March 22, 2015

diy employee handbooks put your healthcare practice in danger

Employee Handbooks are, first and foremost, lawsuit deterrents. Every aspect of your dental employee handbook or medical employee handbook is based on ever-shifting rules, regulations, and laws that protect your employees. For you as an employer to gain the same level of protections, not only must you clearly communicate your policies to your employees, but also keep your handbook up-to-date with any law changes at the state or federal level as they change.

Employers need strong, properly customized policies crafted with expert balance and knowledge. Implementing a customized handbook is one of the best strategies for creating peace of mind, preventing lawsuits, and growing your business by keeping the best employees.

Unfortunately, most employers adopt a “do-it-yourself” model in hope of saving some money. They gather samples, download excerpts or templates, and borrow as much as they can in an attempt to create a legally compliant handbook. Some even try to look up employment laws for their state and modify an existing policy to “match” what the law requires. Less than 2% of DIY-ers have an attorney review the final handbook for legal compliance, electing to simply put it into practice.

But most employers out there are not HR experts and do not have a background in employment law. The simple substitution of one word in the wrong place can mean the difference between a legal policy and a ticking time bomb. In fact, you will spend thousands of dollars trading your own time for a do-it-yourself employee handbook that may cost you far more in the long run.

What goes into an Employee Handbook?

Each year, hundreds of employment laws and regulations are changed. For example, over 250 laws on both state and federal levels were added or amended in the 2016 fiscal year. As HR experts, we can tell you its a job in itself to keep up with all the additions and amendments and apply to those changes to our members policies immediately so they always stay in compliance. But for non-HR experts, not only is the sheer amount of law changes daunting, its nearly impossible to know which ones apply to you, what wording is acceptable, and how you must apply the changes to your practice quickly enough to avoid the government enforcers.

Below is a sample of just a few areas that you, as an employer or office manager, would have to know and understand in order to put together a DIY employee handbook for your medical or dental practice:

Wage and Hour Rules

These vary greatly from state to state, especially in the following areas:
Minimum wage. Do you know what the minimum wage is in your state? Is it higher or lower than the federal rate?
Wage deductions. What you can and can’t deduct. What items need employee authorization?
Discussion of salaries. Is it legal to forbid talking about your wages? Hint: NO, in all states and every circumstance
Wage Garnishment. You need to know if you are allowed to fire an employee over garnishment.
Overtime. It isn’t always more than 40 hours per week. In California, employees receive overtime for work over 8 hours a day and for the first 8 hours worked on the 7th day of work in any workweek.
Commission. Do you know how to pay this properly? Do you know how commission impacts overtime pay?
Sick pay and vacation pay. Compensate, roll over, or forfeit? Do you know what to do upon termination?

State Requirements

Breaks and meal periods. You need to know if your state requires them. If so, you need to know how often and how long.
Child Labor Restrictions. Some states have special rules. Does yours?
Complaints. Do employees have to go through the Department of Labor, or can they sue you directly?
Final Paychecks. Do you know if your State distinguishes between resignations and terminations? How long do you have to issue a final paycheck? Can you make any deductions for money owed, missing equipment, or uniforms?

Hiring and Discrimination Rules

Nearly all 50 states progressively pass employment laws that exceed federal employment laws in their scope and application. Additionally, many states have their own unique hiring requirements.
Pre-Employment Screening. Do you know much latitude, if any, you have inquiring about past arrests or convictions? Can you use criminal background information to make your hiring decisions?
Background Checks. What are the requirements? Do they vary among positions?
Credit Reports. There are requirements (and restrictions) for ordering and using credit reports.
Non-Compete Agreements. You need to know if your state allows them, and how to create agreements that are valid and enforceable.
Immigration Laws. These can vary wildly. In one state, if an employer hires an undocumented alien with a contagious disease, the employer is responsible for any expense the disease causes.
New Hire Reporting Requirements. Does your State penalize you if you don’t comply? Many do. Know your state’s new hire reporting requirements.
Testing. Can you test your employees for drugs/alcohol? Can you test them randomly during their employment, or just once when they’re hired? What about AIDS or Hepatitis B screenings?
Affirmative Action. Does your state prefer veterans? Other groups?
Title VII Rights. New Jersey protects employees from discrimination based on gender identity. What classes does your state protect? Are its protections broader than federal protections?
References. You need to know what you can and cannot say when you pick up the phone to respond to a reference request.

At-Will Employment

Even though most states are “at-will”, each state has its own specific exceptions. At-will rules can affect workers compensation, whistle blowing, discrimination, jury duty, and safety, to name a few. However, in Montana, employment-at-will is not recognized except for within the first six months of a “probationary/introductory period” (only if you have the proper written policy and have distributed it); after that, Montana employers must have “just cause” to terminate an employee who has completed a probationary period.

Record Keeping

Posters and Notification Requirements. Most states have specific rules about displaying state posters and federal posters and where they must be hung, as well as your obligations in notifying employees of changes.
Right to Inspect. You need to know how to meet your employees’ demands to inspect their personnel files. Does everything have to be kept in one file, or can you have a second private folder? What can go in that second folder?

Leave of Absence and Benefits Rules

Leaves and benefits are yet another area where states have adopted their own unique rules, particularly in the following areas:
Leaves of Absence. Do you know the specifics your state has set forth for family and medical leave, pregnancy leave, witness leave, military leave, etc? Many types of leave have special state requirements.
Health Insurance. Do you know what you need to do after a termination or lay off? Does your state participate in ACA?
Unmarried Partner Benefits. You need to know how to navigate benefits for same-sex partners, civil partnerships, and common law marriages. What does your state recognize?
Unemployment. Do you know yours state’s rules on unemployment insurance? How long former employees receive benefits for?
Workers’ Compensation Issues. Some states have special rules surrounding workers’ compensation. Does yours?
Jury Duty. In New Jersey, an employer may reduce the employee’s pay by the amount equal to compensation, other than expenses, paid by the court for jury duty. What does your state say?

Employee Rights

Many states are more generous than the federal government when it comes to granting employees additional rights. Even if the federal government doesn’t require something, your state might. Consider the following:
Privacy rights. There are many requirements for electronic monitoring and use of other communication devices. Such as, does your state allow you to use video cameras in the practice? How long can you keep the recordings?
Off Duty Conduct. Can you regulate your employees’ behavior off the clock? In Indiana, employers can’t prevent their employees from using tobacco when they’re off duty. In Illinois, the rule is broader – employers can’t discriminate against an employee who uses any lawful product outside of the office during non-business hours.
Whistle blowers. Depending on your state, whistleblower rules may apply to private and public employees, or only one or the other.
Labor organizations. Some states have special rules surrounding labor organizations. Does yours?
Breastfeeding. Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.

You could easily spend 20 hours trying to create a DIY employee handbook yourself and still not get any or all of these areas of law right. How much billable treatment, time with your family, or just plain relaxation can you fit into 20 hours? How much is your time worth? $100? $1000? Even at$100 an hour, the “cheap” solution will likely cost you $2,000.

Even if you manage to cobble together an enforceable and minimally protective handbook, it just isn’t enough. Not even the best employee handbook will solve issues on its own or implement critical updates. True protection requires a strategic balance of expert advice and accurate, up to date policies that are customized for your office. Our experts analyze new and changing laws, legislative trends, administrative decisions, and anticipated U.S. Supreme Court rulings on a day-to-day basis to ensure your handbook works for you and is never out of compliance.

We value your time. Let the CEDR Solutions experts do all the hard work for you. Call 866-414-6056 or email info@cedrsolutions.com.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.