When Workplace Relationships Get Complicated
As you may remember, last spring Best Buy was experiencing less than stellar earnings - a $1.7 billion quarterly loss, as well as the closure of several of its stores and numerous layoffs. Things were not going well for the electronics giant, and it wasn’t long after that the CEO stepped down. Not much of a surprise in the corporate world of profit and loss where it’s not unusual for poor earnings to result in the ouster of the CEO. But then, as is often the case, the rest of the story began to emerge. In fact, the main reason for the CEO’s abbreviated tenure was the revelation that the 51-year-old married man was involved in a relationship with a 29-year-old female subordinate.
Whether or not you agree that such matters should be anyone’s business except those involved, the facts is relationships, be they between the boss and a subordinate or between coworkers, ripple across the organization. The dental practice is no different. In fact, the problems resulting from workplace relationships or allegations of sexual harassment can be particularly devastating. Oftentimes, dentists don’t have written human resources policies in place to adequately deal with such issues. Or, worse yet, they are the ones engaging in inappropriate or questionable relationships with employees.Moreover, they make excuses. “We’re a small operation. We’re just like one big family. We all joke around. No one takes it seriously. We’re a small business, so I don’t think we need specific policies.” Think again. In fact, when it comes to sexual harassment allegations, as well as many other human resources issues in the workplace, small businesses, including dental practices, must follow the same rules as large employers. Equally troubling, in the absence of policies there is a lack of understanding regarding what behaviors could be interpreted as sexual harassment. Consequently, doctor and staff do not even realize they are engaging in harassment, as one doctor learned the hard way.
The situation began innocently enough; the employees were just having a little fun. It was a joke that was intended to be perfectly harmless. It resulted in a very expensive lawsuit. “Jeff” joined a small practice staffed primarily by women. The ladies were a tight-knit group. They had worked together for a while and thought they would have some fun at their new male co-worker’s expense. The women repeatedly sent lewd photos to his workplace email. They regularly left an assortment of ladies lingerie at his desk. And they thought it was all very amusing and in good fun. “Jeff,” however, was so uncomfortable that he soon quit his job with the practice. Shortly thereafter, the doctor received a complaint of sexual harassment and hostile work environment.
The women saw it as an amusing “initiation.” The courts, however, saw it as hazing. The doctor was completely unprepared. There were no polices or procedures in place to deal with the issue because, well, it had never come up before. And that is precisely why dentists can suddenly find themselves in costly legal battles. They don’t THINK they will need a sexual harassment policy, or a progressive discipline policy, or a sick leave policy, until they do.
In the situation above, the practice had to pay ex-employee “Jeff” forward wages. He quit the job because it was such an extremely uncomfortable situation for him. Had it been someone else, perhaps he would have gone along with the joke and thought the whole thing was funny. But for “Jeff” it wasn’t funny; it was harassment. And that is a critical point when it comes to matters involving alleged sexual harassment. What is seemingly harmless to one person can be construed as sexual harassment to another.
It is important to remember that it’s not the intent of the harasser that counts, it’s the impact of the behavior. Things like offensive jokes, pictures and graffiti, rude treatment of women or men just because of their gender, unwanted flirtations and quid pro quo - an exchange of something for a sexual favor, such as a favorable work benefit - all can be considered harassment. Even a friendly hug could be construed as harassment if the individual receiving the hug finds it offensive.
With the holidays just around the corner and office parties taking place, we are entering “peak season” for harassment allegations.Next week, a little “celebrating” can get you into a lot of trouble.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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The First 90 Days
Doctors, this article is written to assist you with dismissing a new hire. Please note that this is not being written from a legal standpoint, as I am not an employment attorney. Michael Moore, Director of McKenzie’s HR Solutions, will be happy to answer your legal questions.The most difficult task in owning your own business is “hiring and firing.” Many of you wait until the last minute to run the ad, even though your Schedule Coordinator told you 3 months ago that she was getting married and moving to Dallas. Now it is the day before her last day and you haven’t hired anyone yet! I am going to skip over all the steps involved in the hiring process, as we have addressed this issue more than once and Sally has written How To Hire The Best Dental Employee. Let’s go right to the part where you are going to offer the position to an applicant.
Prior to Hiring, a simple bullet-point checklist should be implemented to review the benefits, salary, etc. It keeps you on track so you don’t offer benefits that you don’t mean to. Offer them a copy and keep a copy for yourself. Spend a few dollars and run a background check, especially if they are going to be handling money. I would recommend you run a credit report as well. They have already given you permission to do so, hopefully, when they completed their application for employment. If they don’t give you the okay, what does that tell you? And don’t forget to call their previous employers.
So, here you are with the potential new hire sitting across from you for the final interview and invitation to join your team. You have an employment manual ready for them to review over the next few days, along with an acknowledgement that they have read and understood it. If you have to re-negotiate the original information on the checklist, do so and edit it with their signature and a copy for their employment file.I understand that most states are a “right to fire” or “at will” state. However, this doesn’t make it any easier for you to fire an employee - the state doesn’t send someone in to do the dirty work for you! Let’s talk about how to set the ground rules to make it easier for you to do this.
