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Practice closed - required to pay employees?

November 2, 2012

In anticipation of the next question on everyone's mind, whether or not they have to pay their staff for a week off, prior to addressing, I have received the following from Employment Law expert and Judge, Ruth Kraft, Esq. -

Jennifer,

Thank you for providing such a productive forum.  I believe your readers would benefit from the following, which is why I am providing my thoughts on certain ramifications from this week -

For those practice owners who do not have an employee handbook or other policies and/or procedures detailing the practice's policies in the case of snow, flood or hurricane days (or inclement weather in general), then each individual practice owner will have to make their own decision on whether to count missed days towards vacation or personal days as opposed to paying.   You are under no obligation, legally, to pay hourly workers so long as you are not acting contrary to the practice's policies. However, at minimum, if your staff took home patient names and telephone contact numbers and spent time reaching them, this constitutes work and must be remunerated. If your practice has, unfortunately, sustained catastrophic destruction and will not reopen by next Monday, staff members will be eligible to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. In the event that you reopen on a restricted schedule, they may also be entitled to benefits. Every owner must make a personal, ethical decision as to whether to pay staff in the absence of an employment agreement or practice manual which addresses this situation. Additionally, I recommend that you consult with your insurance agent as to the terms of your business interruption coverage (and, if you do not have such coverage, that you discuss this with the broker) in terms of the broader issues involved.

Hurricane Sandy has presented unprecedented challenges to New York and New Jersey.  It does give medical professionals the perspective with which to consider a variety of issues to potentially better prepare for future, including:.

1. Do you have an emergency notification system to reach staff and patients in the event that the office is closed? 

2. If your office does not regain power, do you have any standing plans with colleagues who may be more fortunate in terms of sharing facilities in the short run?

3.  Do you have access to your medical records?  

4.  Do you have an emergency battery backup generator in your office to enable you to see patients? 

5.  Have you maintained one landline in your home so you can be reached even if you cannot recharge your cellphone? 

I recommend using this unexpected free time productively to consider what worked and what didn't and to plan ahead. 

For organizations accredited by the AAAASF or Joint Commission, remember that such planning is part of the accreditation process and you should note, in your monthly minutes, what steps you did take and any recommendations for improvement.

Best wishes,
Judge Kraft


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