No Policy? You’re a Prime Target
Ah yes, the holidays, the parties, the festivities, it’s the most wonderful time of the year… for sexual harassment allegations. Parties and social events where everyone is drinking alcohol and having a good time are often where problems begin. Things are said, hugs and kisses shared, and the situation can get out of control. Social events tend to be major culprits in spurring actual or perceived sexual harassment situations.
What should you do if you are accused of sexual harassment? First, make sure that never happens. Too often dentists look at human resources policies as an expense rather than a necessary investment to protect themselves and their practice from potentially costly litigation.
If you do not have an employee policy manual you are a prime target for legal action. Experts we talk to on this subject say that plaintiff attorneys will file a lawsuit no matter how weak the case is. The attorney’s reason: how can a doctor hold an employee accountable for anything if there is no employee policy manual? In other cases, a doctor may purchase a practice that has an existing manual and they simply assume it is okay and everything that should be addressed is - until they discover otherwise.
McKenzie Management’s HR Solutions division encourages 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 practices expectations regarding punctuality, sexual harassment, employee dress, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, as well as policies regarding personal phone calls, Internet usage, and personal visits.
Time-Off Policies - This section explains policies on vacation, parental/maternity leave, illness, military, funeral, jury duty, holidays, personal days, etc.
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.
Every practice, no matter its size, needs to have an employee policies manual. The employees must know what the policies are. They need to be written and communicated, and employees should be trained, particularly in an area such as harassment, to ensure that they understand what might be construed as harassment. Prevention is the best way to protect yourself and your practice.
If you or someone on your staff is accused of sexual harassment, call an attorney or a professional human resources investigator. You, the doctor, need to separate yourself from the situation. The attorney or HR investigator should come in and gather as much info as possible, interview all the parties, and try to frame the situation to determine if there is liability or if other steps need to be taken. The worst thing a doctor can do is ignore the situation or try to handle it him/herself.Keep employee documents in a secure place. This is especially critical in situations where an employee is dismissed and files an allegation of sexual harassment after they are fired. If you are documenting employee performance, action, and inactions and the employee files a complaint, you are in a much stronger situation. An outside attorney or human resources professional will still be required to conduct an investigation, but documentation, in most cases, will save an employer from a frivolous lawsuit.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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