Resolving Employee Disputes And Concerns In The Workplace: What Dental Practices Should Consider
Employees are often said to be the most important resource of any business or organization. Various conflicts, disputes, or concerns often arise in work settings. To avoid conflicts, it’s essential to maintain and promote employee morale in various ways, including addressing employees’ concerns. In this regard, dental practices are no different than any other type of business.
To effectively manage, properly address, and resolve employee disputes and concerns, a formal structure may be developed and implemented by your dental practice, whether it is a small, privately owned practice or a larger corporate one with multiple locations and a large number of employees.
“Open Door” Concept
A firm’s approach to resolving employee disputes and concerns can be as simple as advising your employees that they can utilize an “open door” policy to bring their individual concerns or issues to management’s attention. In a small dental practice, the designated person the employees contact may be the dentist or the office manager. Larger practices may have a human resources manager.
Once a meeting takes place to discuss the employee’s issue, the manager should summarize the meeting and discussion in a memo and provide a copy to the employee, who will sign it to acknowledge receipt. In the event of future complaints or litigation, this documentation can prove helpful; it should also be placed in the employee’s personnel file. The manager’s memo should include a proposed resolution or next steps.
The manager may need to involve others while discussing or investigating the employee’s issues. Very often, fact-finding and information-gathering are necessary for the responsible person to offer a response. For instance, an employee may have an ongoing conflict with a co-worker or claim that a patient or outside vendor was belligerent or disrespectful toward them.
Once the written response is provided to the employee, they may be satisfied, be willing to accept it, and move on. However, some may disagree with the response or be unhappy about it. My experience dealing with various employee issues tells me that you won’t be able to please all people all of the time. It’s important to remember that many employee complaints are frivolous and/or lack substance or merit; typically, these types of employees are not easily appeased after filing and processing their complaint or concern.
As you prepare for this process, a standardized form is recommended. The form should ask for basic information, such as when the issue arose, the names of other persons involved (if any), the specifics of the concern or complaint, and the employee’s proposed resolution.
Using A More Structured Approach
A dental practice may also elect to use an approach that is more involved and probably more costly than the “open door” concept. They can implement the “open door” concept as the initial step in addressing or resolving employee concerns. Suppose the employee is unhappy with the written response and doesn’t want to accept it or the resolution offered. In that case, they can request an independent or neutral third party to hear the case and issue a written resolution that will be binding to both parties.
The neutral third party should be a person who is not employed by the practice and has no connection to the practice or anyone working there. For instance, someone related to or very friendly with the dentist/owner would not be a good choice. The neutral party may be a trained arbitrator, an attorney specializing in labor law, a human resources administrator, or someone with experience settling labor disputes. Most arbitrators or attorneys would not do this pro bono, so a fee will likely be involved. However, it may be possible to find a pro bono attorney or other qualified person willing to serve at no cost.
Practices or firms may consider whether this procedure should be extended to an employee who has been terminated. Considering potential legal fees, fines, and lengthy hours of staff time involved in complaints or litigation, it might be worthwhile to consider this approach, even if you are paying a neutral party for their services.
If this approach is used, then it is recommended that an attorney draft an agreement for the parties to sign, which indicates that the neutral third party’s findings or award is binding. Also, a practice or firm may utilize the neutral third-party approach only for some instances, such as employee termination.
Of course, practices and corporations utilizing this process must understand that the neutral third party may side with an employee and issue a ruling that the employer finds unappealing, such as re-instating a terminated employee they considered “problematic.” This can be mitigated by carefully vetting and selecting your neutral third party. For instance, selecting someone recommended by a labor union and known to be highly pro-employee, especially concerning past written opinions, may not be the best decision. Instead, seek out individuals more “moderate” and even-handed in their philosophy and approach to resolving employee disputes.
The neutral third-party approach, if adopted, should establish a detailed written procedure to guide management as to its implementation. For example, the procedure would state how long an employee has to file a written request for the independent third party to hear the case following receipt of the internal response, when the third party has to hear the case (e.g., within 30 calendar days of the employee’s request being filed), how the hearing or proceedings are to be conducted, and how to handle material witnesses and evidentiary documents, and whether or not to use a court reporter during the hearing, among other items.
Many employees will not be pleased with the responses they receive, whether it is from their dental office manager, human resources manager, or an independent third party. However, employees should feel that someone in their organization is willing to listen to them, consider their concerns, and offer a resolution. I noticed in my previous positions that many employees need a chance to “vent” and often feel better once doing so.
Extensive time and expense are necessary to recruit, hire, train, and retain your employees. Implementation of a method to hear and resolve their concerns should help boost their morale and, in many cases, resolve issues that are quite valid and legitimate.
About the Author
Veronica La Chapelle, MAADOM, began her career in dentistry after retiring from a municipal government position she had held for 27 years. Today, she is the assistant manager for Advanced Premier Dental and Implant Dentistry in The Woodlands, TX. Veronica has been an AADOM member since 2009, received her Fellowship (FAADOM) in 2013, and received her AADOM Masters (MAADOM) in September 2022.