Navigating the Salary vs Hourly Conundrum in Corporate Optometry

Recently in the Corporate Optometry Facebook group, a growing number of ODs find themselves facing a significant transition: moving from a salaried position to an hourly rate. This transition caused mixed emotions among different ODs that work with different brands. However, a few ODs look forward to being paid extra for those days they have spent over 8 hours working through their volume of patients, like when they work through lunch or have additional patients added throughout the day that causes them to leave work late. OD performance is typically measured by results and experience rather than hours worked. There is a sense that a professional should command the respect of a salaried position and not be beholden to clocking in and out, as certainly is the case for salaried top brass and most of the positions at corporate headquarters. It’s important to acknowledge that for many ODs, see this change as unexpected and potentially negative impacts them while others that have been practice owners in the past and now employees see the benefits of it. It seems to set a dangerous precedent to the profession to have full time ODs to hourly.

ODs like the stability and predictability of a salaried role as compared to hourly employee. It provides a sense of financial security, allowing individuals to plan for the future with confidence. However, the move to an hourly pay structure can provide a new set challenges. Here are some challenges that ODs state in the facebook group:

“Consider this-applying for a mortgage? Refinancing a loan? Financing a car, Buying a practice?… You’re no longer a salaried professional, you’re an hourly worker. “

Banks evaluate income sources differently, particularly when comparing hourly wages to annual salaries. They view it as a way to assess stability and predictability in an individual’s financial standing. Hourly wages, may cause concerns about consistency and long-term financial security, whereas salary is viewed as a reliable income stream by the banks; easier for the individual to repay the loan.

While staying late to care for patients can cause a boost in wage, unexpected store closures due to weather, leaving early due to illness, holidays which have been paid for full day while working a shorter day, and potentially, in the future, having hours changed week by week in slower locations can cause a paycheck to be smaller than expected.

” On Saturdays we work one less hour. So now we lose 52 hours of pay a year. Someone making $140k is about $67 per hour. So that means we effectively just tool a $3500 paycut…just due to Saturdays. “

The time clock system used tracks to the minute. This means if the last patient comes early, and is seen early, you must still wait in the office until the moment your shift ends, or else your pay is reduced per minute clocked out early, despite seeing all the patients in an 8-hour shift. This is a reduction is autonomy, which feels to many like a reduction in respect. Switching to hourly and working more hours doesn’t translate to increased hourly rate after 40 hours. ODs don’t get overtime benefits.

Time and a half and other hourly labor laws are designed to protect blue collar workers and exclude most white collar professionals including drs. We will not get overtime benefits/protections ” ” FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is a complex law with many criterion for exemption. Optometrists are exempt. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/overtime”

Some ODs welcome the opportunity to have a hourly rate. Some find it more flexible and being paid if they go over into their lunch break or have to stay later in the day if a patient is late or exam needs additional time.

Hourly makes sense versus stuck to a chair until a set time. The late patient is now increasing my take home pay because it just added 30-45 minutes to my income. Don’t like me staying late for those late shows then find a way to get them on time or charge a premium price to those end of the day exams. Taking off early for lunch stuff probably balances out the end of day patients. “

In a recent poll, 170 ODs were surveyed from different corporate optical brands. The question was how Employed full time doctors should be paid

97% of ODs surveyed that employed ODs should be salaried employees. Some voted salary with some bonuses.

Benefits to the Corporate Optical for Hourly Employees.

Cost Control: Hourly employees are paid based on the hours they work. There have been ODs have come in late numerous times and leave early. This can be a way to incentivize ODs to stay their entire shift, especially ODs that struggle to come in on time and rush their exams so they can leave early. It can provide more flexibility with straightforward compensation when adjusting schedules As the OD can take time off unpaid for those hours if needed for childcare or other tasks, once sick time and vacation time have been used up.

In a competitive landscape with shortage of ODs this can be a way to motivate for efficiency and provide competitive salaries and bonuses for the ODs that are working busy stores and seeing many patients. It could be viewed as a type of bonus structure. Casual part time doctors make sense for those working part time to be paid by the hour.

Challenges to the Corporate Optical for Hourly Employees: As a majority of ODs seem to dislike this when applied to full time jobs and it could be an impediment to hiring and retaining ODs. ODs could work intentionally slowly to pad their hours and make additional money. There are a number of rules on working off the clock so the OD cannot answer a quick question when clocked out for the day; the OD must be paid for all hours worked, including reading emails, staff meetings, CAQH reattestation, and corporate CE meetings.

It’s important to note that there are pros and cons to both models in corporate optometry. Whether being a salaried or hourly employee is more advantageous depends on the ODs personal and professional goals. Some people may prefer the stability of a salary position, while others may value the flexibility that hourly work can offer. Satisfactory surveys show that ODs prefer salary positions.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Scott on September 18, 2023 at 7:07 am

    This issue should be addressed by the presidents of every optometric school in the country. A letter should be written to every corporate entity stating they will advise all graduates to find other positions than working for any entity that requires them to sign an hourly contract. This an a malicious attack against our profession and has further repercussions that can affect an optometrist’s livelihood and life

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