The importance of employee handbooks
If you are not currently using a customized, up-to-date employee handbook, you are missing out on a powerful—yet easily implemented—tool to improve and safeguard your practice. Your handbook will serve as your primary defense in everything from day-to-day office disputes to full-blown legal claims. It is a simple, effective way to protect your practice—and yourself.
With all of the burdens that come with running your practice, it is natural to look for ways to prioritize some tasks over others. Unfortunately, the employee handbook is one of those often-ignored projects, with many offices using outdated or incomplete materials if they have a handbook at all. But failing to implement or update your employee manual is, at best, a missed opportunity for your practice. At worst, it can be a recipe for disaster.
I have asked opposing plaintiff’s attorneys about what factors helped them decide to file suit on behalf of current or former employees with complaints against medical practitioners. Their responses are always the same: Whether or not the practice has an employee handbook is a key determinant for filing or not filing a legal claim. Practices that don’t have employee manuals are considered proverbial low-hanging fruit for successful lawsuits. In other words, if you want to avoid employee legal claims, a handbook is one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways you can make that happen.
Why your practice needs a handbook
There are three benefits your practice gains from having a handbook:
Let’s start with the worst-case scenario for most practices in terms of HR issues—a labor dispute or other employee lawsuit. You may be surprised to learn that your employee handbook can be one of your best weapons of defense when it comes to protecting yourself against false allegations by former or current employees. That is because your handbook is a clear, definitive communication between your practice and your staff. It lays out office policies, responsibilities, and consequences of policy violations all in one place. It is the perfect tool for supporting your claims, rather than winding up in a “he said, she said” situation.
An employee handbook can also be a great help during the hiring process. A new employee’s first few days can be filled with a flurry of paperwork, introductions, and demonstrations. It shouldn’t be surprising that certain topics could be accidentally overlooked. The employee handbook is a great backup for covering anything that you may have missed during the orientation process. Plus, even if you do go over an issue with the new employee, the handbook is a great resource for the employee to review if he or she forgot what you said or needs more information. Overall, this manual is a catchall that protects both you and the employee by documenting your practice’s most important information in one easily accessible location.
Finally, handbooks are essential, because they emphasize consistency. The truth is that you do not want to have to make individual decisions for each of your staff members every time an issue arises. Not only is that time-consuming, but your employees will begin to resent you for any perceived unfairness. A handbook allows you to outline policies consistently that apply to everyone. It also saves you the time of dealing with employee interruptions unnecessarily when day-to-day issues arise. Frequent questions can be answered in the handbook, giving your staff the information they seek all in one place.
The importance of frequent updates
The only handbook-related error that rivals not having a book at all is having one that is out of date. Think about it: A handbook can protect your practice by setting a clear standard for your employee policies and your consistency in applying them. This advantage is greatly diminished if your handbook has not been updated to reflect the latest laws and regulations that affect your practice, as well as all of the internal rules and guidelines that you expect your staff to follow. In a word, an out-of-date or incomplete employee handbook can be ineffective.
You risk having an ineffective handbook when you trust cookie-cutter templates that you find online. While these templates at first may appear to cover your bases, the truth is that more than 90% of the sample handbooks found online contain out-of-date or erroneous information. This fact makes sense in light of the frequency with which federal, state, and local labor laws are changing. Using a customized handbook that is frequently and consistently updated is the only way to get the most out of this HR tool.
Why a customized handbook is best
As mentioned before, the employee handbook is a tool that protects your practice and implements the strategies and processes that help your practice run smoothly every day. And the very best way to make that tool work for you is to ensure that it has been designed to best suit your needs. Factors such as your office’s specialization, the state in which you are located, and the number of staff members you employ all affect the types of regulations to which you are subject. Plus, a customized handbook is a great way to include any information that is important to you as the practice owner. When you factor in each of these variables, a stock handbook is simply never going to address all of your needs in the way that an all-encompassing, customized handbook can.
If you are not currently using a customized, up-to-date employee handbook, you are missing out on a powerful—yet easily implemented—tool to improve and safeguard your practice. To increase productivity and minimize confusion about the policies and regulations affecting your practice, seek the services of an HR specialist or an attorney and make drafting an employee handbook a key priority. Your handbook will serve as your primary defense in everything from day-to-day office disputes to full-blown legal claims. It is a simple, effective way to protect your practice—and yourself.
Ali Oromchian, JD, LLM, is the founding attorney of the Dental & Medical Counsel, PC law firm. He is also cofounder of HR for Health, which provides a cloud-based human resource management solution for dental practices. Mr. Oromchian is well known for his expertise in legal matters pertaining to dentists. He has served as a key opinion leader and legal authority in the dental industry with dental CPAs, consultants, banks, insurance brokers, and dental supply and equipment companies. He serves as a legal consultant for numerous dental practice management firms that rely on his expertise for their clients' businesses.