What You Should Know About Your Employee Handbook—Roots of Wisdom

Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Employee handbooks can be a powerful tool for communicating company policies to your team on a consistent and uniform basis. While a strong employee handbook can provide protection for your business, a poorly-drafted or nonexistent handbook runs the opposite risk of creating liability for your practice. Accordingly, it is imperative that you ensure your handbook is not only compliant with state and federal law, but is drafted in such a way that it fits your practice’s current policies, and is narrowly tailored to your practice.

Below are two primary considerations to keep in mind when evaluating your employee handbook. This is not a comprehensive list of every consideration that you should be mindful of, and you should seek legal advice to evaluate your handbook and ensure that it is a current and accurate reflection of your dental practice’s policies.

Limit Discipline and Review Policies

The number one mistake we see dental providers make is purchasing and implementing a mass-produced handbook that has been drafted by a national company claiming to be a specialist in drafting employee handbooks. These one-size-fits-all handbooks are frequently between 70 and 150 pages in length, and include numerous policies and procedures that the practice never utilizes, has no intention of implementing, and, in certain instances, violate state and federal law.

Many dental practices that we advise believe it’s harmless for their handbook to include policies they never utilize. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Including policies in your employee handbook that you do not actually follow (or even know exist) creates—rather than limits—liability for your practice.

For example, many dental practices have semi-annual or yearly employee review processes in their mass-produced employee handbooks. If your practice has one of these policies, there may be a presumption that employees who do not receive quarterly reviews are doing their job well, and are not in need of a semi-annual or annual review. This presumption can, in turn, create major hurdles for your practice if it is ever sued for disciplining or terminating an employee on the grounds of poor performance or misconduct.

Similarly, if your handbook has specific disciplinary procedures that are not followed in every case, you may face additional challenges in future discrimination actions. So, it is crucial that you consult an attorney to review your employee handbook and remove all nonessential provisions—especially ones that are not being implemented and followed by the practice on a consistent and regular basis. Remember, absent exceptional circumstances, a good employee handbook should never be more than 40 pages.

Ensure Your Leave Policies Are Compliant

The second most common problem that we see with mass-produced handbooks is that certain employee leave policies required by the law are missing from the handbook, or the handbook includes more leave options than are necessary.

Minnesota and federal law require specific types of leave to be provided to all employees. Examples of these required leave policies include military and voter leave. Minnesota does not, however, require that employers provide bereavement leave or paid parental leave. While you may want to still provide flexibility for your employees to take these optional types of leave, implementing a rigid policy for each unique type of leave may not be as efficient for your individual practice as providing greater general paid time off that employees may utilize based on their individual needs. As such, it is important that you consult an attorney with experience in the dental sector to discuss your unique practice and its needs, in order to ensure that you are striking the appropriate balance between staffing needs and mandated leave.

These are only two of the most common issues we see with existing employee handbooks, but there are numerous other potential pitfalls that you must avoid. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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