Monday, September 23, 2013

Your Personnel Manual: Policies and Rules for the Medical Practice

Employee Handbooks in Medical PracticeSmaller practices notoriously neglect their employee handbooks. That disregard tends toward one extreme or the other: Either the practice never got around to putting a personnel manual in place, or it has allowed an old manual to languish without update in the back of a file cabinet. While a well-crafted and properly utilized handbook documents policies, builds trust, and helps you comply with federal and state laws; an inadequate or neglected handbook can work against you. Further, the latter type of handbook often surfaces as prime evidence in court when an employer faces a plaintiff who happens to have been his or her employee. A physician or practice manager can find numerous tools for building a practical and effective employee handbook, but it also takes the commitment to review the document once a year to keep it up to date and relevant to your staff.

Employees (and a few employers) mistakenly treat their handbooks like employment contracts. In most states, employment without a contract is considered “at will.” In other words, you can generally dismiss any employee at any time for any reason. Your employee handbook can create a first line of defense against forfeiting this kind of control. Make sure it includes an attorney approved disclaimer clearly stating:
  1. All employees are hired on an at-will basis.
  2. Each person’s employment is for no specific term.
  3. Both the employer and the employee retain the right to terminate employment at any time.
  4. Nothing in the handbook should be construed as a contract or guarantee of continued employment.
At the same time, a handbook is a legal document and must include an “acknowledgment of receipt.” Require every employee to sign this statement, including his or her recognition that the relationship is an at-will employment, and that he or she promises to abide by the rules and policies outlined in the manual. Whenever you revise, update, or amend the manual, provide a new written acknowledgment, and require each employee to sign again. Once you have an effective manual in place, make sure you follow it consistently. If a situation turns “legal” down the road, a pattern of exception making will weaken the handbook’s usefulness in defending the employer. Finally, here’s a practical checklist for reviewing (or drafting) your practice employee handbook. Make sure yours covers each of these broad areas:
  • Practice history and philosophy (mission and vision)
  • Orientation period
  • Resignation/termination
  • Working hours and overtime authorization/pay
  • Attendance standards and absenteeism/tardiness
  • Paid holidays
  • Vacation policy and eligibility
  • Sick leave—paid and unpaid leaves of absence,medical disability, pregnancy disability
  • Personal time off
  • Civic responsibilities, jury duty, military leave
  • Medical care provided by practice and employee payment policies
  • Performance reviews
  • Salary reviews
  • Personal appearance, cleanliness, uniforms/dress code
  • Personal activities on the job (Internet/e-mail, telephone, fund-raising)
  • Confidentiality
  • Harassment (general and sexual)
  • Standards of conduct

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photo credit: joebeone via photopin cc