PROACTIVE PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
 

Should I compensate my employees for continuing education courses away from our hometown? How about courses in town? What if they choose not to attend CE courses that I subsidize and ask for them to attend?

    The issue regarding pay and travel for continuing education comes up quite a bit, and since there is no “rule” or industry standard, a dentist or employer should consider an approach based on what the business can afford financially. Once a policy is initiated and the protocol set, commit it to a formal written document, and have each member of the staff acknowledge and sign off agreement with the policy. Finally, include this document as part of the office’s personnel policy manual.

    A general “rule of thumb” to follow is if an employee is required to attend a lecture, meeting or training seminar, the employee should be reimbursed for his/her time.

Situations in which paying for the employee’s time would be an option are:

  • The employee chooses to attend a CE event, which is not required, outside of his or her regular working hours.

  • Attendance is voluntary.

  • The instruction session isn’t directly related to the employee’s job.

  • The employee doesn’t perform any productive work during the instruction session.

How much should I compensate my employees for Continuing Education?

    When the team is required to participate in continuing education either during regular working hours or outside the normal schedule and they are not creating revenue, compensate employees at a Continuing Education, or CE, rate of 50% of their regular pay. Each employee will be responsible to note on his/her time log the hours that are accumulated for CE, and travel time if away from the office. If an employee is salaried, their compensation remains the same, regardless of when the continuing education course is in session.

    For hygienists and employee dentists, I suggest offering to help pay for courses they need to complete their requirements, but not compensate them for time spent while at the course. Require pre-approval of the course, and offer full tuition reimbursement of up to $200 annually for hygienists, and use your own discretion as to how much reimbursement you wish to make available for employee dentists. This is optional, and is dependent upon the employer and budget. In reality, the employer is assisting in keeping employee dentists and hygienists up to date with CE and licensure compliance, which is ultimately the responsibility of these professionals, and in turn they accept the day off without pay.

Continuing Education Away from Home

    For continuing education courses where travel outside of the immediate metropolitan area is necessary, and the course takes place outside the normal business schedule, consider these guidelines:

    The employer will pay course tuition, travel expenses including airfare, ground transportation to and from the hotel, lodging, any meals sponsored by the employer, and a $40 per day allowance for supplementary expenses to each employee, including hygienists. The per day allowance will also help cover gas to and from the airport. Transportation from home to and from the airport will be the responsibility of the employee. If group shuttle arrangements are more reasonable and accommodating, then the employer may elect to arrange and pay for group transportation. Under these circumstances, wages for hours worked will not be paid.

    When a significant investment in continuing education and travel is made on the employee’s behalf, I suggest considering a policy where the employee agrees to remain employed with the office for a period of one full year after the course is completed. If the employer terminates the employee because of a violation of company policy, or the employee resigns, then the employer may, at his or her sole discretion, require the employee to reimburse the cost of tuition, lodging, and airfare.

    It is highly recommended that team members are aware that continuing education is an important part of career and practice development. State this in the personnel manual and make sure employees sign an acknowledgement form that they understand one aspect of their job will be time spent learning how to improve their own performance so that the business will grow and develop along with the entire team’s performance.

What if an employee chooses not to participate in a continuing education “trip” away from home?

    It may occur that an employee chooses not to participate in a continuing education trip away from home. Certainly, family issues, health issues, or personal reasons may result in the employee choosing not to attend. In this case, the employee must take time off from work if the course is during normal working hours. They may choose to use their accrued and unused paid time off to receive pay, or not work and not be paid. An alternative is to allow the employee to work in the office, if the course takes place during the normal work schedule and receive their normal rate of pay. However, be precise as to what is required of the employee, make a list of tasks that must be completed, and require the employee to be accountable for completing the tasks. A good idea is to have a briefing of what was accomplished on the first day returning from the course. If the tasks were not completed, this privilege to work unsupervised may not be offered to this individual in the future.

What if I don’t want to pay my employees for continuing education?

    This is an option for an employer. In that case, I suggest creating a policy within the practice that requires employee acknowledgement. Use a form with the following verbiage.

Voluntary Participation For Continuing Education

Training sessions are attended on a voluntary basis and employees are not paid for their time. Please sign this statement of voluntary participation to avoid misunderstandings.

 
I am voluntarily attending:

                                                                                                                                                               
Scheduled for (date and time):

                                                                                                                                                               
I understand I will not receive wages for the hours attending.

 

                                                                                                                                                               
Employee signature                                                                                         Date

Summary

  •  In conclusion, make sure employees understand the basis of the recommendations for this policy:

  • The employee is engaging in a group session to educate the team on enhancing people and practice performance.

  • They are not performing productive work during the session.

  • It is an integral part of the business plan to support an educated and organized team.

  • A significant investment has been made on their behalf to advance their knowledge and skills.

  • The skills learned and camaraderie created amongst the team will benefit the patients of the practice well into the future.

Continuing education is necessary in today’s changing environment. Enhancing people and practice performance leads to enhanced patient services, and as a result, improved productivity and profit. Provide employees with a reasonable package for continuing education and travel so that the team is encouraged to advance their skills and put forth improved expertise.