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Managing overtime in a GP practice

Practices need a clear policy on overtime or 'additional hours' so managers know what is going on, staff know what is expected on them and costs are controlled. By Fiona Dalziel.

Practices need to be clear about what they mean by overtime or 'additional hours' (Picture: iStock)
Practices need to be clear about what they mean by overtime or 'additional hours' (Picture: iStock)

Scenario

I spoke recently to a practice manager about some staffing issues. One of her receptionists would habitually start work more than an hour before her official start time. She told the manager that she was catching up with backlogs of work she was unable to do when on the desk and the manager acquiesced.

She then put in claims for overtime pay or sometimes finished early. The manager also said that the practice nurse team regularly claimed extra hours but she was not sure what they were for. The GPs had noticed rises in staff costs and the practice manager wanted advice on how to handle the situation.

Managing overtime  

Managing overtime or, more correctly, ‘additional hours’ can seem like a disagreeable chore.  Arranging it is often done in a hurry and the results of it not being fully managed are pressure on staff and a diminished quality of service to patients. If overtime is not properly managed you will see increased costs.

What are the rules on overtime?

In 2014, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that regular, non-guaranteed overtime payments should be included when calculating holiday pay. This cause a lot of concerns, not least in relation to possible back payments.  

The practice needs to be clear about what overtime means. The following definitions are useful.

  • Overtime: Strictly speaking, this is defined as hours in addition to normal full time hours.
  • Guaranteed overtime: This is when an employer is obliged by contract to offer and pay for overtime.  
  • Non-guaranteed overtime: The employer is not obliged to offer overtime, but when it is offered, the employee must do it.
  • Voluntary overtime: There is no obligation on either side to offer or work overtime, so the arrangement is voluntary on both sides.

Most practices ask staff to work ‘additional hours’ as required (ie hours in addition to their normal, part-time hours), but commonly call this ‘overtime’.  Working these additional hours is voluntary unless the contract says otherwise.

Managing the time and costs more effectively

Here are some tips on managing ‘overtime’ in your practice. This should mean that you know what is going on, staff know what is expected of them and costs are better controlled.

Write or review your ‘overtime’ policy. This should then be shared with the team and applied in a fair and consistent manner.  It will include some of the following elements.

Agree minimum staffing levels for key points of the day. It may be, for example, that reception can run successfully for short periods in the late afternoon with two people, even if the reception team’s own preference is to have three.  Agree the minimum number (and possibly suggest a maximum time period) and stick to it, pulling in extra staff if need be.

Make sure the rate of pay is consistently applied. Most practices pay the staff member’s normal hourly rate for ‘overtime’. An enhanced rate for additional hours may create an unwanted incentive and unwanted increases in costs. Whatever your arrangement, make sure it is consistent and transparent.

Avoid using temporary agency staff. This is convenient but expensive and they will usually need training anyway.

Look at moving hours on a temporary basis rather than paying for additional ones. It may be that a midday member of staff can start (and finish) early or later for a short period. If this period becomes extended, confirm details in writing including the time period involved. Temporary additional hours which might continue for an extended period should also be defined in writing. This might arise, for example, when covering long term sickness absence, and you intend to revert the staff member to their normal hours at the end of the cover period.

All overtime should be pre-authorised and recorded. Make it clear in your policy that unauthorised overtime may or will not be paid.

Decide what to do about time off in lieu (‘TOIL’). Do staff have a choice of payment or TOIL?  How much TOIL can they accumulate over a set period before it must be taken or lost?  Can it be carried over? How is it recorded? Clarify and agree this and put it into your policy.

Consider staggering staff holiday years. This means you avoid the end-of-year log-jam of people taking unused holidays. Start new staff’s holiday years on the day they start and negotiate a spread of holiday years with existing staff. Give them a pro-rata leave allowance for the portion of time remaining until the start of their new full year, but make sure they do not lose any of their entitlement. This could also be a good time to consider moving to calculating annual leave in hours.

Ensure staff apply for annual leave in writing to a defined individual. Make sure that the person supervising leave understands the rules about how many can be off at one time and escalates any date clashes up the management chain before authorising leave.

Use your payroll software or company (or a spreadsheet) to monitor costs. Separate overtime payments from regular hours and track costs closely. Consider establishing an overtime budget.

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