Adopt Personnel Policies to Head Off Future Problems

March 8, 2019

Without personnel policies, you risk confusion at your practice and the loss of an important line of defense against liability charges brought by disgruntled employees. Personnel policies guide you through difficult situations such as a consistently late employee or sexual harassment charges. Policies also tell employees upfront your expectations and processes for problematic situations.

But you must follow the policies you use – established policies you don’t follow can do more harm than good.

Start with These Three…

Personnel policies should cover a variety of situations at your practice (for a comprehensive list of policies, see below). But if you’re starting from scratch, try beginning with these three:

1. Discrimination and sexual harassment. “Sexual harassment and discrimination are areas you really want to ensure that you have proper, effective policies. If not, you risk exposure to lawsuits.

For example, an employee accuses one of your physicians of sexual harassment. You don’t have a policy so the physician-owner must make a situation-specific decision. If you decide in favor of the physician, the accuser may bring a lawsuit against your practice.

Without a policy, you lack an important defense. A policy could yield no action against the physician, but when you have a policy, you base the decision on a process rather than the specific situation.

2. Leave time. Avoid confusion and inconsistent treatment by defining sick, vacation, and leave time. Determine situations up front for which you will pay employees when they are out of the office.

For instance, clearly distinguish what you consider a sick day. Also include what employees must do to ask for and notify you of time they take off.

For example, a male employee has a heart attack and takes three weeks to recover. A female employee has complications related a surgery and takes three weeks off. If you pay the male employee for all three weeks but give the female employee less or no paid time off, the female employee could make a strong case for sexual discrimination.

General Policy Guidelines

Tailor each policy to your practice specifically. Your policy manual will differ from the practice’s down the street, and it should. However, there are some general guidelines every practice should follow.

Include a disclaimer stating that employees should not construe the handbook as a contract, disciplinary procedures are not binding, and you can change any element of the manual at any time. The disclaimer should be peppered throughout the manual rather than just mentioned once at the beginning.

Leave room for unexpected or unusual circumstances – Don’t get too bogged down with details. You want a general overview of how each situation should be handled. [The policy] should be applicable 98% of the time.

Once you draft policies, ask an attorney to review them to ensure that they comply with state and federal regulations.

Training and Enforcement

Once your physicians and your attorney have approved your personnel policies, give copies to your staff and set up a practice-wide meeting. Allow enough time before the meeting for staff to read the policies and sufficient time during the meeting for staff to ask questions and make suggestions. Request that your staff sign a roster so you have a record that they attended the training.

Ask them to sign an acknowledgement stating that they read the policies, had the chance to ask questions, and accepted them at face value. Keep copies of documentation of attendance and acknowledgements in your employee records.

Don’t simply hand new employees the manual and expect them to learn the policies. Explain the policies and address any questions up front. Once you’ve trained your staff, it’s your responsibility to hold them accountable. Enforce the policies fairly, consistently, and on a timely basis. Use your personnel manual as a guide, hold employees to those standards, and above all else, follow them yourself to set an example.

Policies to Create and Use

Consider including the following policies in your personnel manual:

  • Compensation, including work hours and recording of those hours, overtime, length of introductory periods, performance evaluations, and salary review;
  • Discipline and standards of conduct;
  • Leave, including holidays, earned time off, workers’ compensation, insurance, jury duty, bereavement, and education;
  • Sexual harassment and discrimination;
  • Smoking, drugs, and alcohol;
  • Personal business and electronic monitoring, including personal e-mails, telephone calls, and Internet use;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Cell phone policy; and
  • Attendance and Punctuality, dress code, inclement weather, security of physical property, and termination of employment.

Sample Attendance and Punctuality Policy

Good attendance is an essential job requirement, and employees are expected to report for work with regularity in return for compensation. Punctuality means being on time every scheduled day at your work location. This covers all cases, including reporting to work from home, returning from lunch, or returning from a break. A good record of attendance and punctuality is one indication that you are reliable and responsible.

If extenuating circumstances prevent you from reporting to work as scheduled, contact your immediate manager prior to the time you are expected at work. If your immediate manager is not available, the physician or physician in charge of personnel at the clinic location should be notified of your absence.

In order for the medical practice to maintain its reputation in the community, it is imperative that employees report to work punctually and consistently. Repeated tardiness/absenteeism will result in disciplinary action.

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