Anti-Harassment Complaint Procedures (Dental Law Radio, Episode 12)
You’ve opened a certified letter from the EEOC or from an attorney representing an ex-employee who is alleging sexual harassment. Now what? You’ll be able to navigate this demanding situation much more effectively if you have written anti-harassment procedures. If not, as host Stuart Oberman explains, you may be in for an expensive and time-consuming quagmire. Dental Law Radio is underwritten and presented by Oberman Law Firm and produced by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX®.
Intro: [00:00:01] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, it’s time for Dental Law Radio. Dental Law Radio is brought to you by Oberman Law Firm, a leading dental-centric law firm serving dental clients on a local, regional, and national basis. Now, here’s your host, Stuart Oberman.
Stuart Oberman: [00:00:26] Hello everyone, and welcome to Dental Law Radio. We’re going to talk a little H.R. today. Big, big growth in this area, lots of headaches, lots of problems that our doctors need to know about. So, the dental industry as a whole has sort of a reputation that is not good regarding harassment in the workplace. So, what we’re seeing is that more and more H.R problems are developing in this particular area, whether it’s EEOC, whether it is relationships.
Stuart Oberman: [00:01:09] So, what I want to do is, I want to talk a little bit anti-harassment complaint procedures. So, it does not matter to me from a legal standpoint whether you are a one-doctor practice or you have 12. In today’s H.R. world – we’re going to get into some scenarios – you have to have a written antiharassment complaint procedure. It could be part of your employee manual. It could be a separate policy and procedure. But you have to have an antiharassment complaint procedure.
Stuart Oberman: [00:01:52] So, what does that exactly mean? Does that mean that you have to have a complaint process? That means that if you get any complaint whatsoever, you must have established filing procedure internally how to handle that. Well, I get this question “Well, you know, Stuart, it’s not illegal.” It does not matter if it is illegal. Harassment is harassment. It doesn’t matter whether it is in a sexual nature or an annoyance nature. You have to address these complaints on an individual basis as a whole, legal and nonlegal matters.
Stuart Oberman: [00:02:39] So then, what do you do? The key is you have to appoint someone as a multiple point of contact. Now, what happens is, in the real world, a lot of our doctors have their spouses, their husbands, their wives, the hygienists, the assistants, the front desk, everyone’s a contact point. You have a complaint, go talk to the office manager, my spouse, no matter who it is, male or female. You have a complaint, go talk to the hygienist. She’s also our bookkeeper. She’s also our front desk. She runs our calendaring, our scheduling, she’s our H.R. person. She knows everything. Or go to talk to the commercial vendors, our payroll people that handle our H.R. No, they don’t. Half the time they have no clue what’s going on.
Stuart Oberman: [00:03:30] So, you need a direct contact point, not multiple sources, but who is that person going to. So then, you have to figure out before you even can get to that point, you have to have a written outline of absolutely prohibited conduct. Well, we’re not sure what that is. Then, you need to implement a procedure that fits the culture of your office, which has to be strict. You have to specifically outline and should outline in enormous detail the conduct that gives rise to the complaint.
Stuart Oberman: [00:04:16] And I don’t care if it is in the office or company-sponsored events. What happens when you take your staff out of the country? What happens when you take your staff to a ballgame? What happens when you take your staff to a holiday party? What happens when you take your staff to a great lunch? You need specific conduct protocols in the office and out of the office, social events. It does not matter. If they are required to be at a marketing event for your local fair and, all of a sudden, there is harassment within that booth at the local 4th of July parade, if you will, you have a problem.
Stuart Oberman: [00:05:09] I can’t raise this enough, there needs to be a specific policy in place for romantic relationships within the office. I’m talking about affairs. I’m talking about calls. I’m talking about text messages. I’m talking about obscene pictures being shown in [inaudible]. Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t believe what happens in these dental offices. I should write a book. I mean, the stories that I could tell are beyond comprehension. Yes, you need a protocol as to what the members of your staff can see on people’s cellphones. Yes, we are in that day and age.
Stuart Oberman: [00:06:02] What are you going to do if you have a worker – I’m talking male, female. I don’t really care – that’s harassing one another? What is the policy? What is the termination process? What’s the discipline? I assure you, if you let this go on, you’ll be getting a nice lawyer letter, an EEOC letter, and a wrongful termination if you complain and don’t address these particular issues.
Stuart Oberman: [00:06:34] In today’s world, it is amazing what is being demonstrated in dental offices. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one office or 40. It’s a culture that has to be curtailed. And, now, we’re talking about harassment also from customers, patients, vendors, and suppliers. We’re seeing outside resources that are harassing our staff members. Do you have a policy in place if your customers, patients, vendors, or suppliers are verbally harassing your staff?
Stuart Oberman: [00:07:20] Let me give an example, this is an honest to goodness case came out of our office. What are you going to do if you got a member of the Rotary Club, a good friend of yours, and then probably touches your hygienist? What are you going to do? And that’s your best friend at the Rotary Club. And your staff member complains to you. What are you going to do? Ignore it? Is there a policy in place for that? You better. Because if not, you’re going to get a nice little letter either from the government or lawyer. So, those are all the things that happen every day, every day. Are you prepared to discharge your patient in a chair the minute improper conduct occurs? And it does occur, I assure you.
