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Human Resources Questions for Dentists: Can dentist legally provide different benefits?

Oct. 9, 2017
Running a dental practice and handling employee matters can be challenging. Dentists will naturally have a lot of questions. The human resources experts are here to help.

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: During the hiring process,I would like to negotiate with new employees the benefit packages they will receive. For example, I might want to provide a higher salary to someone who does not want health insurance or wants to forego his or her vacation benefits. Is this illegal?

ANSWER: In and of itself, this is not illegal. Employers can do this if they so choose. That being said, there are legitimate reasons why you should not manage benefits this way.

There is a strong nationwide push right now to ensure equal pay among men and women who perform similar work. The best way to avoid problems in this area is to ensure consistent pay practices with everyone who is hired.

There is also the potential for discrimination issues when employees are treated differently in terms of the benefits they receive. For example, if it can be shown that all the white people are receiving better benefits packages than the African American employees, then there could be an issue of discrimination.

Whether it’s pay or benefits, when everyone is treated differently, then equal pay or discrimination claims become much more difficult to defend.

Other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (AwDA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), may also be violated if the employer treats people differently because of health or disability. Learning about such situations in the hiring process (or during the length of employment with GINA) is strictly limited and should be handled with much caution.

Finally, some benefit plans give preferential tax treatment. This is often tied to those plans being administered in a certain way. Having employees opt out could jeopardize such tax rewards.

QUESTION: I have an employee who has been vocal about having carpal tunnel syndrome, and she is seeking treatment for it. The employee has not stated that it is work related, and she hasn’t filed a workers’ compensation claim. What should I do? Do I ignore the information? Do I ask her if it’s work-related? Do I file a workers’ compensation claim anyway?

ANSWER: You should not assume that this is not work related and ignore it. There is no mention as to whether or not the employee is missing work as a result of her condition, but if she is, then you should absolutely get to the bottom of the situation.

I suggest you talk with the employee. Ask about the condition in order to understand whether or not she believes it’s work related, and then inform her of her right to file a workers’ compensation claim. Assist her in filing a claim if she believes the injury to be work related. If she claims it is not work related, document that for future reference. Also, if no claim is filed, I suggest contacting your workers’ compensation carrier and putting the company on notice about this conversation, and see what they think is the best way to handle it.

Managing these situations earlier rather than later will always be better in the long run.

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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