Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2014 11 Human Resources

Human Resources for Dental Offices: After-office party harrassment; New owner lets employees go

Nov. 7, 2014
Human Resources experts Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg with Bent Erickson and Associates address legal quandries involving dental practice employees.

QUESTION: We periodically host off-site company functions, and there is often alcohol available for adults at these functions. When this is the case, we provide hotel rooms to keep everyone safe, and we pay for them. At our most recent event, an employee alleged that a male coworker harassed her late in the night, long after the event we hosted was over. Do we have to investigate this? Is there a potential for liability even though it was away from work and on a weekend?

ANSWER: Employers have been held liable for harassment occurring away from the workplace at company-sponsored events. Potential liability exists for you regardless of who paid for the hotel rooms, and even if the official work-related part of the event was over. Certainly, however, any assessment of liability, whether by an attorney or a government agency, would include the fact that this alleged harassment did happen away from the event, which could result in changing the outcome for you if this ever became a more serious situation.

It is not a good idea to ignore this complaint, regardless of when the alleged harassment occurred. Investigating the matter as fully as possible is in your best interest. How, and if, you address the situation will depend on what your investigation reveals. You may find that no part of your anti-harassment policy was violated, or you may find that both parties were at fault, which would not require any further action. You should respond and address any behavior you believe violated your policy. The key is that you respond in some way, which can be crucial and may deter any escalation by those involved.

QUESTION: We have a small business of 10 employees, and we have decided to sell it. The soon-to-be new owner is not going to retain any of the current staff. Do we have a legal obligation to inform staff that this will be occurring?

ANSWER: Legally? No. The federal “Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN),” which requires employers to notify employees of mass layoffs or business shutdowns, applies to employers with 100 or more employees. While several states have “Mini-WARN” laws in place, they mostly apply to employers with 50 or more employees. Maine appears to be the only state whose mini-WARN law applies to all employers, although there are some exceptions.

Of course, employees would likely appreciate as much notice as possible so that they can better prepare themselves. It may also be the most responsible and professional thing to do regardless of whether or not the law requires it of you.

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Human Resources Tips for Dental Practices is provided by Tim Twigg and Rebecca Boartfield of Bent Ericksen & Associates. Tim Twigg is president and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resource 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