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Why Your Employee Handbook is Your First Line of Defense

For Your Dental, Optometry, Veterinary, and Medical Practice

When it comes to your practice, one of the most important documents in your business is your employment handbook, yet it is very commonly overlooked. Definitive employee policies cannot only objectively resolve HR issues, but they also demonstrate your due diligence and compliance with legal responsibilities. Don’t miss out on this powerful HR tool!

The 3 Essential Functions of Your Employee Handbook

1. Protection — Your Due Diligence

A well-written employee handbook contains objective guidelines to practice policies, rules, and regulations, in conjunction with both federal and state labor laws. Specifically, your handbook illustrates your compliance with mandated legislation such as protected sick leave, pregnancy accommodations, and anti-discrimination/harassment policies.

Why Your Employee Handbook is Your First Line of Defense

Secondly, the absence of an employee handbook significantly increases the likelihood of an employee filing a suit. After polling several litigation attorneys about what factors helped them decide to file suit on behalf of current or former employees, the deciding factor was whether or not the practice had an employee handbook. Before an attorney takes any case, they will assess your practice’s employment processes and evaluate how likely it would be for them to make something stick. Practices that do not have employee handbooks are considered the proverbial low-hanging fruit for triumphant lawsuits, because it is indicative of potential negligence in other aspects of the business. Litigation attorneys will take baseless claims for little to no cost and try to find weak points in your employment processes to make something “stick.” It’s quite cliché, but the best offense in thwarting these claims is a strong defense. Defense in the form of due diligence. You would be surprised at how far something as simple as an employment handbook for your dental, optometry, veterinary, or medical practice can thwart these baseless claims.

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2. Consistency — Thwarting Discrimination Claims

Handbooks are essential because they emphasize consistency—which, protects you against discrimination claims, such as retaliation and a hostile work environment. The truth is that all situations should be handled objectively and consistently. A handbook allows you to outline policies (and the consequences of violating these policies) as they apply objectively to your entire team. Referencing your handbook for applications of principles and procedures ensures you are handling all situations consistently, and more importantly objectively, avoiding high-risk discrimination claims. Additionally, your employee handbook outlines your practice’s culture. This includes benefits, dress codes, punctuality, and attendance expectations. Outlining your stance on these policies is imperative to ensure you are not unfairly or inadvertently singling someone out.

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3. Compliance — Federal and State Mandated Laws

Your handbook outlines your compliance with legally mandated laws and ordinances. Federal agencies, such as U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) require business owners to outline rights, such as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),Whistleblower Protections, Minimum Wage, Time Off to Vote, Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), etc. Additionally, state agencies also mandate autonomous leave ordinances. Recently, imposing mandatory paid sick leave policies. Legally, all employees, regardless of hours worked, are rightfully allowed to review and accrue paid sick leave policies. Having these policies outlined in your handbook ensures you are compliant, while also informing your staff of their rights within each policy and the procedures to exhaust mandated leaves.

The Perils of Generic Employee Handbooks for Dental, Optometry, Veterinary, and Medical Practices

Many times, practices want to use generic handbooks provided by their payroll company. Although this may prove to be easy and straightforward, it typically provides more risk than reward. Most things that are low effort and easy tend to prove hazardous.

1. All practices are not alike

Simply copying the contents of another practice's handbook—or downloading a generic version found online—will not fulfill the purpose of your HR initiative. Once you publish your handbook as ‘yours,’ you must adhere to all the policies outlined in it. If not, your policies will become inconsistent and work against you. Having inconsistent policies means you have fickle enforcement practices which bear huge red flags for discrimination, wrongful terminations, and hostile work environments. It is imperative that you do not have a handbook just for the sake of having a handbook. This is a tool that must serve a targeted function.

2. You truly are missing out on a powerful tool to safeguard your practice

Your handbook should outline benefits and policies that your practice uses in reference for enforcement of disciplinary action, operating procedures, and a concise outline of benefit allocation. Having clear policies outlined in your handbook ensures every situation is handled objectively and consistently.

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3. Labor laws are constantly changing

handbookdefense2These changes mean it’s imperative your employee handbook is updated to reflect your compliance in accordance with these updates. Your employee handbook is an ongoing project. Annual updates are imperative to ensure you do not fall out of compliance. For example, many city-specific mandates (specifically Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Seattle, Detroit, and New York and others) left employers flat-footed when they implemented more generous sick leave than the initial state requirements. It’s imperative you follow up with an HR company or employment law attorney to understand your legal obligations.

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Why You Need an Employee Handbook Instead of a Template

Final Thoughts

If you are not currently using a customized, up-to-date employee handbook, you are missing out on a powerful—yet easily implemented—tool to improve and safeguard your dental, optometry, veterinary, or medical practice. To insulate yourself from future lawsuits, increase productivity, and minimize confusion about the policies and regulations affecting your practice, seek the services of an HR specialist or an attorney and ensure drafting an employee handbook is a key priority. Your handbook will serve as your primary defense in everything from day-to-day office disputes to full-blown legal claims. It is a simple, effective way to protect your practice—and yourself.

If you feel your practice may need assistance with any of the above information, Set up a consultation today!

Schedule an HR Consultation