While creating policies to manage situations that might occur in a dental practice can be time-consuming and seem overwhelming, those policies are essential because they codify your expectations of staff, including how patients should be treated, how the staff should interact with each other, and how you expect the practice to be managed.
Two primary benefits to creating a staff policy manual include that it helps you become more knowledgeable about relevant federal, state and local employment laws and it gives your staff a single and consistent set of expectations to follow. The staff policy manual can be used to support staff training efforts and to open dialogue on topics and practices that impact both patients and everyone on the team.
Keep in mind that laws and regulations change constantly and can vary by state and according to the number of employees in the business. Your manual should be specific to your office based on applicable federal and state regulations.
While the manual should detail the specifics of each policy and the possible consequences of not following them, strive to make the tone positive and educational, not punitive. After all, everyone wins when they know what the expectations are and there should be few disputes when problems or questions arise because everyone knows in advance what’s expected of them. Make sure the policies are easy to read and understand, refer to benefit plans in general terms only, and specifies that the manual does not create a contract of employment.
It’s a good idea to work with a human resources professional or a local attorney who specializes in employment law to either help you develop policies or to review the complete manual before you release it to staff. This will help protect you and the practice by ensuring that your policies comply with all relevant laws and regulations. Some practices opt to hire an external human resources consultant to advise them on human resources matters. This can be in addition to or in place of working with an attorney.
It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want outside expertise to assist you in this area. Whatever route you choose, it’s important to make sure the practice is in compliance with all relevant rules. The American Dental Association (ADA) offers several resources – The ADA Practical Guide to Creating and Updating an Employee Policy Manual and A Dentist’s Guide to the Law: 246 Things Every Dentist Should Know, Fourth Edition – to assist you in outlining what employee policies you should consider and what they should include.
Once your employee policies are developed, it’s a good idea to assemble them in a single binder, such as in an Employee Policy Manual or Staff Handbook, and to provide each staff member with his or her own copy. Many employers, regardless of size, include an acknowledgement form in the manual to be signed and dated by employees to indicate that they have received the manual, read and understand its contents, and agree to abide by the policies contained within it. Those forms should be kept in each employee’s personnel file. New forms should be completed and returned any time you introduce new policies or announce substantive changes to existing ones. Some maintain that it’s a best practice to have office policy include a requirement that employees read the employee policy manual or staff handbook annually and sign the acknowledgement form again at that time to reinforce policy, understanding, and likelihood of compliance.
While it’s a good idea for you or someone on staff, often the office manager, to review the manual on a regular basis to determine what policies need to be revised, deleted or added, it’s an even better idea to turn to a trusted human resources professional for guidance. Few, if any, dental practices have a staff member who is fully-versed in human resources compliance rules and regulations to the degree necessary to protect the practice. Having an ongoing relationship with a human resources professional or attorney is the preferred way to ensure the practice’s policies are up-to-date and comply with applicable federal laws, state specific laws and all of the associated employee thresholds.