How to Keep Employees Safe When You Reopen

How to Keep Employees Safe When You Reopen

How to Keep Employees Safe When You Reopen

By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians

In mid-May 2020, more than half of states have started to reopen their economies under restrictions, including allowing fewer customers, requiring workers and customers to wear masks, and enforcing social distancing.[1] In uncertain times, your practice team needs to create systems that will make employees and clients feel comfortable with the delivery of veterinary care. Let’s get your practice ready to safely reopen:

Consider assessing employees’ health at the start of each shift.

When employees arrive, a supervisor would use an infrared non-contact thermometer to take temperatures. CDC’s definition of a fever is 100.4 degrees.[2] Managers should maintain a temperature and self-assessment log. Each employee will answer a short list of self-assessment health questions, which could be incorporated into your electronic time clock software. Consult with your employment attorney and send employees with fevers home. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines give employers the right to take employee temperatures and advise having a plan on how the process will occur, confidentiality of information, handling employee refusals, and actions if fevers are detected.[3] Download EEOC guidelines at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an online symptom checker for health-care businesses (https://intake-app-dot-cdphe-erm.appspot.com/intake-form). Questions ask the presence of symptoms including fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. The questionnaire asks whether the employee has been in contact with someone who had COVID-19 symptoms but was not tested or with someone who tested positive. 

Have employees immediately wash their hands upon arrival.

Staff shouldn’t clock in or put personal items in lockers until they’ve washed their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Set hygiene standards such as having employees wash their hands after providing care to every patient, using the restroom, sneezing, blowing the nose, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, smoking, eating, drinking, taking a break, and before or after starting a shift.

Encourage safe distancing.

Co-workers should stay at least six feet apart. If you have two receptionists at the front desk, shift workstations to be farther apart or move the second employee to a phone cubby or an office. Employees should wear cloth masks (PPE for procedures), even if you’re not allowing clients in the building. Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing—employees must do both. 

Adapt your break room.

If you have a small space, schedule individual employee breaks and mealtimes so only one employee is in the break room at a time. Provide sanitizing spray to wipe down the counter, microwave, sink, table, and chair after each use. COVID-19 can live on cardboard for 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours. The virus can be spread from infected objects if you then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Encourage employees to bring their own coffee mugs, dishes, and utensils from home, avoiding shared kitchen utensils, dishes, and supplies. 

For larger teams, reduce the number of chairs at tables, spacing them six feet apart and using colored tape on table surfaces to indicate separate seating. At Capital Area Veterinary Emergency Service in Concord, N.H., Hospital Director Joshua Jasper moved its break room to a larger conference room, marked table surfaces for distancing, and set up a team appreciation station with complimentary snacks and drinks (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jjosh21_vetlife-veterinarymedicine-caves2020-activity-6655803991835967488-96ze).[4] 

Sanitize workspaces.

Doctors and managers should sanitize and clean personal workspaces at the beginning and end of each shift. Shared workspaces such as reception and nursing stations should be cleaned between client interactions and when another co-worker will use the same equipment or computer.

Go to single-table surgical suites.

Chapel advises that some two-table surgical suites can be converted to a single-table room, providing more space for medical teams working in a confined space.

Talk with veterinary colleagues and associations to share resources and tips on what’s working in practices. Safety protocols will help your team deliver the care that clients and patients are counting on.


[1] Mervosh S, Lee J, Gamil L, and Popovich, N. See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down. New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html. Accessed May 11, 2020.

[2] Definitions of Signs, Symptoms, and Conditions of Ill Travelers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/maritime/definitions-signs-symptoms-conditions-ill-travelers.html. Accessed May 4, 2020. 

[3] Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available at: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pandemic-preparedness-workplace-and-americans-disabilities-act. Accessed May 5, 2020.

[4] Jasper J. Capital Area Veterinary Emergency Service. LinkedIn post. Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jjosh21_vetlife-veterinarymedicine-caves2020-activity-6655803991835967488-96ze. Accessed May 4, 2020. 

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Can You Compete With $12 Per Hour at Chick-Fil-A?

Can You Compete With $12 Per Hour at Chick-Fil-A?

Can You Compete With $12 Per Hour at Chick-Fil-A?

My neighborhood Chick-Fil-A restaurant has a banner advertising jobs starting at $12 per hour. The fast-food franchise boasts a family culture, college scholarships, career paths to management or ownership, and work-free Sundays. Chick-Fil-A ranks among the top 100 in the 2018 Best Places to Work from The Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Awards. (*1) Selling more than chicken, Chick-Fil-A joins other top employers, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Nestle Purina, and more.

I pulled into the ever-present drive-thru line to see what kind of service $12-per-hour workers deliver. Two employees with mobile devices were taking orders to reduce wait time. A Millennial greeted me, asked my name and what they could get started for me. As I drove to the window for my sandwich, the cashier welcomed me by name. When I thanked her, she replied, “It’s my pleasure” rather than the commonplace “no problem.”

