High-Risk Employees in Your Optometry Practice During COVID-19
If there is anything we have learned throughout the pandemic, it's that navigating the rules during COVID-19 is no easy feat. There are unique, never-before-seen challenges to work with every day, including among your team. Managing your optometry practice can be difficult, especially if you have employees at high risk for COVID-19 working at your practice.
This can be a complex situation for both employers and employees. Read on to find out how to identify and manage high-risk employees without compromising your legal obligations as an employer in the optometry field.
Who is Considered a High-Risk Employee?
When it comes to COVID-19, "high risk" can include many people, including employees who are:
- Over the age of 65
- Diabetes sufferers
- Patients with cardiac or lung disorders
- Pregnant women
- Employees with mood disorders such as depression
Not all of the above-mentioned conditions are easy to spot, and some are even subjective, including those related to mental health. It can be difficult to know when someone is at increased risk and how you should handle it.
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How to Evaluate High-Risk COVID-19 Employees
The first step in identifying your employees at the highest risk is to ask those who feel they fall into this category to come to you privately to disclose this information confidentially. In some cases, they may come to you with a doctor's note. In other cases, you can request a doctor's note for your files, especially if you are unsure how to handle the situation.
The next step is to evaluate each case individually. Sometimes, it may not be very clear. Is the employee's mental health issue due to COVID-19 fear causing them debilitating stress? Impairing their ability to work safely, and compromising the health and safety of your optometry practice’s patients? You will have to learn how to address COVID-19 conflicts in your practice.
Is a Doctor's Note Needed?
For your optometry practice to run safely, you will want to know which of your team members is at risk. The doctor's note can clarify and make things much simpler for you. It is also required if the employee expected reduced hours, a leave of absence, or any other concession that isn't normally offered.
How to Manage High-Risk Employees in your Optometry Practice
The first thing to remember is that high-risk employees should be treated in the same way as other employees with regard to the application of your policies. That means you may not terminate their employment due to their high-risk nature, and should instead engage in the interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation will be needed. The employee’s primary care physician (PCP) would supply the written documentation of the condition along with any necessary accommodation.
For example, if the doctor's note specifies that an employee should work half their regular hours for a period of time, you must respect this and ensure the employee does exactly that in your optometry practice. Accommodation requirements, per the PCP generally should be granted unless the request places an undue hardship on the practice, and the burden of proof for that is high so we generally advise against pursuing that option.
Keep in mind that a high-risk employee cannot be and should not be penalized for their high-risk nature or for requesting an accommodation. In the case of mood disorders, they can be hard to diagnose, and the employee may not provide a note in their initial accommodation request, so it is critical to follow the appropriate steps so that you have the documentation and knowledge that you need in order to accommodate your employee.
You should consider asking the employee how you can help them navigate their work experience in your optometry practice throughout the pandemic. This can include working away from patients, or implementing other safety measures that help said employee feel at ease in the workplace.
Always Work Together
The safest way to ensure both you and your employee are protected is to try and work together towards an amicable agreement. You should also take care to put your verbal agreement in writing and have the employee sign as an acknowledgment that they received the agreement in writing.
It’s always best to try and work together to reach a solution that works for the entire team, rather than engage in a dispute. Of course, this is also a case-by-case issue, and different employees may need to be handled differently.
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If your high-risk employee is a valued member of your team and has provided excellent service to your optometry patients and other employees, then you should work to help that employee find the appropriate solution.
You can make concessions, like allowing them to do paperwork after the clinic is closed, so they do not come in contact with patients, or you may allow them to work a reduced schedule.
If you have an employee who needs accommodations like reduced hours, but it's affecting your optometry practice's business, can you successfully run your practice without them? Would you need to hire a temporary replacement? The answer is: It depends on the situation. Each case is unique, with different variables at play, and in most cases, letting go of a high-risk employee is risky, so be sure to contact HR for Health before you do anything. Dismissing a high-risk employee can lead to legal consequences for you. We can help you make sure you're respecting the entire body of law, so you don't compromise your practice — or your career.
Invest in HR Help
Managing your optometry clinic is difficult enough, especially during these challenging times. Handling HR yourself can be overwhelming — but with HR for Health’s automated, cloud-based features, we make it possible.
HR for Health automatically tracks leave of absence, including days out. Our software and team of expert advisors will also help you design a customized employee handbook — including attention to compliance with accommodation and state/federal laws. These are just two of the many features and benefits HR for Health provides to help scale your practice and insulate it from costly litigation.
Call g HR for Health today or book an appointment with us online. We’ll help you understand your rights and obligations as the owner of a private practice.