QUESTION: I'm an RDH that was working at an office on Mondays and Thursdays. I was being paid as an independent contractor. On one Wednesday before I was to go into work, I received a call from the office manager's assistant telling me that my morning had been cancelled and I was to come to work at 1 pm and stay until 7 pm. My regular schedule was 9 am to 5 pm. I have stayed later or come in earlier several times if needed.
I was upset that I wasn't asked beforehand, and I found out that the doctor had not worked that morning also. I believe he took off work for personal reasons, and he does not want me to work when he isn't there. This has happened on two other occasions. I was upset and told him that I expect to work Mondays and Thursdays and that I had turned down another offer to work that Thursday because I was scheduled at his office. I told him I felt this was rude and inconsiderate. He told me I should be more flexible and that I was the one who was being rude. He stated that it was his office and he could do whatever he wanted. I asked for a referral letter and he said that he would say how rude I was to him in the letter.
Do you have any suggestions on how I am to discuss this situation in future interviews? I had never called in sick or showed up late. Also, I found out that his office manager was not paying me minutes from the two-week payment schedule. When I asked why she told me the accountant "adds them up for the next pay period." I have never heard of such a thing. Have you? Thank you for your help.
ANSWER FROM TIM TWIGG,Bent Erickson and Associates and CRC Inc.
Given the information presented, this is not an independent contractor situation. If reported and investigated, the doctor could be subject to penalties and fines for not handling the employment status correctly.
The dentist has a right to change the schedule at his choosing; the hygienist has a right to not work for him if she feels this is unfair or disrespectful. It would appear that this just isn't a good fit for either one of them.
Regarding the resume and references, she should put him on her resume and/or application. Failure to do so would effectively be falsifying her work history by omission. But I would suggest that she not add him as a reference since it's unlikely she'll get a good one.
As for explaining why she left, our suggestion is that she simply state that the previous dentist changed the schedule frequently, which made it difficult for her to rely on regular hours and pay, or something to that effect. She should do this proactively; if she doesn't address it up front and someone calls the dentist for verification, he might spill the beans, so it's best to just deal with it. She can emphasize that she values a regular, known schedule that doesn't change. She should make that known to her next employer to ensure a better fit with her values.
Relative to the comment "not paying me minutes from the two-week payment schedule," I’m not sure what she means by that. But if it has to do with work time, employers can't add up things and save them until it's convenient to pay it out. All work performed during the pay period must be paid on the appropriate payday.
ANSWER FROM ALLEN SCHIFF, Allen M. Schiff, CPA, CFE
Schiff & Associates
In the future, I believe the RDH should choose a word other than “rude.” As a suggestion, use the doctor was inconsiderate. Rude is a tough word, and if used in the wrong context it will bring a negative response, which can cause a snowball effect. With the doctor calling the RDH rude, it sounds like a good thing she’s no longer working there. And it’s true that the doctor can do whatever he wants to, but he would probably have a lot more employee turnover with this type of behavior. As for requesting a reference letter, timing is everything!
Regarding suggestions on how she can discuss the situation in future interviews, she should just say that she and doctor have different philosophies of practicing dentistry. When she found that the office manager was “not paying me minutes from the two-week payment schedule,” I find that a little bizarre. Most practices pay with 15-minute increments, in quarter hours as opposed to “minutes.”
The RDH mentioned she is being paid as an independent contractor. This is a hot button with the IRS. The issue at hand is — independent contractor vs. employee. Substance over form or form over substance? In my professional opinion, the RDH is an employee and not an independent contractor. The employer sets her hours, tells her when to work, and provides the tools (operatories, chairs, etc.) for her to perform her professional services. If the IRS audited the doctor, and if this issue were addressed, the doctor would be responsible for the payroll taxes, along with the interest and penalties, which by the way, could approximate the total taxes due. This is not a good situation!
ANSWER FROM DR. TANYA BROWN,The Center for Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry
This is an interesting situation to say the least. In order to have a positive office environment, there must be mutual respect. It sounds like the owner dentist is not considering the impact that he has on others. As far as the tax liability/employment arrangement, I believe that is best answered by the experts.
ANSWER FROM COLLEEN RUTLEDGE, RDH,Perio-Therapeutics and Beyond
Why in the world would this RDH ask this doctor for a reference? That’s a bad move. He stated that he would say in the letter how rude she was to him. I’m still a practicing RDH as well as a hygiene consultant, and I would not have called my employer or doctor rude, ever, but I would realize that "the writing is on the wall" and that this is NOT the office for me!
As for discussing the situation in future interviews, ask for a copy of the office policy. And regarding the payment schedule, if the RDH punches in and out on the computer, minutes are normally tallied. But in practices where timecards are used, time is normally tallied in 15-minute segments. I have never heard of “adding them up for the next pay period.”
ANSWER FROM TONYA LANTHIER, RDH, founder of DentalPost.net
Going forward into a new situation, I would like to offer this RDH a bit of advice so she does not get into a similar situation. If you are offered a working interview, it is important to get the following information — the time you’re expected to arrive, how long you’re expected to stay, if you will be paid for the time you’re there, how much you will be paid for your time, if breaks and lunch are paid or not, when you will be paid, what is expected of you, and more.
The time to get this information is before you show up for your working interview. It is also important to get this information in writing. Make sure you get the dentist or office manager to read and affirm what’s written so there are no misunderstandings. You need to be able to show that the person in charge of signing off on your hours is aware of, and agreed to, the terms of your working interview.
If you don’t get all this down beforehand, and find yourself shortchanged, there’s really nothing you can do about it. Don’t let an employer dupe you, and don’t dupe yourself. Be prepared, clearly communicate your expectations, and confirm that the employer’s expectations match yours.
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