Human Resources Questions for Dentists: Rules for employees who smoke; and personal versus office vacations

Handling staff issues in dental offices can be complicated. It's important for dentists to understand and apply proper human resources strategies for their team members.

Jul 2nd, 2019
No Smoking

The human resources landscape is constantly changing, and dentists often have many questions when it comes to HR issues in their practices. These HR experts are here to help.


QUESTION: Several of the employees in our office smoke, and this leads us to several questions. Can we prohibit smoking within a one-mile radius of our practice? Do we have to allow smoking on our premises? Do we have to allow employees to take smoke breaks? Are we required to have designated smoking areas?

ANSWER: Nearly every state has laws about smoking. In most states, these laws stipulate certain rules that must be followed to prohibit smoking at an employer’s place of business, for example, posting signs, removing ashtrays, and notifying employees of the law. Therefore, first thing for you to do is ensure that any requirements in this regard are being followed. 

Currently, no state requires employers to provide designated smoking areas and, assuming notification requirements are fulfilled, nothing would mandate that you allow smoking on your premises. Designated smoke breaks would also not be required, although if you are in a state that requires meal and/or rest breaks, then smoking could likely occur during those break times throughout the day. 

Once employees are off work and off the employer’s premises, nothing prevents them from smoking, and you could not enforce a one-mile radius rule. This idea is too broad and overreaching. 

QUESTION: Our practice closes at different times throughout the year when the dentists leave to attend continuing education courses. In most cases, employees are also off during this time. Our problem is that employees also end up taking off for their own vacations, per our vacation benefit. As you can imagine, between our time off and their time off, this adds up. Is there a way we can require employees to use their vacation times when the practice is closed? 

ANSWER: As a discretionary benefit, nothing prevents you from specifying the rules for when this benefit can be used by your employees. Therefore, if you want to implement a policy that requires the vacation benefit be used during your time off, you can. 

There are two ways you can do this: (1) require that all available vacation be used during your office closures, or (2) require 50% of all available vacation to be used during your office closures when employees have more than one week of time available. 

In either case, you must have a policy that outlines this requirement with your staff before enforcing it. This also cannot be implemented retroactively. This policy change would only impact future closures. 

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Visit DentistryIQ and search "Human Resources" for many more HR issues for dentists.

Human Resources Questions for Dentists is provided by Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg of Bent Ericksen & Associates. Tim Twigg is president and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resources compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit bentericksen.com. 

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