Replace or Retain

Q. My hygienist just informed me that due to a medical problem, her physician has advised she not work for 6 to 8 weeks. She is my only hygienist and I cannot be without one for that long. Do I have to keep her position open? Although she meets performance expectations, her work is not extraordinary. I would like to advise her that I will not hold her position open for that long and start the process of hiring a new hygienist. Can I do this?

A. The question has to be answered from two perspectives, the pure legal and the human resource. Although you will find the answers divergent, you need to follow the H.R. answer, because not all that is okay to do legally, is smart to do from a business perspective.

The short answer is, yes you can do this. There is no law that requires you to hold a job open for an individual that who is unable to perform his or her job. (Unless you must comply with Family Medical Leave Act, which means you have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of each other).

The long, yet truly correct action is you should hold her job. Not because you have to but because it makes good business sense.

First, you want your employees to be loyal to your practice right? Well to receive loyalty, you must show loyalty. Although she is an average employee your action will resonate throughout your office. All of your staff will see how you treated her and will believe that this is how you will treat them if they find themselves is a similar circumstance. God forbid they become ill, get injured in a car accident, or have a sick child; they’ll be out of work, so why not look for an employer who will be more loyal.

Second, consider the cost of replacing her. Depending upon where you live, an employment ad will cost about $400 to $500. It will take you time, your time, to review the resumes, prepare for interviews, schedule interviews, conduct interviews, and conduct reference checks. Let’s say your time is worth about $75 per hour times about 20 hours, the cost of your time will be about $1500. Now you need new name tags, set her up on the computer, new uniforms, etc., each one with their own little price tag.

Third, the time it will take to replace and train her. Run the ad, receive and review resumes about two weeks. Schedule and conduct interviews, if you are lucky, one week. Conduct reference checks a couple of days. Make a job offer and wait the minimum of two weeks for her to give notice. We are now conservatively looking at 5 ½ weeks. After she starts, you need to spend a little time with her to allow her to get to know the office, the routine, a minimum of one week. Total time you were without a hygienist, 6 ½ weeks. Does it make sense to replace her?

Forth, and although I could go on I am stopping it at four, consider your patients. They develop relationships with their hygienist, just like they develop relationships with you. How are you going to explain to patients what happened to the old hygienist? Are you going to tell patients that she was sick so you fired her? How do you think you will be viewed by patients who will be more then likely be empathetic to the hygienist? Would you want to risk it? Even if you say nothing, the word will get out. Do you think this would reflect positively on you as a medical professional? Not the best public relations move.

I am not saying hold her job forever, but do hold it for a reasonable period of time. Do all you can to work with employees who may be ill or injured and unable to work for a short period of time, it will pay you back ten fold in good will with other employees and patients, as well as make good business sense.