What are "the rules" for paying my staff while we're traveling for continuing education, including my hygienist?

The issue regarding pay and travel for continuing education comes up quite a bit, and since there is no "rule" or industry standard, a dentist or employer should consider an approach based on what the business can afford financially, while being reasonable. Once a protocol or policy is formed, commit it to paper, have each member of the staff acknowledge and sign off on the policy. Finally, include it as part of the office's personnel policy manual.
A general "rule of thumb" to follow is if one requires an employee to attend a lecture, meeting or training seminar then expect to pay for that employee's time. Situations in which paying for the employee's time would be an option are if:

  • The employee attends the event outside of his or her regular working hours.
  • Attendance is voluntary.
  • The instruction session isn't directly related to the employee's job.
  • The employee doesn't perform any productive work during the instruction session.

With this background information, here are a few recommendations.
Continuing Education Rate of Pay
When the team is required to participate in continuing education during normal working hours or outside the normal schedule and they are not directly applying their skills, compensate employees at a Continuing Education, or CE, rate of 50% of their regular pay. Each employee will be responsible to note on his or her time log the hours that are accumulated for CE, and travel time if away from the office. This applies to all personnel except registered dental hygienists and employee dentists.
For hygienists, I suggest offering to help pay for courses they need to complete their requirements, but not compensate them for time worked while at the course. Require pre-approval of the course, and offer full tuition reimbursement of up to $200 annually. Here, one is assisting them with CE and licensure compliance, their responsibility, and in turn they accept the day off without pay.
Continuing Education Away from Home
For continuing education courses where travel outside of the immediate metropolitan area is necessary, and the course takes place outside the normal business schedule, consider these guidelines:
The employer will pay course tuition, travel expenses including airfare, ground transportation to and from the hotel, lodging, any meals sponsored by the employer, and a $40 per day allowance for incidental expenses to each employee, including hygienists. Transportation from home to and from the airport will be the responsibility of the employee. If group shuttle arrangements are more reasonable and accommodating, then the employer may elect to arrange and pay for group transportation. Under these circumstances, wages for hours worked will not be paid.
When a significant investment in continuing education and travel is made on the employee's behalf, I suggest considering a policy where the employee agrees to remain employed with the office for a period of one full year after the course is completed. If the employer terminates the employee because of a violation of company policy, or the employee resigns, then the employer may, at his or her sole discretion, require the employee to reimburse the cost of tuition, lodging, and airfare.
It is highly recommended that team members are aware that continuing education is an important part of career and practice development. State this in the personnel manual and make sure employees sign an acknowledgement form that they understand one aspect of their job will be time spent learning how to improve their own performance along with the entire team.
In summary, make sure employees understand the basis of the recommendations for this policy:
· The employee is engaging in a group session to educate the team on enhancing people and practice performance.
· They are not performing productive work during the session.
· It is an integral part of the businesses plan to support an educated and organized team.
· A significant investment has been made on their behalf to advance their knowledge and skills.

Continuing education is necessary in today's changing environment. Enhancing people and practice performance leads to enhanced patient services, and as a result, improved productivity and profit. Provide employees with a reasonable package for continuing education and travel so that the team is encouraged to advance their skills and to put forth their improved expertise.