Your veterinary hospital may be competing for the same entry-level workers. Indeed, a top job website, reports an average of $12.43 per hour for veterinary receptionists with typical tenure of one to three years. (*2) Job ads offered hourly wages from $13.22 to $20. Now the largest U.S. generation, Millennials rank compensation as the sixth quality they look for in employers. In a Harvard Business Review survey, Millennial job candidates want the opportunity to learn and grow, quality management, interest in the type of work, and opportunity for advancement. (*3)


To compete for entry-level workers, your veterinary hospital needs to:

1. Offer competitive wages.

Low unemployment rates in your community demand higher compensation. Profit sharing and bonuses can increase what employees take home. Give performance reviews to new hires at 30, 60 and 90 days. Once they complete the 90-day introductory period, include salary reviews with performance appraisals. You might hire candidates at $13 per hour, and then tell them a raise to $14 awaits if they complete the training program and earn a positive review.


2. Create a supportive culture.

Northfield Veterinary Hospital in Denver complements great pay with a great work environment. Perks include amusement park days, monthly staff dinners, a supportive team environment, and no staying late. “I’m an owner at the hospital and having a certified veterinary technician who has worked in the trenches for many years is appealing to staff,” says Jen Weston, CVT, manager and co-owner. “We have a great staff who are willing to train, answer questions and be supportive.”  At Trinity Animal Hospital in Holly Springs, N.C., the team goes bowling and plays laser tag, which its vendors sponsor.

American Animal Hospital in Omaha, Neb., conducts working interviews to prove its culture is the best in town. “We show candidates our friendly, positive work environment,” says Tabitha Show, LVT and practice manager. “Without a strong culture, you have nothing.”


3. Train up.

The staff of 30 at Roanoke Animal Hospital in Roanoke, Texas, has an average longevity of 8 years, with several employees staying longer than 10 years. “If you work in the kennel and have a desire to progress in this field, we will train you,” says Liz Hill Bird, hospital administrator. Teaching kennel workers to become veterinary assistants leads to job satisfaction and career paths.


4. Create clear career paths.

At Adobe Veterinary Center in Tucson, Ariz., Dr. Christine Staten designed tiered positions for receptionists and technicians. Employees get a list of skills to master for each level with test-outs. Pay increases as team members graduate to higher tiers.


5. Provide continuing-education opportunities.

Conferences are awesome perks, but few practices can spend thousands for every employee. Start a journal club where you share and discuss client-service and management articles. Use webinars for staff meetings. Go to community events that distributor and pharmaceutical representatives host. Join a local practice managers group. Have doctors present what they learned at conferences and which ideas your team could implement.


6. Delegate projects.

Employees may be interested in marketing the practice on social media, making YouTube videos, designing educational bulletin boards, managing inventory, establishing an angel fund, and other projects that could grow your business. “Train them for new skills,” advises Nikki Richardson, hospital administrator at Trinity Animal Hospital. “Team member retention and low turnover will make you more money in the long run.”


7. Offer flexible schedules.

If your practice is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, you need staffing for 10 business hours each day. Consider allowing employees to work four 10-hour shifts for a total of 40 hours per week. One receptionist works Monday through Thursday while another covers Tuesday to Friday. Organize shifts so you have appropriate daily staffing coverage while letting employees enjoy four-day workweeks.


8. Provide veterinary care savings.

Follow IRS guidelines of no more than a 20 percent discount, or you risk audit and tax consequences. Define limits on the number of personal pets covered and have a manager enter charges to prevent abuse of the benefit. Some practices pay employees’ pet insurance premiums in lieu of discounted professional services.


9. Have uniforms.

Employees represent your brand. Set standards of appearance for uniforms, name tags, jewelry and personal grooming. The employee handbook at Taco Bell explains, “It’s important to be proud of the way you look every day. When you look good, Taco Bell looks good.” (*4)


While helping pets and people leads to tremendous job satisfaction, altruism won’t pay the bills. A combination of competitive wages and great perks will help your veterinary hospital attract and retain the best candidates.


*1 – 2018 Best Places to Work: Employees’ Choice. Glassdoor. Accessed March 16, 2019 at www.glassdoor.com/Award/Best-Places-to-Work-LST_KQ0,19.htm.

*2 – Veterinary receptionist salaries in the United States. Updated Feb. 17, 2018. Accessed Feb. 19, 2018 at www.indeed.com/salaries/Veterinary-Receptionist-Salaries.

*3 – Rigoni, B. and Adkins, A. What Millennials Want from a New Job. Harvard Business Review. Published May 11, 2016. Accessed Feb. 19, 2018 at https://hbr.org/2016/05/what-millennials-want-from-a-new-job.

*4 – Taco Bell Handbook. Published October 2015. Accessed Feb. 19, 2018 at www.hralliance.net/cofiles/38305_c6131950/files/Taco%20Bell%20Handbook(1).pdf.

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