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Thursday Troubleshooter: Can dentist force staff to take vacation when he's not in?

Aug. 17, 2017
This dental team is getting tired of losing their vacation and sick pay. When the dentist is not in, he requires the staff to take their vacation or sick time off at the same time.

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected].


QUESTION: My question is about being made to take sick days and vacation days. Can the dental office where I work MAKE US USE VACATION DAYS when the doctor takes the days off? I am available to work on these days but I’m not allowed to come in if the doctor is not in the office. The practice doesn’t let us take the day without pay until our vacation time runs out. When it runs out we are made to take sick time when the doctor is not in. I wonder if this is something the office can do—make us use our vacation and sick time because the dentist is out, not because we choose to take the day off. When these days run out I don’t have vacation or sick time to use at my discretion. This doesn’t seem fair to me. What can I do? I work in Massachusetts.

When it comes to vacation, this is a discretionary benefit. Employers are not required to provide time off with pay for vacations, therefore, the employer has absolute discretion in determining how and when that vacation gets used. If employers want to mandate that vacation must be used when they are away and the office is closed, they can absolutely do that.

You state you are in Massachusetts. As such, providing either paid or unpaid (depending on your employer's size) sick leave is a requirement by law. Thus, providing sick time is not a discretionary benefit. Massachusetts is quite clear as to the reasons that sick time can be used.

Given this regulation, employers are not allowed to force the use of sick time when the time off does not fall within the appropriate and acceptable reasons. It would not be appropriate to force an employee to use his or her sick time for office closures, which could prevent the use of sick time at a later date when a reason for using sick leave under the law comes up.

Otherwise, if you lived in an area that did not have a sick leave mandate, your employer would be able exclude you from the PTO benefit. You can visit your state, city, or county Department of Labor website for additional help.

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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring.

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