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MANAGING THE OFFICE

How to schedule employee vacations for maximum efficiency and minimum conflict

Ah, vacation. A time synonymous with sun, fun, and relaxation—unless of course you’re the manager of a busy medical practice trying to create the office vacation schedule. Yes, staff members need, want, and OK, deserve time off, but how do you plan for vacations without adding stress to your calendar and causing employee conflict?

Granting time off

How much time off employees get can be a source of grumbling, and when viewed in a global context, complaints appear justified.

American workers average 14 vacation days per year, while employees in France, Denmark, and Spain average 30 days per year, according to a study conducted by travel site Expedia.

You may not be able to change the number of vacation days awarded, but you can make sure a system is in place that allows your staff to enjoy their time off.

Smaller businesses, including medical practices, typically schedule vacations in one of two ways: based on seniority or by rotation.

Whatever your preference, it is recommended that you decide on an approach and stick with it. An employee who finally gets first dibs on choice vacation weeks based on rotation will be devastated if you suddenly schedule time off based on seniority. Likewise, staff members with longtime service may feel they are valued less if you no longer schedule based on seniority.

Even with a system in place, it can be difficult to satisfy every employee.

Avoiding conflict

Robin Thomas, J.D., managing editor of Personnel Policy Service, says her firm gets more questions about seasonal scheduling issues than any other aspect of vacation. She finds employers generally want to be flexible, but they also struggle with the fact that a lot of people tend to want to take off at the same time.

Summer is the most popular vacation time, followed by the year-end holiday season. One issue that comes up for working parents is they want to take off while their children are on vacation. And it’s not always simply a matter of preference. Thomas points out that for many people there is the very real obstacle of childcare arrangements, such as a week between when school ends and summer camp begins.

How a practice handles vacation issues can be challenging, and most rely in part on written policy. “I think vacation policies are among the most important to have. This is one of those policies every employee wants to know about,” Thomas says.

Thomas recommends covering key points in a vacation policy, which include:

–   how much time off an employee gets;

–   when the time off can be taken;

–   how an employee requests time off;

–   how vacation is accrued; and

–   what happens at termination.

Note the term “vacation policy.” Recent surveys conducted by two different HR member associations, WorldatWork and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), show more employers are moving toward Paid Time Off (PTO) plans, which combine all of an employee’s time-off benefits into a bank of days. However, Thomas advocates separating out at least any vacation from a PTO plan.

It’s easier to manage, she says, and also a lot cleaner if you have to deal with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

And there’s the issue of termination. In about a third of U.S. states, companies are required to pay out vacation at termination, Thomas explains. If a company includes vacation as part of a PTO, all the time accrued in the PTO is treated as vacation and must be paid when an employee leaves the organization.

Indeed, these are the reasons many employers still have traditional vacation plans.

Using allotted time

When establishing vacation plan criteria, the practice should also take into account how to handle unused vacation days. Depending on the state or states in which your practice operates, you may or may not be able to implement a “use it or lose it” policy. Be sure to consult state employment laws before adding any such stipulations regarding vacation usage.

Why, you may ask, would this even be an issue?

Consider yet another finding from the Expedia vacation survey: Although Americans on average were given 14 days vacation, they left four days on the table.


Editor’s picks:

PTO rollover: Is it required?


90 minutes of unpaid time off ends a bookkeeping nightmare


Use contract employees and temporary workers to solve difficult staffing issues


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