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Human Resources Questions for Dentists: Does employee's slowness tie into Disabilities Act?

Dec. 8, 2017
Dental employers need to be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act and when they can question team members. Can this dentist ask about an employee's health as it relates to her slowness?

Handling a small business and issues that come along with overseeing a staff can be daunting for some dentists. After all, they went to dental school, not business school. That's why the experts from Bent Erickson & Associates are here to help. Because no dentist wants to get into trouble for mishandling staff issues.

This article originally appeared in the Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative twice monthly practice management ENL here.

QUESTION: I have an employee who is experienced (i.e., older) and not working at an acceptable pace. I need to address her slowness, but I’m concerned she might have medical issues. Can I ask her about her health?

ANSWER: In general, no. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and many state disability laws protect people against discrimination. Given that, the general rule of thumb is that you should not ask about health or medical issues unless it appears that the person is not medically qualified or may pose a direct threat to herself or others.

We would suggest that you have a counseling meeting and conversation with this employee about the specific job-related areas in which performance is not being managed properly. Clearly explain how her performance is no longer acceptable, without drawing conclusions about her age or health or anything else. At some point in the conversation, you could ask, “Is there anything we could do, or any reasonable accommodation we could make, that would help you perform your job more effectively?”

This will give her the opportunity to introduce any issues behind the deficient performance, if there are any. If she opens up about something hindering her performance health-wise, this effectively begins the “good faith interactive process”—a requirement by all disability laws. This will enable a dialogue to occur by which you can determine her limits and what may or may not be available that will allow her to be productive again.

QUESTION: There are times when we ask employees to read a book for teambuilding and/or educational purposes. Are we required to pay them for this activity?

ANSWER: If reading the book is mandatory, then yes, you must pay employees for their time. This is true regardless of when the reading occurs—during regular work hours or not—or where—onsite or at home. All non-exempt employees need to submit this time on their timecards so that it may be included with their paychecks for the pay period during which they did the reading. You may also have to consider overtime as well. If their regular work hours and their reading hours combined exceed eight hours in a day (if applicable), or 40 hours in a week, they will need to be compensated with overtime pay.

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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

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