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6 Things Dentists Should Know When Managing Employees

UPDATED 07/07/2023

Patients who associate your dental practice with the sound of drilling and the smell of eugenol often forget that you carry out HR626x0w functions like payroll, taxes, and employee management. Facilitating these functions can pose a challenge, especially when complying with complex legislation and ever-changing employee demands.

In an episode of the must-listen "Art of Dental Finance" podcast, dental CPA Art Wiederman and Ali Oromchian, co-founder of HR for Health and national lecturer, discussed managing HR and employee issues in a dental practice, including the importance of using a dental office employee handbook. Here are six takeaways from the episode...

#1. Dentists Should Never Ask These Interview Questions 

Dentists who ask the wrong interview questions could risk legal action. Essentially, anything about race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and disability is off-limits, as per legislation mandated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

None of this should come as a surprise, but other, more surprising, topics are also forbidden. Asking someone's pregnancy status isn't just taboo, it's technically illegal. So is asking someone's marital situation. Someone's citizenship status? Don't even go there. And, no, you can't ask if someone's been arrested. 

"Dentists can ask candidates their name and that's it," jokes Oromchian. "The last name might be tricky too! It's gotten that silly actually. The rules have got so strict. Everyone talks about New York, California, and Washington when it comes to tough HR laws, but the reality is these rules have really expanded across the country." 

In doubt? Don't ask. If a candidate like a hygienist or dental assistant nurse volunteers information during an interview, don't make a note of it and eliminate it as a discussion point and selection factor. Keep all other notes safe in HR for Health's super-secure cloud storage solution

#2. Successful Dentists Use a 75/25 Rule When Hiring New Employees

Wiederman says successful dentists often use a 75/25 rule when making decisions in a dental practice, including hiring new employees: "75 percent of the decision comes from your gut." 

Oromchian agrees: 

"A good friend of mine used to say 'You can't make an unhappy employee a happy employee.' It's about the personality, the fit, and how someone comes into the position. A basic skill set is important, but if someone comes in with a lot of energy, I think you can teach them almost anything." 

Someone might have poor exam grades or be a late bloomer, but this rarely translates to your dental practice. 

#3. A Dental Office Employee Handbook is the Most Important Document in a Dental Practice 

Employee handbooks reduce risk in dental practices. But few dentists (and other healthcare practice professionals, for that matter) use a dental office employee handbook properly, if at all. 

"We were seeing this trend where doctors were coming to us because they were being sued by their employees or complaints were being filed against them," says Oromchian. "When I was asking for documentation, they would give me this employment manual they got from some company that's still in a box and not even filled out."

The truth is, when used correctly, a dental office employee handbook helps defend dentists against lawsuits. It's as simple as that. 

Don't make the same mistakes as other dentists. Invest in a customized employee handbook developed by employment law attorneys and HR specialists and based on your practice's culture and goals. Learn more here

#4. A Dental Office Employee Handbook Isn't Enough on Its Own

Customized employee handbooks are just part of successfully managing a dental practice. Dentists need to invest in other documents that facilitate compliance, increase employee engagement, and improve organizational culture. These documents include timesheets, performance review templates, federal and state paperwork, and more. Other tools, like one-click payroll, cloud-based document vaults, and HR support are just as important. 

"Even today, all some practices do is give employees a manual and think that's enough, and that is a huge, huge problem," says Oromchian. 

"It's not just about the employee manual. It's step No.1, but it's also about the other documents. It's about how to do timekeeping properly, and how to do performance reviews. Our technology at HR for Health brings all these things into one seamless product so someone can hire, fire, and manage. We track all these things really, really carefully." 

#5. Overtime Rules Might Confuse You, But You Need to Document All Paid Hours

There are federal and state regulations concerning overtime in a dental practice, which makes things complicated:

"All 50 states are broken down into two categories: They follow the federal overtime rules or their state's overtime rules, like California," says Oromchian. 

In case you were wondering:

  • Federal overtime rules: A dentist must pay an employee in a dental practice overtime if she works more than 40 hours a week. 

  • State overtime rules: Generally, a dentist must pay an employee in a dental practice overtime if she works more than 8 hours a day. (In Colorado, it's more than 12 hours a day.)

It's important to note that some employees in a dental practice are "exempt" from the above rules. You don't have to pay these employees overtime.

"Ninety-nine percent of all employees in a dental practice are non-exempt," says Oromchian. 

"Even a hygienist?" asks Wiederman.

"That's where the 1 percent comes in! The only people that could be exempt, depending on how they're paid, are a true office manager, a hygienist, and, in some cases, a dentist."

It all depends, but staying compliant is crucial. 

Documenting overtime is important. Failure to do so could result in expensive penalties from the Department of Labor or your state's government. Invest in digital time and attendance tracking tools to document overtime (as well as breaks and lunches) for wage-and-hour compliance. 

#6. Dentists Need to Know the Difference Between Independent Contractors and Employees 

A recent piece of legislation in California — the "AB5 law" — means dentists in the "Golden State" need to classify team members as either employees or independent contractors, or face eye-watering penalties. 

In a recent blog post, we go into much more detail on this topic here, but it's important to know the difference between employees and contractors, even if you don't work in California. Other states might implement similar laws in the future. 

"We think this is going to become the law in many, many states," says Oromchian. 

If you have questions about AB5, email: compliance@hrforhealth.com, or call (877) 779-4747. We'll be more than happy to help. 

Final Word

Dentists have a lot to think about when managing a dental practice. The most important takeaway is that dentists need to use the right digital tools, handbooks, and documentation to comply with ever-changing legislation and HR trends. 

"Our medical professionals do great work," says Wiederman. "We don't want them to get sued."