Human Resources Questions for Dentists: Must dentist honor free care benefit during an employee's leave?

It's important for dentists to obey the laws when it comes to their employees' human resources rights. These HR experts can help.

Mar 6th, 2019
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The human resources landscape is constantly changing. Dentists have ongoing questions about how to handle staff issues. Take this month's questions, for instance. Is this dentist required to honor the dental benefits that are offered to employees who are on leave? And can this dentist accept an employee's offer to work for "free" in exchange for tuition coverage?

QUESTION:I have an employee who is on maternity leave, and she will be coming into the office to get a crown. I offer full-time employees a 100% courtesy discount on dental treatment after six months of employment, with a cap of $2,500 annually. This particular employee qualifies for this treatment free of charge. However, she is on maternity leave and is not expected back at work for another two months. My question is, do I have to honor the 100% courtesy discount benefit while an employee is on maternity leave? We’ve been told the employee will return to work, but sometimes things change, and someone does not return. I’m concerned that I might be taken advantage of.

ANSWER:You can exclude employees who are on a leave of absence from receiving dental treatment benefits. This would be similar, for example, to not accruing vacation benefits while on leave. Unless a law requires otherwise, which in this case it does not (dental treatment is not a protected benefit), employers are allowed to discontinue employer-provided benefits when a leave of absence occurs.

If this is the direction you want to go, the change to the policy regarding this benefit cannot be retroactive. Therefore, free treatment must be given to this employee since the current benefit does not exclude employees on leave. You should modify the dental treatment policy and issue it to employees to ensure everyone understands and is on the same page. The effective date should be established after employees have read the new policy language. Then, once established, everyone should be treated equally.

QUESTION:I have an employee who wants to go to school to obtain a license that will allow her to move up the organizational ladder of the practice. I love that she wants to do this. In fact, I’m willing to support her by paying for the cost of her tuition. This totals about $15k when all is said and done. In exchange, and without my prompting, she has offered to work on Fridays, a day that she normally takes off, for free. How do I establish this agreement in writing?

ANSWER:This offer is very generous of you! I love that you are willing to do this for your employee’s growth. Unfortunately, the arrangement you want to make with the employee is not legal. Anytime an employee performs work, the person must be paid for that time, regardless of anything else you choose to provide to the employee as a benefit. Employees cannot volunteer their work time for employers in the private sector.

If you continue to offer this nice benefit to your employee, you need to do so with the knowledge that it is a gesture of kindness and goodwill toward the person and that your return on investment is her future growth with your organization. Getting this money back if she suddenly quits is nearly impossible, and nothing can be “exchanged” to balance out what you’re giving her versus what she’s giving back to you.

I agree that this arrangement should be in writing so that everyone knows what can be expected. I also recommend that you don’t pay these costs in advance. For example, you could reimburse her at the end of each semester as she continues to work for you in her current role. You could also consider payment based on achieving a minimum grade for the course, such as a B or better. Any particular requirements like this should be carefully spelled out in the agreement.

RECENT HUMAN RESOURCES QUESTIONS
Should employees receive pay when treating family members (for free)?
Just how important are written job descriptions?


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