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READER TIPS

90 minutes of unpaid time off ends a bookkeeping nightmare

A Kentucky medical office manager has devised a method to control time off, focusing on making the paperwork easier.

Keeping track of 45-minute appointments or an hour of personal leave is a bookkeeping nightmare, says the administrator for a five-physician women’s care clinic. And it’s especially difficult for a large practice such as hers, which has 26 staff. So she combined vacation, sick, and personal leave into a single pool of paid time off and made it a rule that the time could be taken only in four-hour increments.

But there was a hitch: nobody wanted to use a full half day of leave on a short appointment. The solution was to allow a 90-minute window in the early morning or late afternoon that staff could take without pay for appointments. It was limited to the start and finish of the day because, as she points out, “everybody is slow getting going in the morning” and because the late afternoon is usually not the most productive time, making those hours easiest to cover. The actual time depends on a staffer’s hours, but for most it’s before 10:30 a.m. or after 3:30 p.m.

There’s no limit to the number of times staff can take the unpaid 90 minutes. However, there are three rules. One is that the time can only be used for valid absences such as appointments. The second is that the time has to be approved beforehand. And the third is that the staffer must bring a note from the doctor, dentist, attorney, school, or whatever explaining the absence. All of this prevents abuse.

The administrator is strict on monitoring the time. If a staffer’s appointment runs late and requires an absence of more than 90 minutes, the time gets counted at the full four hours of PTO (paid time off). The office might give leeway of five minutes, but that’s rare. She has found that staff most appreciate the unpaid leave for repeat brief appointments. One staffer, for example, used it for physical therapy appointments three times a week. Others use it for school appointments or for taking their children to appointments.


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