Employment Standards: Good for Employees, Essential for Employers

by Carole McLeod

Maybe you don’t pay overtime because you let your staff take a day off when they need it, or maybe your staff doesn’t get a proper lunch break most days, but once in a while they can take an extra long lunch or leave early. It’s nice to think that this kind of flexibility is accepted in your practice and the relationship you have with your staff is such that this works for everyone. And you’d probably be right… until you’re not.

Consider the case of a dentist whose Dental Assistant, let’s call her Susan, had been with the practice for 12 years, since Susan was 19 years old. Susan loved her job and would stay until the last patient had left, often well after her shift had ended. She was happy to do this because if she needed to take time for appointments she was gladly given the time off. This worked great until Susan got married and started a family.

When Susan’s lifestyle changed she could no longer stay late and often had to leave before cleanup was finished. The Dentist and Susan agreed it was time for Susan to find a job more suited to her lifestyle and the office gave Susan a warm send-off party with cake and balloons.

Unfortunately, the story of Susan and her past-employer doesn’t end here. When Susan started her new job she learned that staff receive pay for Extra Time and Overtime, and they weren’t obligated to take their vacation when the dentist was on vacation. She found the rules concerning Stat Holiday pay, Vacation and Overtime to clearly defined and transparent. Looking back at her old job she realized that she had never been paid for Extra Time or Overtime, but she also forgot about all the time-off she had been given. There were no records kept to track actual hours worked and time taken. The dentist was in a very difficult position, trying to piece together information by looking at calendars and pay reports before appearing before the Labour Relations Board.

The worrisome part of the issue with Susan is that it arose without warning. The Dentist never considered that Susan would cause such stress so many years after she had left the practice. A dentist would never consider not keeping detailed patient records so why weren’t detail employment records kept? The most likely reason has to do with the time required to stay on top of the Employment Standards Act and to track all the hours worked, both regular and overtime, and time taken.

What can an employer do to avoid this situation without incurring a prohibitive cost in time and money? One way is to use software that collects realtime data, everyday, when your staff clock in and out at the start and end of their day. To be really useful though, the software you use must also collect data on time your staff take away from the office, be it paid sick days, vacation or unpaid leave. Ideally, this system is one that doesn’t require that a dentist or practice manager have to input this data as this would add an additional burden and therefore overhead expense. Some software will automatically track Time Away when staff make requests for leave using the software. When a request for Time Away is approved, it is automatically logged in the system and becomes part of the staff member’s historical record.

The information in your records must also include an agreed upon Schedule of Hours, especially if your staff are on an Averaging Agreement or your practice is operating in a province with rules about the maximum number of hours that can be legally scheduled in a day. In provinces that permit Averaging Agreements, if you do not know when an Averaging agreement is a benefit or a liability some software applications can generate reports that make it clear. The same is true with regard to compliance with Statutory Holiday rules. Tracking and analyzing Extra Time (time worked in excess of the schedule— not necessarily overtime) can provide valuable insight into how you can adjust your staff schedule to rein in your payroll expense. Just as with Time Away, there are software tools available to track these metrics without creating more work for the office manager or practice owner. Just the knowledge that you are in compliance with labour standards and you have all the data to back it up creates invaluable peace of mind.

The added benefit to keeping detailed employment records and demonstrating to staff your compliance to the Labour Relations code is that staff will understand that everyone is treated the same. You are creating a culture of transparency and trust between management and team members which in turn increases profitability while minimizing your legal exposure.

Tracking is the first step. Analyzing the data is the next step. The third step is implementing changes based on evidence.

Watch for our next article: Leadership Through Numbers.

About the Author
Carole McLeod developed one of the first practice management software programs in Canada eventually selling Power Practice to Exan in early 2000. She led the ExanMercedes team for twelve years as Vice President. She saw the need to develop software designed specifically to record and monitor the Human Resources aspect of Dental Practice. carole@delv-n.com

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