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Thursday Troubleshooter: Is there any action dental assistant can take about reduced work hours?

March 1, 2018
This certified dental assistant has had her work hours drastically reduced. Is there anything she can do about it?

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: My doctor has recently reduced his hours from 30 hours a week to 18. I cannot live off of this! I do not have a contract or written agreement about hours the office needs to provide me per week. Are there any labor laws or legislation about this? Would it be wrong to find other employment at another office to supplement my income? Do you recommend that most dental assistants have a written contract for their jobs?

SHRM-SCP, Bent Ericksen & Associates: It is unfortunate that you find yourself in a situation in which your employer has made the decision to cut your hours. While this has put a burden on you, there is no labor law or legislation about this. Employers are free to make determinations about their employees' hours as needed for their businesses. Cutting an employee's hours is not illegal as long as the action is not driven by something that is discriminatory or retaliatory. In terms of a contract, employees are not governed by contracts. The established legal relationship for employers and employees is called "at-will." This means both parties are free of contracts and can terminate the relationship at any time, with or without notice, and with or without reason. Therefore, no, there is no recommendation for dental assistants to have contracts. It is unlikely that you would be able to accomplish a contract with any employer given the legal standard described above. As for working elsewhere to supplement your income, only you can decide that. In general, nothing prevents you from doing so.
editor of Dental Assisting Digest and cofounder of IgniteDA: Thanks for writing into Troubleshooter. At the end of the day, every dental assistant has to do what’s in the best interest of his or her career and family. If you’re in a situation where you can no longer provide for your family, that goes above any working relationship or scenario. I’m a firm believer in “family first.” No matter what else, taking care of yourself and your family should always come before everything else. That’s my two cents worth.

I believe you need to have a conversation with the doctor about this situation. If you’re only working 18 hours per week, you can certainly talk to him and say that your family’s wellness must come above everything else. If that’s something he can’t understand or value, I think you have to ask if this is the right place for you to continue your career.

As for the final part of your question, yes, I think all employees of any business should know what is expected of them and have it in writing. I also think it’s a two-way street where employers are held accountable with expectations in writing as well. Dental practices are businesses and should be treated as such in every way possible, including written documentation.

I am a firm believe that a passionate, knowledgeable assistant will always have job opportunities wherever he or she lives. I know many dentists who would love to have an assistant in their practices to be an integral part of the team. They’re looking for these people to elevate their businesses. If you feel stuck where you are, do some checking and see what other opportunities are around you. Life is simply too short to settle for OK when great can be found with a little effort.

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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their problems on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring. All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.

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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.