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My Office is Closed Because of COVID-19, Now What?

COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) has caused many offices to close their doors, with many states closing non-essential businesses and issuing shelter in place orders. While doctors, dentists, and optometrists are all considered essential, many organizations such as the CDC are urging these health professionals to cancel all routine procedures in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) and to conserve medical equipment that is currently in short supply.

So, what do you do now that your office is closed?  HR for Health helps walk you through your next steps. After all, we’re in it together.

Communicate During COVID-19 (the Novel Coronavirus)

Consistent communication with your patients during the pandemic now will help to ensure a smoother transition back once your office reopens.  Keep your patients informed of the date your practice will re-open but be sure to include a disclaimer that the date may change based on any new guidance.  Reassure your patients that you are committed to their health and safety. Let them know of any changes they can expect once your office reopens (i.e. appointments spaced further apart, any new safety precautions, etc.).  This will help to reassure that you are in fact making your patients and staff health and safety a priority.

Right now, there are loads of stories out there on people showing kindness to those in need.  If your practice is doing anything to support the community, this is a great time to post to social media.  This keeps your practice at the forefront of their minds, but also shows that you care and are doing what you can to take care of the community.  Are you providing supplies, such as face masks or gloves, to nearby hospitals? Donating to food banks? Volunteering remotely?

Keep Your Staff Informed

If you’ve laid people off, you’ll need to consider whether you’ll be able to bring back your full team or not.  And if you can’t bring everyone back, you’ll need to determine who to bring back. Some factors to consider when making that determination are tenure/seniority, skillset and schedule availability. You’ll want to ensure these decisions can clearly be linked back to business reasons, and not something that could be misconstrued as a discriminatory reason. Not everything is cut and dry and you may have some questions such as if you have employees on disability or who are on pregnancy leave which ends before your practice opens again, do you have to offer their jobs back during this time of uncertainty?  Finally, you’ll need to consider whether you’re going to be phasing people back into work (i.e. front desk for appointment scheduling, clinical only when open, etc.).

Check out our article on COVID-19 Employer Obligations & FAQ to discover some answers to frequently asked questions.

Professional Development Opportunities

Turn your down time into an opportunity to work on certifications or other continuing education.  A closed office means there’s plenty of time to work on your CE and/or harassment training for the year.  Many organizations are offering reduced pricing for continuing education and certification courses. 

You can ask your employees to partake in this free training, however, you’ll need to take their employment status into account since time spent on mandatory training needs to be compensated.  For instance, if they are currently receiving unemployment benefits , they will need to report any wages earned during the unemployment benefits period to your state’s unemployment department. If you had laid employees off, then you should not ask them to do the training as they would need to be an active employee to receive pay or training from the practice. 

Consider Economic Relief Options

If you haven’t already, now is the time to look into which economic relief packages are available to your business.  The government is working on relief packages for businesses that your office may be eligible for. Your certified public accountant (CPA) and attorney are great avenues to ask about the latest offerings and what your office may be eligible for.  Organizations such as the ADA are working to provide relief.  In addition, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) small and midsize employers can take advantage of two refundable payroll tax credits which were designed to fully reimburse employers, dollar for dollar, for providing COVID-19 related leave to their employees for qualifying reasons under the FFCRA.

When meeting with your CPA or attorney some things you’ll want to consider bringing are your payroll records, YTD reports and PPP application. Additional resources for practice owners are available here.

Get Your HR House in Order

Now is a great opportunity to review your handbook and decide if the policies you have in place are serving you when you have to use them.  Some areas you’ll want to pay particular attention to are: 

  • Vacation/PTO
  • Sick Leave - Including how sick leave will be reinstated once the office is reopened, according to your state’s requirements.
  • On-Call Policy
  • Separation of Employment PTO Payout Policy, according to your state’s requirements
  • Mandatory Meetings and Training (including the rate of pay for training)

If you don’t have a rate of pay defined in your employee handbook for mandatory meetings and training, then you’ll have to pay the employee’s regular rate of pay.  If you’d like to define a separate rate of pay, you’ll want to update your handbook before this goes into effect, which we advise doing at least two weeks prior.  Included in this portion of your handbook should be an explanation of what exactly mandatory training is versus voluntary so as to prevent any confusion down the line.

Prepare to Reopen

While you’re waiting for the okay to reopen, this is a great time to conduct a job analysis, reviewing employee classifications (exempt v. non-exempt, independent contractor v. employee) and verifying the accuracy of job descriptions.  Review and maintain any documentation regarding recent staffing changes including schedules, duties, rate of pay, etc. as well as a temporary remote work policy. It is very likely that once your office reopens, you’ll be busy. Do you have a way for patients to easily schedule appointments online?  This is the time to consider whether there are other steps that you need to take to get your practice ready to reopen as well.

Conduct a Full HR Assessment 

You should also take some time to conduct a full HR assessment, shoring up your policies and compliance.   For example, if you have to rehire your team, do you have all 12+ federally and state mandated new hire documents?  HR for Health is on standby to answer any questions you may have as you go through your assessment.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the nation, use this time to your advantage.  Finding the time to go through all of this during a “normal” workflow can be challenging and once operations resume, you’ll likely find yourself busier than before trying to play catch up.  You don’t have to work through all of this alone. Book some time with one of the HR for Health consultants to help you with any handbook reviews and/or updates or your HR assessment.  After all, we’re in it together.

We provide services to help you handle compliance with state laws, hiring, and all your other HR needs.  If you have questions about managing your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic or any other questions, please reach out to us and SCHEDULE A CALL, or call: 877.779.4747, or email: compliance@hrforhealth.com

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. HR for Health has provided the following complimentary articles to ensure you have a game plan when addressing complex HR matters.

Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services

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