Lawsuits against employers are on the rise. And, unfortunately, these types of lawsuits can be difficult to defend—particularly if the dental practice being sued doesn’t have written rules, policies, and guidelines in place. An excellent way for employers to protect themselves against employee lawsuits is a well-crafted employment manual. Employment manuals are not required by law in most states, but they provide an excellent means of minimizing liability and providing employees with clear expectations and guidance regarding their job duties. Employment manuals assist employers in the consistent application of company rules and policies. In other words, they ensure that employers and employees are “on the same page” regarding the expectations of both parties. The compilation of a company’s policies in an employment manual can help dentists avoid lawsuits based on a number of common allegations, including:
Given the importance of the employment manual as a method of lawsuit defense, it’s imperative that dentists understand the types of information that it should contain. In addition, given the fact that the laws, rules, and regulations affecting dental practices are always changing, it’s highly recommended that all dental professionals consult with an experienced dental attorney when drafting their employment manuals to ensure compliance with current laws. Below is an overview of some of the key areas that every dental practice’s employment manual should cover.
The employment manual of a dental practice should address both management and employee rights. There are a number of key areas that every organization’s employment manual should outline in order to avoid litigation, including:
1) Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies - Dental practices should clearly outline their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, as discrimination and harassment allegations are common causes of employee lawsuits. All employment manuals should clearly outline the organization's procedure for reporting and addressing discrimination and harassment claims. In addition, the manual should prohibit retaliation against employees by employers for reporting claims of discrimination or harassment, and measures should be in place to ensure a reasonable amount of confidentiality to those employees who file complaints.
2) At-will employment statement – At-will employment means that an employee may be dismissed by an employer for any reason and at any time, and in turn, an employee can also choose to end their employment at any time for no reason at all. Therefore, it is advisable that dental employers include an at-will employment statement in their employment manuals. Ideally, employers should require all employees to sign the employment manual upon hiring, acknowledging their understanding and consent to the terms within. Requiring employees to sign off on a dental practice's employment manual provides evidence that the employee understood his or her employment status at the time of hiring. In addition, a signed acknowledgment by the employee acts as a blanket acceptance and understanding of all of the manual's contents, which can function as important evidence in an employee lawsuit.
3) Standards of employee conduct and performance – It's important that an organization's employment manual clearly details its employee standards of conduct and performance. Clear standards of conduct and performance ensure that all employees understand their job expectations. In addition, the organization's right to periodically review an employee’s overall job performance should be outlined, including the specific standards of review to be used.
4) Wage and hour guidelines – Every employment manual should clearly outline the company’s policies on compensation and work hours. In addition to federal laws, each state has its own wage and hour requirements, including those addressing minimum wage, overtime, meals, breaks, vacation, and sick leave. Clear guidelines regarding compensation and work hours ensure that dental professionals understand their rights and responsibilities in these areas. Given the myriad laws, regulations, and rules governing both state and federal wage and hour requirements, it’s recommended that dental employers seek consultation with a dental lawyer on these issues prior to including them in their employment manuals.
5) Confidentiality – In the course of an employee’s work, he or she may have access to information regarding a dental practice, its suppliers, its patients, or other employees. Such information, which is generally of a proprietary or secret nature and not known to business competitors or the general public, should remain confidential. In other words, all employees in possession of such information should refrain from divulging it to those outside the practice. Given the importance of confidentiality, it is imperative that dental practices include organizational guidelines on this subject in their employment manuals. Inclusion of confidentiality policies in a dental practice’s employment manual will help ensure that all employees are aware of their responsibilities and duties regarding such information.
6) Additional provisions - In addition to those areas listed above, all dental employers should consider detailing organizational policies in their employment manuals, examples of which include:
Having an employment manual in your practice will go a long way in ensuring your team members are aware of company policies and expectations. If you have employment law questions or in need of creating an employment manual for your practice, contact Ali Oromchian at Dental & Medical Counsel to schedule a free consultation.
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