Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected].
QUESTION: I’m a dental hygienist in Texas and have been with the same group for more than 17 years. Everything was fine at first. I had paid holidays, PTO, and insurance. But the dentist who owns the practice had issues that led to his retirement, and during his issues his girlfriend ran the practice. But when they broke up, her friend took over. This new office manager is only in eight to 10 hours a week and leaves the assistant OM in charge, who continued to deduct our insurance after we lost it. This was reported and the OM was forced to reimburse us.
We were told to save our PTO because we would be off for at least two weeks during an office relocation. But when the office reopened, we were given no PTO. Then we were told to sign a new contract that stated that all hygienists would lose our PTO and holiday pay. The contract also stated that if we quit or were fired we could not find a new job within 10 miles of the office.
I understand we signed a contract that updates the PTO, but what about what I accumulated throughout the year? I had five weeks of PTO that I could have used and really needed. The office led me to believe I’d be paid, but when I returned I received nothing. I can’t talk to the doctor about any of this because he’s brainwashed by the OM and will throw us under the bus. What are my options? I don't want to look for another position. I appreciate any advice.
ANSWER FROM DENISE CIARDELLO,Global Team Solutions:
First and foremost, I pray that you and yours were safe from the destruction of Harvey. There are so many stories that we are still hearing about from that colossal event. I know that Texas will come back stronger than ever.
As to your situation, this answer is my opinion on how to handle this. I’m not an employment attorney or HR specialist. I believe that the successful outcome to your circumstance will require a combination of several steps.
Although it doesn’t seem like the easy answer, the correct first step is to address your concerns with your doctor. As the practice owner, he’s the one who’s responsible for determining how all benefits are awarded and paid.
However, prior to meeting with him, I recommend that you gather the following items:
• A copy of the office manual, because these are the rules by which the doctor has determined the office will be run. If the rules have changed, as you stated since the move, you should have both sets of “rules.”
• A copy of your PTO and absence tracking spreadsheet.
• You should do some research with your state’s workforce commission. In your case it is www.twc.state.tx.us. You want to find out what your rights are as an employee regarding benefits, pay, and non-compete rules, (since you mentioned having to work 10 miles away if you leave his employment).
Since the doctor has assigned an agent to oversee the operations of the office, invite that person to be present in this meeting. There might be confusion on the part of the doctor, the office manager, or you. This needs to be cleared up so that everyone is satisfied with the outcome. This is not a time to be confrontational or have an ill attitude toward anyone. Clear your mind of any accusations toward anyone, such as “he’s brainwashed,” or “he will throw us under the bus.” You’re merely trying to understand the changes in the office operations. The doctor needs to know that you have concerns and the office manager may glean information from this meeting that can help the rest of the employees. Keep in mind this is how the insurance issue was resolved when he reimbursed you for those premiums.
It is commendable that you have remained with the same practice for 17 years. Kudos! This is not always easy when there are changes, however, it’s important for you to understand how those changes directly affect you. Don’t feel like you’re rocking the boat and approach this meeting as a fact-finding mission. Be sure to keep feelings and emotions out of the conversation and stick with the facts.
Once you have the answers straight from the practice owner, it’s up to you to decide if these new terms are acceptable to you. Texas is an at-will state and you have the right to move along. Unfortunately, when circumstances change, it might require taking your talents elsewhere.
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