitled to 200 hours (25 PTO days) each year, accrued biweekly at the rate of 7.70 hours per pay period.
Here are a few other points to consider with PTO:
• Indicate in your manual how employees should request PTO days that are planned (like vacation days). Does it depend on seniority? What if another employee in the same department already has those days off?
• Indicate the proper procedure for calling off sick. Who should the employee call? What time of day? Is it OK to leave a message or text?
• You may also want to specify what happens when all PTO is used up. You can also decide how many days off are allowed without pay. You could indicate in your staff manual that taking more days off than allowed is grounds for dismissal.
• Are employees paid if the office is closed due to an emergency, such as weather?
• Usually, paid holidays are separate from the PTO calculation. More on that to come.