Thursday Troubleshooter: Last minute changes to schedule drive dental staff crazy

This dental office staff is tired of their work hours being changed on a whim, even if they do get longer lunches as "repayment." This messes with their personal schedules, and they want to see it stop.

Jul 26th, 2018
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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 megk@pennwell.com.

QUESTION: In the office where I work the front office staff gets called in early for meetings and then are given extended lunches to compensate. Lunches vary by staff member. Some get 90 minutes or two hours, while others get only a one-hour lunch. Our work schedules are constantly changed on a whim. Is this legal or common practice? (The practice is in California.)

ANSWER FROM LAURA HATCH, founder of Front Office Rocks:
There are state laws that the practice needs to follow, so you should definitely seek advice from a human resources professional or lawyer to answer the legal perspective of this issue. (See answer from Rebecca Boartfield below.)

That being said, I think it is important to have a discussion with the doctor or office manager about the inconvenience of the last-minute changes to the schedules. I think that it needs to be explained to them that employees have personal lives that should be considered when they make changes, such as day care, outside interests, spouses, and more. When things are changed last minute or employees are told to come in early and then take longer lunches, this causes a lot of stress on their personal lives.

Though staff might "technically” still be working the same number of hours by taking longer lunches, this cuts into times in the morning or evening when they should be able to spend time with loved ones, and, these changes will definitely cause issues for things such as day care. Hopefully, by showing the doctor or office manager examples of how these last-minute changes affect the team members’ lives, they can adjust and not make these last-minute changes to the schedule. They can adapt the schedules to make them work better not only for the employees but for the office as well.

ANSWER FROM REBECCA BOARTFIELD, HR expert with Bent Ericksen & Associates:
At the moment, abrupt changes in schedules are perfectly legal, even though they are frustrating for employees. This may not always be the case if any "predictive scheduling" laws get passed in your state or elsewhere, which is currently the buzz we are hearing in the human resources world.

Your state does have a requirement to pay a split shift differential. This could be required for employees taking 90 minutes or two hours or more for lunch. Click here for more information about this.

When you click on the link, read number six in particular because how much someone makes offsets what the person is owed for a split shift. For a higher paid person, this could mean no split shift differential is owed at all.

This is a tough situation that you're in, and unfortunately there is no legal recourse for the staff members at the moment.

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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 megk@pennwell.com 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. All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.


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