5 Policies You Need to Include When Creating Your Employee Handbook
When it comes to running a successful dental, veterinary, optometry or other healthcare practice, one of the most crucial documents to have is an employment manual (aka an employee handbook). Depending on the size and location of your practice,
Your handbook may differ from another practice’s, but there are some clauses and policies that every practice needs. We’re sharing the top 5 policies that are vital to include in your employee handbook:
Anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies are federally regulated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). As an employer, you must be sure to understand how harassment is defined in order to protect yourself and your company from liability. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on any legally-recognized basis, including, but not limited to: veteran status, uniformed service member status, race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy (including childbirth, lactation and related medical conditions), national origin or ancestry, physical or mental disability, genetic information (including testing and characteristics) or any other consideration protected by federal, state or local law. Harassment becomes unlawful where:
- Verbal conduct including threats, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs based on an individual's protected classification;
- Visual conduct including derogatory posters, photography, cartoons, drawings or gestures based on protected classification; and
- Physical conduct including assault, unwanted touching or blocking normal movement because of an individual's protected status.
Because it is difficult to sometimes interpret what is considered offensive, severe, or unreasonable, it is best to state that there is a zero-tolerance policy regarding any type of harassment in the workplace. As an additional precaution, it is important to also include a process for redressability when it comes to any harassment that might occur. This should contain information about anti-retaliation as employees need to be aware that they cannot be punished for good faith reporting of complaints and/or participation in investigations regarding those complaints.
2. At-Will Employment
Nearly every state in the United States has at-will employment. As such, it is crucial for you to include an at-will employment policy in your employee handbook. The key to insulating yourself from liability is understanding what at-will employment means and how it is or is not applicable to you. At-will employment essentially means that as an employer, you may fire anyone, at any time, for any or no reason, as long as the reason is not illegal and is not discriminatory pursuant to a federally protected status. Alternatively, at-will employment also means that your employees may quit their job at any time, for any or no reason, with or without notice. Because you want this to be as clear as possible in your practice’s employment manual, you should provide an explanation that the terms of employment include at-will employment, which should also clarify that the employee handbook itself should not be perceived as a contract.
3. Meal and Rest Breaks
One area of Employment Law that is continuously litigated is that of meal and rest breaks. The more vague your policy appears, the more likely that you are subjecting yourself and your medical or dental practice to potential liability. Make sure to first check your state’s laws on meal or rest breaks, as some states require them. Typically, meal breaks are at least 30 minutes, which is not considered work time and therefore is unpaid. Short rest breaks (anywhere from 5-20 minutes), however, are considered compensable time and subject to overtime. There is no federal law regarding short rest breaks, but some states require them and they are typically a mainstay for most businesses.
4. Right to Revise
Most employers opt to include a right to revise policy as a means to protect themselves from any liability issues. Right to revise policies usually state that the employer has a right to revise, delete, amend, or issue new policies stated in any document provided to employees as part of their employment rules and procedures and that the latest version of the handbook supersedes any previous policies that they had in place. While this is a relatively self-explanatory policy, you should be aware that there is no legal requirement to provide notice of any updates or changes to your employees, but it is generally a good practice to do so.
5. State-specific requirements
While federal law governs many areas of Employment Law, there are just as many areas that are governed by local and state law. It is extremely important that you research laws that may be related to your medical or dental practice to be certain that you are in compliance with any additional requirements. The variety of laws that may vary state to state include paid sick leave, pregnancy leave requirements, parental leaves, military leave, payment of wages, vacation/PTO pay, social media laws, weapons in the workplace, drug use, and laws regarding privacy of personnel files. For example, states such as California, Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Oregon have mandated sick leave requirements that all employers in those states must adhere to. In addition to varying local and state laws, laws derived from federal law may vary from state to state. For instance, federal minimum wage requirements are set, but states may also set their own minimum wage, as long as it is in compliance with the federal minimum amount. States are also able to set their own overtime requirements and states such as California, Alaska and Nevada have a daily overtime requirement in addition to the federal 40 hours per week requirement. While it may seem like state-specific requirements are complex, it is in your best interest as an employer to be compliant with any legal requirement so as to best insulate yourself and your dental or medical practice from liability.
Though the above five policies are only a handful of those that should be included in your practice’s employment manual, you should be certain that you are familiar with and in compliance with them. It can be overwhelming to create an employee handbook from scratch, but if you start with these five policies, you’re well on your way.
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HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. HR for Health has provided the following complimentary articles to ensure you have a game plan when addressing complex HR matters.
Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services