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11/06/2012

Don't Be Afraid to Ask the Odd Employment Questions


When a difficult case is presented to you, you know how to diagnose and plan for the treatment. There is a comfort level in knowing that you know how to treat patients.

Years of training, attending study groups, and talking to your peers, have helped you gain the confidence you need to practice dentistry. However, when difficult situations occur with your employees - it is not so easy. There really aren’t any tests you can take to get an answer, dental school didn’t provide much support, and you may not have much experience to reach a decision. Fortunately, for you, analysts at the Practice Support Center are trained to guide you when you feel a bit lost. As a dentist, you have seen a variety of difficult cases. As analysts, we have heard many difficult and unusual cases from our members. Below are just some of the “out of the norm” questions we have received and answered over the years.

  • My employee left work upset on Thursday afternoon. She did not show or call on Friday, but came back on Monday as if nothing had happened. What should I say to her?
  • I’m a new owner and I chose to keep the existing staff, but now they treat me like I work for them. I’m even nervous to call and ask for advice in fear they might hear me and lose even more respect for me. What should I do?
  • My new employee is still on probation and just told me she is pregnant. Can I let her go since she’s still in her 90-day probation period?
  • My front office person has decided to go all-natural and does not wear makeup or deodorant anymore. How can I tell her that I need her back to the way I hired her?
  • My assistant injured her back a year ago. I now suspect she is addicted to her pain medication. What can I say to her?
  • My assistant just found out she has cancer. She will need to take time off for chemotherapy and any reaction she might have. I can’t make it without a full time assistant. Can I let her go since this wasn’t a work related incident?
While it can be said there are no books that help answer these type of questions, I would argue, that in fact there is a book; your employee manual. Whenever I receive a call from a dentist with an employee issue I first ask, “What policies do you have in place?” If there are no policies, I want to know how similar situations have been addressed in the past. For instance, if an employee was allowed to take time off to care for a sick child/parent, the same must be allowed for other employees needing to take personal time off. As an employer, you can’t pick and chose what reason for time off sounds the most credible. All employees must be treated equally and fairly.

In many leave of absence situations, such as chemotherapy, pregnancy or disability, dentist will argue that it is financially impossible to allow employees the time off. Impossible versus inconvenient is the root of the answer. Because there are legal responsibilities when employees request certain leaves of absence, an employer needs to be prepared for the inconvenience this may cause. You may need to hire temporary employees or readjust your current staff to cover the workload. Since there is a risk when terminating an employee, it is best to seek some guidance before making a decision.

While consulting peers about an employee issues may sound like a good idea, your peers may provide personal opinions that may actually be in conflict with employment laws and regulations. Since we have heard almost every employee issue over the years, we have the background that can help a bad situation become manageable. If the situation is beyond our expertise, we will research and find the answer for you or refer you to an attorney that works with dentists as employers. In closing, remember the only dumb questions are those that aren’t asked, so call and ask us your dumbest question…we dare you.