What to Do When a Dental Employee Ghosts You
Things can get awkward when a team member “ghosts” you - a phenomenon that is otherwise known as job abandonment. The employee simply vanishes, and you can't be sure whether or when they might return.
Do you fill the position immediately? Do you wait a few days? How often should you call? When should you worry? It’s a tricky situation, but there’s no need to get spooked. This is your comprehensive guide to the next steps.
When a team member in dentistry doesn’t call and doesn’t turn up for a scheduled shift, it’s disruptive to your patients and your dental practice. While your first instinct is likely frustration, begin by assuming that it’s an honest mistake. Reach out by phone, text message, or both. It could be a simple misunderstanding - a forgotten vacation day, for example - or your employee might have overslept.
Chances are you will hear back right away, and your employee will offer an explanation. Whether you move forward with disciplinary action depends on the team member’s attendance history, the attendance policy listed in your employee handbook, and how you have handled similar situations in the past. For example, if your most experienced hygienist has a habit of ghosting or missing shifts, but you let it go because she’s a favorite with patients, it’s important to give the rest of your team the same sort of leeway.
If there is no response to your outreach, consider what you know about the person. Has this happened before, or is this an individual who is known for reliability? Are you aware of a potential medical issue? Do they live alone? If missing work is out of character and you believe there is cause for alarm, you may wish to try the emergency contact on file.
Two consecutive missed shifts without any contact are more serious. The first order of business is to ensure that your employee is okay. Attempt to reach your team member, and give a call to the emergency contact if you haven’t already.
Keep in mind that the rest of your team will appreciate that your primary concern is safety and well-being. While it’s true that newer folks might abruptly decide the position isn’t quite right, the ones who have been with you for some time are unlikely to resign in such an unprofessional manner.
A third missed shift typically means one of two things:
- Either your team member is in the midst of a serious personal issue, or
- They have decided not to return.
Based on how well you know the person and how long they have worked with you, you might already know which is more likely.
Three missed shifts without explanation is a reasonable threshold for assuming your employee has resigned, however, you should have a no call no show policy outlined in your employee handbook for situations like these. Among other things, you can’t operate a dental practice with the on-going uncertainty of whether they will return. Start planning to hire a replacement, but don’t make any offers quite yet. The best dental practice at this point is to send a short letter to the employee’s address on file with the following message:
You were scheduled to work on the following dates [insert dates], however you did not come in for your shifts. We have left several messages, but we have not yet received your response. Our handbook policy states [x days] of no call/no show is considered job abandonment. Please contact us by [deadline] to discuss your employment status. If I do not hear from you, we will move forward with processing your resignation.
The goal of this letter is to encourage employees who have a reasonable explanation for their absence to get in touch. On rare occasions, an accident or emergency has prevented them from coming to work or calling. Taking this extra step may protect you if the employee’s absence is covered under paid sick, leave of absence, or domestic violence regulations.
If the Employee Responds...
Your team member may reach out upon receiving your letter, at which point you have some discretion on the next steps. For example, if she or he was in the hospital unexpectedly, permitting a leave of absence is appropriate - and perhaps required, depending on the circumstances.
Of course, the situation is rarely so extreme, and you may decide to move forward with disciplinary action, up to termination, depending on the situation at hand. After all, reliability is critical to keeping your office running smoothly. In such a situation, you can let the individual know that they did not follow the attendance policy outlined in your employee handbook and you expect your team to communicate with you when they are not able to make it to their scheduled shift. Each situation is unique so if the employee responds and you’d like to move forward with disciplinary action or a termination, you should speak with an HR Specialist to ensure you are mitigating your risk.
If the Employee Does Not Respond…
If you haven’t heard from your team member within the timeframe specified in your letter, it’s a safe assumption that they have decided not to return. At this point, you have done everything you can, and it is time to move forward with a new hire.
It’s disappointing when a team member chooses ghosting as a resignation method, but unfortunately, it happens from time to time. Taking a methodical approach to ensuring your employee’s safety, and offering an opportunity to provide an explanation strikes the right balance between showing concern and meeting the needs of your dental practice.
The most important takeaway is to ensure that your Employee Handbook is up-to-date, and you have a clear policy around attendance, call-off procedures, and lengthy absences without communication. However, if you haven’t had a chance to put an Employee Handbook together, don’t worry. There are tools and resources to help. That may not resolve the current situation, but clearly defined policies that are easily accessible to your team will prevent future issues.
Learn more about the best practices for absence management by contacting HR for Health here.
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