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PTO gives unquestioned days off plus a bank for catastrophes

The standard days-off policy has two downfalls, says the office manager of a six-physician, 16-staff office in North Carolina. One is that it isn’t fair, because some people abuse the sick leave and turn it into extra vacation days. The other is that keeping track of how long each person has been out and for what is a nightmare. So the office manager moved to a paid-time-off policy that gives staff a certain number of hours to use however they want. It also allows them to build up time in a catastrophe bank.

For the first five years of employment, staff get 160 hours per year, or 20 days of sick and vacation time. After five years, they can add eight hours per year up to a maximum of 240 hours, or 30 days. Newcomers don’t get any time off for the first six months. However, they are earning the time and therefore have it available for the remainder of the year.

To keep everybody on a January calendar, the time is prorated so that someone who starts in January gets the full 160 hours beginning in July, but somebody who starts in, say, April, gets only 120 hours at the beginning of September. That’s a large number of hours for the remainder of the first year, but staff can carry over up to 80 hours into the next year.

Staff can also put their unused hours into a catastrophe bank, which pays when someone has used up all the other time and encounters serious illness. The bank holds a maximum of 240 hours, or 30 days, which is the wait time for disability insurance. Thus, anyone who has to go on disability can have uninterrupted paychecks. When the office moved to the new system, some staff had vacation time left over from the previous year, so that went into their catastrophe bank accounts.

There’s also a provision for staff to get paid for unused time. After someone has 240 hours in the catastrophe bank, the office will pay for up to 80 hours a year – but at a rate of 50% of the staffer’s current hourly pay.

Staff like the program because they don’t feel they have to give a big long explanation of why they want a day off. All they have to say is, “I need a ‘me’ day.” Except for unexpected sick days, they need to give only a day’s notice, and as long as someone can cover the position, time off is granted.

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