I remember when I was a kid and my dad’s general dental office had exactly two employees: my grandmother (front desk) and one assistant. It was a VERY different type of office than the one most of us run today. HR issues? Pffft. Not back then.
As I embarked on my dental practice career nearly 30 years ago, I learned many lessons. Some the easy way and many the difficult way. I’ve always tried to run my office with honesty and integrity, doing my best to help employees lead their best lives both in and out of the workplace. Sometimes I solved problems with homespun wisdom (like the time two valued employees showed up at my desk at 7:45AM, each demanding the other be fired) and sometimes I solved them with the help of attorneys. No matter the resolution, things always worked out.
But that was then and this is now.
Today, my partner and I employ around 25 team members and the employment world is sticky. Generation Z is unlike any group we’ve seen in the workplace before, and a litigious “sue first” and “cancel first” environment combined with the ubiquitous social media pipeline means that workplace issues need more care and consideration than ever before.
Years ago, a toxic employee who was underperforming could be “fired at will”. Not so these days. You could be sued for wrongful termination or bias if you don’t effectively and extensively document every conversation you’ve had with the underperforming employee. Have a pregnant employee violate a significant clinical protocol or be insubordinate and you want to let them go immediately? Not so fast. Perhaps just a warning and documentation this time-and perhaps a couple of more warnings-before you risk exposing yourself to a lawsuit.
Employment in the modern workplace has become much more about what you are allowed to do, rather than what you feel like doing, sometimes finding that what’s in the best interests of the practice or team are in direct conflict with what is legally advisable.
I use an HR company to advice us on the legalities of many situations that arise. Sure, they’re not cheap and their answers can often be frustrating, but their sole raison d’être is to stay abreast of the most current employment laws and assist me with good legal employment advice.
I have a lot of friends who choose to “wing it” or work off of their experience, but I strongly advise against it. According to Forbes magazine, Coronavirus is causing more employment lawsuits, and many legal analysts believe that the very tech savvy and often short fused generation Z workforce (the one now entering our office team at the fastest rate) may be more litigious than any before.
Even a cursory dive into employment law will scare the heck out of any business owner. Almost every single aspect of our practice lives has some sort of legal structure that we must be aware of. Off the cuff answers can often get us into some trouble and a simple “well I’ve been doing this for years” or “I’m close with my team” doesn’t really suffice. The road to legal ruin is littered with the bodies of owners who thought the same thing.
As I was told years ago by a navy mentor: “All it takes to ruin your practice is one bad move.” All the more true when you factor in today’s super powerful social media world where the court of public opinion can vilify you even when you follow the letter of the law.
Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish”, as the old saying goes. Hire a reputable, dental focused HR advice company and trust their suggestions. Sometimes, you might disagree with what they’re telling you, but always remember that-just like you- they are the experts in their field.