Stuart Oberman: [00:08:16] So, in today’s social media world, harassment comes in a lot of forms. I’m talking Facebook, social media, online, Internet, emails, text messages, all within the range of conduct that has to be curtailed on a staff level, doctor level. I’m talking top down, guys. I’m talking top down. You’ve got to follow your own protocols. Is your procedure in place on what you can and can’t say or your employees can and can’t say on the Internet about your office, about your staff? Are improper pictures being shown on your server? How are text messages being relayed? Is there a text message policy as to what can be communicated internally?
Stuart Oberman: [00:09:08] Again, I’m not talking about illegal conduct, we all get that. But it’s the other conduct that is so closely, closely watched. So, the points of today are H.R., in today’s world, has got to be looked at in our dental offices. Again, I don’t care if it’s one office, 20 offices, 40 offices. It doesn’t matter. There’s got to be policy in place. One of the biggest complaints we’re having right now is harassment issues across the board, text messages, emails, pictures. There’s got to be policy in place. If not, you are opening yourselves up to a recipe for disaster. I can’t stress that enough.
Stuart Oberman: [00:09:49] Get your point person. Get your systems in place. Get everything in writing. Get your employees to sign it. Are your employees signing nondisclosure agreements? Are they telling everything on the world? What happens when they go home? It’s a risk. It’s a risk. H.R. is getting tougher in dental practices every single day, and we realize that, and we face this every day. So, I can’t stress that enough. Get your policies in place. Get everything in order. Avoid the problems. Avoid headaches.
Stuart Oberman: [00:10:20] If you got any questions, let us know. We do it every day. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 770-886-2400. My name is Stuart Oberman, you can reach me at stuart, S-T-U-A-R-T, @obermanlaw.com. Thank you very much. And we hope that this has been of some value. And we will see you in the next podcast. Have a great day.
About Dental Law Radio
Hosted by Stuart Oberman, a nationally recognized authority in dental law, Dental Law Radio covers legal, business, and other operating issues and topics of vital concern to dentists and dental practice owners. The show is produced by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX® and can be found on all the major podcast apps. The complete show archive is here.
Stuart Oberman, Oberman Law Firm
Stuart Oberman is the founder and President of Oberman Law Firm. Mr. Oberman graduated from Urbana University and received his law degree from John Marshall Law School. Mr. Oberman has been practicing law for over 25 years, and before going into private practice, Mr. Oberman was in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 Company. Mr. Oberman is widely regarded as the go-to attorney in the area of Dental Law, which includes DSO formation, corporate business structures, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory compliance, advertising regulations, HIPAA, Compliance, and employment law regulations that affect dental practices.
In addition, Mr. Oberman’s expertise in the health care industry includes advising clients in the complex regulatory landscape as it relates to telehealth and telemedicine, including compliance of corporate structures, third-party reimbursement, contract negotiations, technology, health care fraud and abuse law (Anti-Kickback Statute and the State Law), professional liability risk management, federal and state regulations.
As the long-term care industry evolves, Mr. Oberman has the knowledge and experience to guide clients in the long-term care sector with respect to corporate and regulatory matters, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). In addition, Mr. Oberman’s practice also focuses on health care facility acquisitions and other changes of ownership, as well as related licensure and Medicare/Medicaid certification matters, CCRC registrations, long-term care/skilled nursing facility management, operating agreements, assisted living licensure matters, and health care joint ventures.
In addition to his expertise in the health care industry, Mr. Oberman has a nationwide practice that focuses on all facets of contractual disputes, including corporate governance, fiduciary duty, trade secrets, unfair competition, covenants not to compete, trademark and copyright infringement, fraud, and deceptive trade practices, and other business-related matters. Mr. Oberman also represents clients throughout the United States in a wide range of practice areas, including mergers & acquisitions, partnership agreements, commercial real estate, entity formation, employment law, commercial leasing, intellectual property, and HIPAA/OSHA compliance.
Mr. Oberman is a national lecturer and has published articles in the U.S. and Canada.
Oberman Law Firm
Oberman Law Firm has a long history of civic service, noted national, regional, and local clients, and stands among the Southeast’s eminent and fast-growing full-service law firms. Oberman Law Firm’s areas of practice include Business Planning, Commercial & Technology Transactions, Corporate, Employment & Labor, Estate Planning, Health Care, Intellectual Property, Litigation, Privacy & Data Security, and Real Estate.
By meeting their client’s goals and becoming a trusted partner and advocate for our clients, their attorneys are recognized as legal go-getters who provide value-added service. Their attorneys understand that in a rapidly changing legal market, clients have new expectations, constantly evolving choices, and operate in an environment of heightened reputational and commercial risk.
Oberman Law Firm’s strength is its ability to solve complex legal problems by collaborating across borders and practice areas.
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