Now you may be saying that this is like having a “prenuptial” agreement. You are already assuming that you are going to fire this new employee. I am sure that you have made your decision based on the completion of your due diligence, but there is still no guarantee that this new employee is going to work out. There is also no guarantee that they are going to want to stay, either. So let’s make it easy for both parties to “pull the plug” if either of you are not happy with one another. Explain to the new employee how the 90-day Probationary Period works. I will preempt this by saying that this will probably not remove you from paying unemployment should they file after you dismiss them.
Typically, new employees are not eligible for most benefits during their Probationary Period, but this is up to you. If you have a retirement plan, there are usually guidelines that will determine when they are eligible to participate. I would also suggest that you not invest in uniforms for the new employee at this point, especially if they are embroidered with their name on them.
Here is the important part and an example of the script: “Susie, your first 90 days here are considered a Probationary Period. This means that if for any reason you feel our office is not a good fit for you, the hours are too long, the drive is too far, or my breath smells, you are not required to give a notice. Simply tell me that it is not going to work out and we will part as friends. This is also true for me. Should I feel that we are not going to be a good fit for whatever reason, I will indicate so, have your final paycheck ready and we will part as friends. Does this sound fair?”
Now why would I suggest that you have this conversation? Because IF you discover after a couple of weeks that your new hire is not going to work out, it makes the dismissal much easier for you. Here is the script: “Susie, as you recall when I hired you, we both agreed to the guidelines of the Probationary Period. Unfortunately, it appears that this isn’t going to work out. Thank you for your time with us and I wish you well. I have prepared your final paycheck. Do you have any personal belongings that you need to get?”
Don’t wait forever to do this. The longer you wait, the more the employee wonders why you waited so long. It is much easier to do it early on rather than later - trust me!Forward this article to a friend
Ergonomics Equal Excellent Economics for Your Practice
Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent. ~ Author UnknownClinical efficiency is demonstrable with the OSHA approved ergonomics in place for the dentist and his/her assistant. Being able to reach all materials and instruments quickly and safely is usually designed with concerted effort by the dental clinical design team and the dentist. Having to get up and down to run in and out of the treatment room to retrieve necessary items has been proven to throw the best planned schedule off track and has been rejected fully by the clinical team in favor of an efficient, safe and well supplied operating space.
Designing the business office space with ergonomics in mind has not garnered the same attention, even though studies have shown that people working in the front office area suffer from a myriad of ailments caused by poorergonomics including but not limited to the following:
Time and motion studies reveal that a poorly designed and uncomfortable business working space causes worker productivity to decline and enthusiasm to wane as the day progresses. What can be done to prevent ailments and injuries as well as improve the working space and save time? Use the following list to assess the front office business space and make changes to achieve proper ergonomics:
1. Arrange the desk workspace to place all materials as close to the point of use as possible. Minimize the number of materials to be used in a given procedure.
2. Place items that are used frequently where the least amount of movement is necessary to find and use them - such as putting the stapler by the printer.
4. Train yourself to use smooth continuous motions instead of zig-zag motions so your body movements take up the least amount of time.
5. Anticipate your actions and position materials and equipment in advance of use whenever possible.
6. Make sure the chairs at the front desk are designed for proper foot placement and back and body support to maintain proper posture. They should be adjustable and not wobbly or loose.
7. Provide the proper lighting that does not produce shadows or dark areas in work areas where looking at documents and computer screens needs accuracy. Eliminate glare on the computer screen with a special screen. Work with breaks so that you can get away from the computer and give eyes a chance to rest.
8. Position the computer monitors so that the line of site to screen is within 10 to 40 degrees horizontal.
9. If a fixed height desk is used, add a keyboard tray that adjusts vertically to provide added adjustability.
10. Printers, scanners, fax and postage machines or meters, etc. should be at a height that does not require bending or reaching and should be close to the computer monitor to allow for easy use without crossing the room or using an extended reach.
11. Using a hands free phone eliminates neck and shoulder pain from cradling the phone between the ear and the shoulder.
12. Placing the phone on the side of the non-dominant hand (left side if right handed and vice versa) allows the phone user to write while speaking.
13. If the office has a lot of background noise such as talking or the whine of a high speed drill close by, this can affect the business coordinator’s hearing and can cause strain as she/he struggles to hear the caller. Having a phone with adjustable volume will help lessen the stress.
14. Being able to take restroom breaks is important for the health of the business coordinator. Oftentimes the level of activity makes it difficult to leave the desk, especially if the restroom is out of the office or down a long hallway. Make sure it is understood that other team members must pick up the phone should the business coordinator be away from the desk.
All of these preparations allow for the business of dentistry to run smarter not harder, and with better comfort for all who work in the business office. For excellent office systems and business efficiency, call us today for more information about dental business training for your team.Forward this article to a friend
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