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Human Resources Questions for Dentists: Could this ugly argument lead to legal action?

May 3, 2018
Running a dental practice means much more than simply performing dentistry. There is also managing the business aspect. But most dentists are not trained to handle that. These HR experts are here to help.

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

The human resources landscape is constantly changing. Dentists have ongoing questions about how to handle staff issues. Take this month's questions, for instance. Could this dentist face legal action after a big argument with an employee? And, how should this office pay a hygienist who wants to earn extra money cleaning the office?

QUESTION: I recently got into an argument with an employee that resulted in both of us yelling at each other. I was frustrated and acted poorly, and the employee did not manage the situation well either. The argument was pretty hostile. Can I get in trouble for this? Is this harassment or bullying that could be fraught with legal concerns?

ANSWER: As of right now, bullying is not, by itself, illegal, and neither is just general poor behavior and conflict. This would also not rise to the level of harassment unless there is a hostile work environment created by either party that is based on race, gender, disability, or other factors. In other words, the person who’s just a jerk in the office about equal opportunity is not doing anything illegal, but the person who specifically targets someone for the person’s race, sex, disability, etc., would be a liability for harassment claims.

While this behavior may not be a concern legally, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable and should not be stopped, as I’m sure you are well aware. Situations like this can become targets for lawsuits regardless of whether or not a lawsuit is justified, not to mention this situation could cause poor employee morale, low productivity, and so on. There are better ways of managing people, and conflict should be kept to a minimum.

QUESTION: We have an employee whose normal job is in dental hygiene. She would like to earn some extra income by cleaning the office once a week during an evening. We’d like to agree to this. Can she be classified as an independent contractor? How do we pay her?

ANSWER: She would not qualify as an independent contractor. Performing two different jobs does not mean an independent contractor relationship exists. There are several aspects of the relationship that must be considered when determining independent contractor status. Please visit this website for more information.

Since this person is more than likely a standard employee, then paying her is easy. She can simply add her cleaning hours to her timecard each week, along with her hours performing hygiene work. You may pay her a different rate of pay for her time spent cleaning since that job is significantly different than her normal job. Please establish this up front and in writing so that everyone is clear about pay going forward.

This may affect her overtime as well. All of her hours spent performing hygiene duties and all of her hours spent cleaning your office should be added together. If these combined hours exceed eight hours in a day (if applicable) and/or 40 hours in a week, she will need to be compensated overtime.

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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