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Dental Staff &
Arizona Employment Disputes

Almost every dental office will have at least some staff members, including assistants, hygienists and front office staff members. They can be key to keeping an office running smoothly and efficiently. However, sometimes things go awry and disputes may arise. It is important to be aware of several things when you employ staff that can help minimize any issues arising. In order to protect yourself and minimize the risk of conflict, it is important to understand the laws regarding employment in Arizona to ensure compliance.

There are also a number of federal employment statutes and regulations that could apply to your practice. While not an extensive list, below are some of the most common employee regulations:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: this prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin for employers, and it generally applies to most employers with 15 or more employees.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): this prohibits employment discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” This usually applies to most employers with 15 or more employees; however, there are separate rules that apply to ADA accessibility.
  • Age Discrimination in Employments Act (ADEA): this prohibits discrimination on the basis of age and protects employees over the age of 40 from employment discrimination.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): this requires that certain employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for qualified medical and family reasons. Qualified reasons include events like personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy and adoption. However, the FMLA generally only applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

Another important thing to consider is whether to have an employee handbook. While it is not a requirement, it is something I strongly urge dentists to consider implementing to set ground rules, expectations, and disciplinary processes for your staff. In the case of an unhappy employee, it can provide a defense against a claim of wrongful termination and serve as evidence that you are in compliance with both Arizona and federal labor laws.

They can be especially helpful in a dental practice, and, among other things, should reinforce HIPAA requirements, establish protocols for handling hazardous materials, and set office standards for interacting with patients. Some other things a dental practice in particular might want to consider including are as follows:

  • Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure: This is important given the sensitive nature of medical records, and the exposure to liability under HIPAA laws, so a clause explaining the importance of ensuring patients’ privacy in their protected health information should be used. In addition, it may make sense for each employee to sign a separate confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement at the time of hire.
  • Appearance/Dress Code: Most dentist offices want to project a professional and polished image. For this reason, handbooks may want to consider whether to adopt policies about formal dress (for those not wearing scrubs), and perhaps visible piercings or tattoos.
  • Paid Time Off: This is often a topic that employees are concerned about when deciding whether to accept employment. Items like how much vacation and sick time each employee will get, how it will accrue, how much advance notice is needed to use time off, and how to handle conflicting requests for time off will need to be addressed.
  • Social Media/Computer Use: This is a component of privacy and you may want to have a specific section to reiterate that your employees should not be posting anything about patients or co-workers online. You may also want to restrict computer use at work to work-related functions only, for both security and productivity reasons.
  • Grievances: Employees can often have complaints, whether it be about co-workers, working conditions, patients, and sometimes even about dentists. A process can be set up in the handbook that explains how employees can voice their concerns to you without fear of reprisal. This can act as a way to resolve any intra-office issues before they rise to a more serious level.
  • Feedback/Evaluations: You may want to consider implementing periodic evaluations to allow you to provide feedback and constructive criticism for employees. Positive feedback can serve as a morale booster while negative review can provide some insulation against liability if you ultimately terminate an underperforming employee.
  • Discipline: Including this can be the most helpful way to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits (provided you follow the process that is being outlined). A range of potential infractions should be addressed, including showing up late, having unexcused absences, and more serious issues like incompetence and embezzlement.

An experienced attorney can help you navigate the often complex and confusing employment laws when you are establishing or taking over a dental practice and getting ready to employ staff members.

Arizona Attorney Patrick Stanley

Pat Stanley

Attorney for Arizona Dentists

(480) 219-5481

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