9.23.11 Issue #498 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

T's and Tats Causing a Stir
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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“Amber” is an assistant in “Dr. DiStasio’s” office. She’s what you picture when you think “free spirited.” Amber likes to color her hair a new shade every month - bleach blond, jet black, fiery red, etc. She has multiple ear piercings and an edgy style, but she’s not offensive… until recently. Her latest dye job is pink and green. She’s sporting a ring in her nose, sleeve tattoos wind their way up both forearms and the letters J-A-M-E-S are tattooed on her knuckles.

Dr. D. is about to drop dead. His practice is in Manhattan … Manhattan, Kansas, that is - in the heart of the Midwest. Even in this college town, it’s fair to say that there is a somewhat conservative view of individual “style.” Dr. DiStasio has been in practice for 25 years and has many aging boomers who’ve long since forgotten the concept of free spirit and the Psychedelic Revolution.

He's hoping appropriate dress is covered in the employee policies and procedures manual. Just one problem - he never actually got around to finishing and distributing the manual. There is no policy on appropriate dress or anything else. Truth be told, the doctor never really thought he would need the manual until, of course, he needed it.

According to Mike Moore, Director of McKenzie Management HR Policies, too often dentists look at human resource policies as an expense, rather than a necessary investment in protecting the doctor and the practice from potentially costly litigation. In other cases, a doctor may purchase a practice that has an existing manual and they simply assume that it is okay, that everything that should be addressed is… until they discover otherwise.

“When the economy tanked in 2008, the number of discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits skyrocketed. When the economy is good and people can find jobs quickly, they don’t bother pursuing litigation. In this environment, it is much more likely that an unhappy employee will sue or file a complaint than it was five years ago. It is essential that employers get policies and procedures in place,” emphasizes Mike.

He acknowledges that dress and appearance are big issues in today’s workplace. “Doctors need a dress code and a policy. You can say that everyone is going to wear scrubs. You can say no jeans are allowed. You don’t have to put up with weird dress, T-shirts with inappropriate sayings, crazy hair, etc., but it’s essential to have policies in place.” However, Mike acknowledges that doctors do need to be aware that if the dress, such as a headscarf, is worn because of the employee’s religious practice, it is protected. “Case law in religious accommodation says when there is an issue about whether the employee’s dress is truly religion motivated or simply matters of style, the courts almost always give the employee the benefit of the doubt.”

He urges doctors to work with a professional to create a policies and procedures manual that is specific to the individual needs of the practice. The manual may cover as many or as few issues as the doctor chooses, but would probably serve its purpose most effectively if it included key practice policies, including:

Equal Opportunity Statement - This states that the employee's religion, age, sex, or race will not influence hiring, promotion, pay, or benefits in any way.

Definition of the Work Schedule - This indicates that all employees are to be at their assigned work areas and ready to provide care for patients at a certain time.

Salary/Payment Policies - This details when the employee can expect to be paid, how wage increases are handled, overtime, etc.

Professional Code of Conduct - This section clarifies the practice's expectations regarding employee dress, punctuality, use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, as well as policies regarding personal phone calls, Internet usage, and personal visits.

Performance Review Policy - This section explains exactly how and when employee performance is evaluated, including samples of performance evaluation forms. It may also spell out the practice's policy on progressive discipline and unsatisfactory performance. And it may list those infractions that could result in termination of employment.

Time Off Policies - This section explains policies on vacation, parental/maternity leave, illness, military, funeral, jury duty, holidays, personal days, etc.

The key is preparation. Waiting until employee behaviors are so problematic that they are damaging the practice or dealing with issues such as tardiness, family leave, unprofessional conduct, dress code, etc. inconsistently make the dentist and practice highly vulnerable to litigation.

Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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