Dealing with Staffing Issues and Bad Weather

For many companies, when staff can’t make it to the office due to inclement weather, business continuity can be managed with flexible scheduling and/or the ability to work from home. Unfortunately, this isn’t really an option in the veterinary industry. With some advanced planning and maybe a little bit of creativity, however, you can keep your team safe while minimizing disruption to your day-to-day operations.

First, know where you stand from a legal perspective.

Generally speaking, you are not legally obligated to compensate team members who cannot come into the clinic due to adverse weather conditions – that is, unless they’re employment contract states otherwise. Keep in mind, however, that if you make the decision to close the clinic due to the conditions, you will likely be required to pay any staff members who are on salary or guaranteed a certain number of hours. In any case, employment laws and regulations vary by location, so it would be wise to consult with a legal expert, just in case.

Next, decide where you stand personally on compensation.

Even if your legal representative advises you that you are not obligated to pay employees who choose not to come to work, it’s up to you to determine what your inclement weather policy is. Many practice owners choose to still pay staff in these situations, as doing so can keep morale up and improve retention. It also demonstrates that you genuinely care about the safety of your team, which can go a long way toward trust and loyalty.

Keep in mind that taking this approach can sometimes become problematic, however. For instance, paying absent employees could lead to lack of motivation to come in any time the weather is questionable. This can cause a strain on the staff members who are dedicated enough to come in, burdening them with extra work and causing resentment amongst the team. Recognizing and rewarding those who make the extra effort to brave the elements and come in can help to minimize this risk.

Make sure you’re fair and consistent.

Whatever policy you choose to implement, make sure that you are consistent and fair with your employees, both on an individual basis and as a team effort. If you pay employees for one incident and then refuse to compensate them for another, it can cause frustration and mistrust. Establish some ground rules and then stick to them.

Likewise, make sure that your policy is fair to everyone on the team. For instance, if you allow extra leeway to employees who must arrange childcare due to school closure, failing to offer the same type of flexibility to team members who don’t have dependents could lead to animosity and, ultimately, higher turnover.

Be realistic and plan ahead.

In reality, if the weather conditions are bad enough to prevent your staff from making it into the clinic, chances are most of your clients will face similar issues and end up canceling their appointments anyway. As such, you may be perfectly capable of running the practice on a skeleton crew. Furthermore, if you know in advance that inclement weather is anticipated, reviewing your calendar and rescheduling some of your appointments can help alleviate the burden in the event that some team members can’t make it to work.

Another viable option is to plan your staffing based on their proximity to the clinic. In other words, you could designate a “bad weather team,” which is comprised of only the employees who live closest to the clinic. Planning ahead and rescheduling any non-urgent appointments should make things more manageable for the smaller crew. Just be sure to find ways to reward and compensate these employees accordingly, whether it be giving them extra time off or rewarding them monetarily. 

Lastly, formalize your policy and communicate it with your staff.

Whatever approach you choose to take, make sure you memorialize it in a formal policy and communicate that policy clearly and regularly with staff. Ideally, your team should be well aware of their options in advance of any type of disruption, so they can make appropriate arrangements accordingly. You should also specify that any abuse of the policy may result in disciplinary action. This way everyone will be on the same page, there won’t be any unpleasant surprises, and you’ll be able to minimize the impact on your practice if and when inclement weather does occur.

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