DEBRA MILLER, Director of Coaching


Everyone perceives risks differently. How do you help a team member who doesn’t want to return to work because of fear? Learn how to help them make the right choice for them (and for you).

In most practices that I have talked to recently, usually, there is at least one team member who has a sense of fear and a perception of danger for COVID-19 that is significantly heightened compared to other team members. For some of these fearful staff members, their anxiety is so acute that they do not want to return to work in the near future—even if you are ready to unfurlough them as referring practices begin to reopen and case flow picks up. For the team member, their fear has become their reality, fueled by gloomy news reports and tragic stories on social media.

It puts you in a very difficult spot because you have your realities too. First and foremost, there is no position in an endodontic practice that is non-essential when it is running normally. So, when you get to the point where that position should be staffed, you need them to return.

Second, if you’ve taken a PPP loan, you must return 75% of your team to pre-pandemic staff levels before the end of June to qualify for loan forgiveness. If your fearful staff member won’t return and puts that in jeopardy, you will have to take steps.

A big step might just be getting them out of their house if they’ve been in a fear lockdown. Invite them to the practice, after hours, and one-on-one while maintaining physical distancing. Walk them through all the things you have implemented to create a safe environment for patients and for the team. Ask them about their concerns and if there is anything else they think would help because it might be a simple change that is easily accomplished. It’s probably something a fearful patient thinks about too, so it could help on two fronts.

If those steps don’t work, then it is probably time for some tough love. That means reminding them that they probably need to work for economic reasons, and they probably can’t work anywhere that is more sensitive and proactive about infection control than your practice.
It also means telling them that if they won’t come back when they are absolutely needed, you may be forced to replace them. That, in turn, could lead to them becoming ineligible for continued unemployment assistance. In fact, in some states, you may be legally required to report to the state department of labor that a furloughed employee has explicitly declined an offer to return to work.

Note: Also, keep in mind that there are certain exceptions allowed in the Family First Coronavirus Response Act that grants up to 14 calendar days (up to 80 work hours) of emergency paid sick leave if the team member is quarantined, advised to quarantine by a doctor, awaiting diagnosis, caring for someone with the virus, has a child whose school has closed, etc. If your employee has not used this emergency sick leave benefit yet and they can find a reason to qualify for a federal (and possibly state) authorized exception, they could potentially agree to return to work and then invoke this benefit. You would then have to pay them in accordance with the act’s provisions, as well hold their job open for them until the end of the emergency paid sick leave period.

Of course, these conversations are always difficult, but they can be held with kindness, compassion, and sensitivity … not as a threat but as an urging to reconsider all the factors in their best interest. And in the end, if they choose not to return, at least you know they did so fully informed.


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