Taking Control of Your Time Off Policies

At CEDR, we help our members craft time off policies and find vacation scheduling solutions on a daily basis. We often find that business owners aren’t sure what they’re allowed to do, and aren’t sure what others are doing. This is a big way that we help out thousands of business owners each year. Here’s a situation that we’ve helped dozens of business owners deal with:

I recently purchased a dental practice and have been trying to maintain many of the prior owner’s policies, to give the employees consistency. I’m OK with the amount of PTO I’m offering, but really struggling with the time off scheduling rules. The employees are used to picking out their time off for the year in advance, but it seems like I’m stuck with scheduling my vacation around my assistants, hygienists, and admin staff. Is this a common PTO practice, or should I be doing something totally different?

This is definitely not what anyone should be doing. While it is fairly common to have PTO days planned out in advance, particularly for your providers, the owner getting to pick their own vacation days should be a minimum perk of ownership. When it comes to PTO policies, there are a lot of options to consider, and most of those options are really about the owner controlling the schedule rather than handing over that control to the employees.  And if you are giving paid time off to your hygienists, and planning your own life around their vacations, you’re really running against the fold.  Hygienists who are paid on commission often don’t get paid time off benefits, or get them at rate of pay that’s below their productive rate. It takes finesse to get this to balance so that the employee feels it is fair, but it’s important to consider.

We do need to provide a general caution that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not only does the owner need to be happy with the policies, but so do the feds. Some states have strict rules about sick time, vacation, and PTO, and as of this writing there are over 25 jurisdictions (states, cities, and even counties) that have mandatory sick time rules. If you lump it all together as PTO, you’ll be “infecting” your vacation time with all the sick time rules. This includes not being able to request advance notice of using PTO, and not being able to ask for doctor’s notes. So please don’t simply copy your friend’s policies, and don’t try to come up with a solution based on something you read on the Internet (including this – call us first!).

Here are some options for taking control of PTO plans in your office:

  • Plan your time away first
  • Block out dates when staff can’t take time off
  • Don’t allow employees to double book vacations over one another
  • Employees should be submitting time off requests that require your approval. And, they should know that you can later revoke it – not ideal, but this can come up.
  • Limit the total number of consecutive days they can take off at one time
  • Control the time off increments. For example, require them to take time off in full or half-day increments.
  • Control whether time off can be tethered up against other time off like holidays

An entirely different option is to require everyone to take time off when you do. This is convenient for businesses that don’t have associate doctors. If no one is producing while you’re away, you could simply close the office. Our members who have the most success with this are those who make vacation planning a collaborative effort with their team. You aren’t likely to have a unanimous vote on when to close, but making the employees feel heard is important. The most common problem this presents is that each person’s life does not typically work out in the time off blocks you picked. Making this a success can mean having scheduled office-wide vacations with 2 days left as floating days – “traditional” PTO days that the employees can request to use as needed.

It can be extremely difficult to come in as a new owner and tell the employees that all their schedules and benefits are changing. Trying to maintain consistency can be helpful, so it was a good move to maintain the PTO benefits. But after six months or a year, you may discover that the prior owner’s way simply doesn’t work for you, or perhaps it wasn’t even legal. The good news is that once you’ve been there for awhile you have better rapport with your staff, making it easier to introduce change. Remember that before you do anything, you should work with a professional, like a CEDR Solution Center Advisor, to make sure you’re in compliance.



Nov 27, 2018

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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