A month ago, we published our blog post “PFG’s Employment Guide During COVID-19 Crisis.” At the time, offices across the country were shutting down. Now, after a month in hibernation, dental practices are slowly beginning to reopen, bringing a whole new set of questions and concerns.
First, let me disclaim the obvious: we are not HR specialists. On our team, we have eight CPAs but not one CPA-level organizational behavior person. Fortunately, there are many smarter than me in this area who are sharing a lot of good information and ideas on the topic of human resources.
For example, HR for Health is sponsoring a webinar tomorrow (Wednesday, April 29, 2020) to address this very topic. We will be tuning in; I recommend you do the same if you can (Register Here). Please note that registration is limited to the first 3,000 registrants.
Bent Ericksen & Associates is another great resource providing HR services to dentists. We have found their FAQ page particularly relevant and useful (https://bentericksen.com/coronavirus-faqs/). And this isn’t an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other HR firms that are experts in this area.
Having said that, I am a business owner. I have employed at least 30 people over the past 10 years; I have made a lot of mistakes during this time and learned a few things. During this very important time in the life of your business, as a friend let me share some thoughts that might help you.
The first and most common question we are getting is how to deal with employees who do not want to come back to work. Here are a few of my thoughts:
- You are not entitled to loyal, hard-working employees. You need to earn loyalty. You do this by showing, over time, that you genuinely care about your employees and that you appreciate them. Don’t expect that when the office opens you can snap your fingers and everyone will be lined up shouting in unison, “reporting for service, sir!” This does not mean you have to be a pushover (pushovers are not good leaders). It does mean that you have to respect and care for them.
- Make a plan to open the office and communicate the plan to your team generally; make sure you address these questions:
- When will you open?
- How will you keep your employees safe?
- How will you keep your patients safe?
- Meet with each of your employees individually. I highly recommend an in-person meeting. If that is not possible, use Zoom or FaceTime. Review the plan with each individual employee and ask if he or she has any questions or concerns.
- Let them know that you will need an [assistant] and you would like the person to resume her role in your office starting on (date). I might say something like this: “Jennie, we’re opening our office on Monday and I’m going to need an [assistant]. I would love for you to resume your position. How do you feel about that? Do you have any concerns coming back to work?”
- *Resolve concerns. Make sure you listen and really understand where she is coming from (ask more questions and then listen again) before you start “resolving.” Is the concern money? Her health and safety? Her children and their care?
- Express excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to work again (what a blessing!), and for her role on your team.
What if your employee does not want to come back because she is receiving more money from unemployment than she would working for you?
How you deal with this concern will be different for each person, just as the real motive behind the concern may be vastly different from one employee to another. For example, one person may be lazy, while another may not be able to afford the daycare required if she works.
Here are some ideas that might be helpful:
- Do not get upset or resent this person. If you were in her shoes, with her life’s experiences, you would probably do the same thing, or worse.
- Look in the mirror. Are you really paying a fair wage with fair benefits for the work and skill level required?
- Talk about her position in your company assuming COVID-19 did not exist: is this the best position at the best pay she can get? Can you provide the best professional opportunity for her?
- Help her think long-term. These lucrative unemployment benefits will not be around much longer. When she is ready to work, she will be entering into an applicant-saturated job market.
- Let her know that her job working for you is available now; if she doesn’t take it, you will be forced to hire someone else in her place. This isn’t a threat, it is the reality of the situation.
How about paid leave for employees who are caring for children at home?
If you have an employee that is willing to go back to work but cannot because they need to care for their child, you may be required to pay them under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (“the Act”). Again, be sure to meet with each employee to discuss your plan for reopening to understand and resolve any concerns they may have – including childcare. If you pay the family leave, the wages you pay them will be included in the forgiveness portion of the PPP loan. If you did not receive PPP funds, they will be refunded to you through a payroll tax credit. The wages mandated by the Act are as follows:
- Paid Sick Leave:
- 2/3 of the employee’s normal wage (up to $200 per day) for the first two weeks. (based on average weekly hours before COVID-19)
- Family Medical Leave:
- 2/3 of the employee’s normal wage (up to $200 per day) for the next 10 weeks (capped at $10,000 total)
Work with myPay to enter the correct hours under the correct wage item if this scenario applies to you. This will allow you to get the wages refunded through the payroll tax credit on your next quarterly payroll report (6/30/20).
In addition to working with myPay, be sure to keep clear documentation, including:
- The name of your employee requesting leave
- The date(s) for which leave is requested
- The reason for leave
- A statement from the employee that he or she is unable to work due to caring for a child whose school or normal place of childcare is closed
- The name of the child being cared for
- The name of the school, place of care, or childcare provider that has closed or become unavailable
- A statement from the employee that no other suitable person is available to care for the child
Can I be exempt from the paid sick and family leave requirements?
Hopefully, you will be able to work out a solution with each of your employees for re-opening your practice and going back to work. If you are in the position where an employee cannot work due to childcare, and you feel that you cannot afford to pay the leave, you may be exempt from the paid leave requirements. The key to exemption is that paying the leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.” As the doctor and owner, you will need to decide whether this applies to you. Again, we strongly recommend you speak with an HR specialist if you believe this exemption applies to you or if you have questions. Remember, this is a new law and therefore there is no precedence in court proceedings on how this will play out. If you believe you will be exempt, document all your reasonings in real-time.
A business may be exempt from the sick pay requirement if it meets any one of the following three criteria1:
- The paid sick leave would cause the business’s expenses and financial obligations to exceed available business revenues and cause the business to cease operating at a minimal capacity. (Translation: paying this person would put you in the red).
- While you may not be collecting much now, this exemption is applicable when you open and patients start filling your schedule. Can you argue that the pay to employees is more than the revenue you’ll receive on those procedures performed? What is minimal capacity?
- The absence of the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded FMLA would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the small business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business or responsibilities. (Translation: the person requesting is a key employee and you can’t work without her or him).
- Can you perform hygiene? Does that mean a hygienist’s specialized skill can’t be replaced? How about an EFDA? Front office/office manager? If none show up, would that put the business in a substantial risk from an operational capability to go bankrupt?
- There are no sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified to perform, when and where needed, the labor or services of the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded FMLA, and the labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at minimal capacity. (Translation: if the person doesn’t come to work, you can’t operate your business).
- Can you hire a willing and qualified replacement?
We will continue to provide guidance as circumstances change. Once again, we recommend that you reach out to an employment/HR specialist for more guidance around these issues. If you have any questions, recommendations, or helpful information, please email us at email@example.com.
1From California Dental Association Website: https://www.cda.org/Home/News-and-Events/Newsroom/Article-Details/small-business-exemptions-to-covid-19-emergency-leave-expanded-fmla-clarified