Different pay for meetings

Aug. 1, 2006
Dear Dianne, I work in a practice with three other hygienists. All of us are seasoned hygienists with many years in the profession.

Dear Dianne,

I work in a practice with three other hygienists. All of us are seasoned hygienists with many years in the profession.

Recently, our boss came to us with a form to sign that stated we would now be paid $8 per hour for lunchtime meetings and after-hour meetings. Our base hourly wage is $41.88, which is what we have been being paid in the past for meetings. Is this legal? Must we sign it? Do we have to attend meetings?

We feel like this is a slap in the face and truly outrageous. We could really use your help for some clarification. We have lunch meetings every two to three months and evening meetings one to two times per year that last about two hours. Please advise.
Concerned Hygienists

Dear Concerned,

What a sticky wicket this one is!

I simply can’t imagine what your doctor is thinking! I can only imagine how insulted everyone feels over this.

First off, it is entirely legal to pay a different rate for meetings. It is called “different capacity work rate.” There are a couple of provisions:

• The hourly rate of pay must equal or exceed your state’s minimum wage requirements.

• Each employee agrees in writing that s/he understands the special hourly rate will apply and that any overtime will be paid based on a weighted average involving the special rate and the employee’s regular rate of pay.

The weighted average method is like this: the employee’s total weekly compensation is divided by the total hours worked at all jobs to determine the effective hourly rate for the workweek. If he wants to avoid overtime, he will probably have to reduce work hours on affected days.

I think your doctor is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. I mean, the whole purpose of staff meetings is to work on the business in a positive and productive way. If so, staff meetings should make the office run more efficiently and improve productivity so that the cost of the meetings is more than covered by production increases. If production does not go up, then the staff members are right in feeling the meetings aren’t worth their time or the doctor’s.

Further, if everyone is sitting there with a huge chip of resentment over the pay issue, what good is the meeting anyway? We’re talking about 12 to 14 hours/year maximum - not even equivalent to two paid days off. Even at $8 an hour, the money is wasted if everyone just sits there silently and rolls their eyes occasionally.

All office meetings should be held during office hours (no after-hours meetings), most preferably at lunch with an extra hour provided for the meeting, with everyone being paid their standard pay. Some offices have too many meetings, and some meetings are a waste of time anyway because there is no set agenda and the doctor does all the talking. Staff meetings, done right, are good for the practice. Done wrong, it would be better not to have them.

Every employer has the burden to keep overhead expenses under control in order to maintain a profitable business. Dental practices sometimes have notoriously high overhead, so it may be that the staff percentage of overhead is too high, and the doctor is looking for ways to decrease that. But this is not the best choice, in my opinion. Your doctor would be better off not having staff meetings, because I can assure him, they will not be productive.

He would do well to try to put himself in the shoes of his employees. If he were an employee of a company that came up with this ludicrous and demeaning idea, he’d be just as incensed as you are. I’d probably ask him to consider this perspective.

I hope he did not get this advice from some practice management consultant.
Best wishes, Dianne

After a few weeks, I received this update from the office.

Dear Dianne,
I just wanted to give you an update about our situation about pay for staff meetings. After presenting us with a letter offering to pay $8 per hour for all meetings (which we refused to sign), the doctor apologized for the “miscommunication.” He then went on to offer $21 per hour (half of our hourly pay) because he said that was “the standard in the industry.”

I commented that I had written you and the Division of Labor. He was interested in your letter and even took the suggestion about only having meetings during work hours.

Since then, we had an office meeting. The doctor apologized once again, and the whole thing was dropped. The other hygienists and I would like to thank you for the information you gave us and for playing a pivotal role in the outcome. It is great to know we have someone on our side to contact about sticky situations.