While the calendar may say that it’s technically still autumn, for many across the country, the weather is feeling a lot more like winter. Snow, sleet, rain, wind, and ice all play a role in how your practice runs. During times when weather may impact your practice, it is important to have policies in place and to keep the lines of communication with patients open. Wondering how to handle operations when the weather gets wild? Here are a few tips to get you started:
#1: Select a decision-maker
Any time your area experiences weather that makes travel difficult or results in school or business closings, you should carefully consider if your practice needs to make adjustments to your schedule. You may want to close the practice completely, open later than usual, or extend hours. Before a weather event hits, you should decide just who is going to make that decision.
Exactly who makes the call depends on the type of practice you have.
- For enterprise sized organizations, a weather-related closure will generally be made by an executive at corporation headquarters.
- For smaller, independent practices, the owner/doctor typically decides if conditions warrant a closure.
#2: Making the call
Once you know who should be making the decision, this decision-maker should carefully monitor all National Weather Service advisories, school-closing updates, news reports, and the announcements from local government authorities for guidance when considering an inclement-weather closure. Even with all of this information, ultimately the decision-maker should rely on their best judgment. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are roads in the area closed or difficult to maneuver? If a weather-related event makes it difficult for both patients and staff to arrive safely to the practice, it is wise to close for the day. If roads may clear up later in the day, you can consider opening later in the day and making some adjustments to your schedule.
- Does your facility still have power? Some storms can knock out power for days. If you do not have an automatic generator and your power is out, you will most likely need to close. Purchasing such a generator is always a good idea.
- How does your parking lot look? If your parking area looks more like an ice rink than a spot to leave your vehicle, your practice should not open. You do not want to expose yourself to potential lawsuits due to dangerous conditions.
#3: Keep employees in the loop
When weather is poor, you should reach out to all staff members to let them know the plan for the day. This is true whether you decide to close, open later than usual, or have business as usual. There are a few ways to do this:
- Phone call. If you have more than a couple of employees, calling each one can be time-consuming. You would be better off selecting a different form of communication.
- Text message. You should be able to shoot out a group text message letting employees know the status.
- Email or IM. Try sending a group message or email to let staff know what is going on.
#4: Outline financial expectations in advance
Every staff member should clearing understand what will happen to their pay in the event of a weather-related closing. Exempt and non-exempt employees have different standards.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-exempt workers must be paid only for the time they work. This means that you do NOT need to pay non-exempt employees during closure due to weather. If you decide to stay open, but the employee decides to not come in, you do not need to pay them for hours they do not work. If you close early, you only need to pay them for hours worked.
Exempt, or salaried, employees must be paid as long as they are willing, able, and available to work. This means that if you close due to weather problems for less than a week, exempt employees must still be paid. If your practice is open for business but the employee is unable to make to the practice, they are not entitled to compensation. If there are there for any part of the day (say you decide to close early due to the weather), you must pay them for the full day. You are allowed to require employees to use PTO to cover these days but if they do not have any PTO available, or that time runs out, you must pay them their full wages.
#5: Notifying patients
It's super important to stay in close contact with your patients during weather-related events. There are a few ways to communicate potential changes to your patients (and it's always a good idea to do more than one of the following):
- Text message
- Automated phone calls
- Notification on your website
- Post to social media sites
Be ready before the weather strikes. Create policies and processes to make sure no staff members or patients are left feeling frustrated and confused.
If you are a Solutionreach customer and want to know more about how to notify patients of changes in your schedule due to weather (or anything else, for that matter!), read the following article: