In recent years the medical legal spotlight has been on patient privacy and legal protection for doctors from HIPAA violations. However, an area of the aesthetic medical practice that has been severely overlooked is employment law. It is reported that doctors are six times more likely to be sued by employees than they are by patients. What is important to note is that many of these lawsuits are frivolous in nature and based on simple practice policies that may not be compliant with State or Federal labor laws. Grace Godlasky, an attorney and HR Advisor at CEDR HR Solutions, a leading employee relations firm based in Tucson, AZ, discusses with Aesthetic Insider™ News what doctors need to know to keep them free from unnecessary employee lawsuits, and how to develop a trusted and reliable team.
Grace, what is the role of an HR Advisor at CEDR HR Solutions?
At CEDR HR Solutions we provide Employee Handbooks and Human Resources employment law support to independent healthcare employers across the country. We have physician customers in all 50 states. Our handbooks and our guidance are customized for each medical practice. We look at industry, state, size, and personnel preferences of each customer in order to create the most compliant Employee Handbook possible. We also offer ongoing HR support to the practice.
Are doctors a target for employee lawsuits?
Definitely. This industry is a target in several ways. Unfortunately, whether it is true or not, doctors are perceived to be successful, high-paid members of the community, and as a result, employees and plaintiff attorneys think they have deep pockets. The other reason doctors are a target, and this might really come as a surprise, is that the healthcare industry is currently being targeted by the Department of Labor. The DOL’s current initiative has singled out the healthcare industry in general as the area of business that struggles most with compliance. At CEDR HR Solutions, we have found that it’s impossible for busy practitioners to keep up with the latest developments in the law. This has led to CEDR’s rapid growth in the healthcare sector.
How is an Employee Handbook created?
A compliant Employee Handbook is a very comprehensive book. At CEDR HR Solutions, we start with a particular direction that is geared to the aesthetic medical practice we are working with. Some practitioners start off with a single employee, so we create a handbook that will serve for the future growth of the practice. In other cases, we work with established practices that have immediate needs and requirements based on the current number of employees and size of the practice. Our Employee Handbooks are also created to be compliant with both State and Federal labor laws. These handbooks have to be customized geographically, as there are local ordinances and city laws that we have to analyze. Often times with these laws there are choices that the practice owner has, so we offer expertise and advice for what works best for the individual practice. Our goal is to develop a customized product that takes every single area of the practice into consideration, including job descriptions, holiday and vacation pay, day-to-day office policies, maternity leave, independent contractor agreements, etc.
Why has the Department of Labor selected the healthcare industry as an area for review?
One of the biggest reasons—and of course at CEDR we’re employer advocates so everything that we look at is going to be from that viewpoint—is basically it’s an easy target because the mistakes made are easy ones. The big corporations have known for years the importance of having adequate HR protection, but the private sector of healthcare has not. Simple things such as classification of an employee as an independent contractor can be easily misunderstood and is an easy violation to prosecute. There is a lot of enforcement taking place because it results in revenue to the Department of Labor in terms of fines and penalties, as well as to employment law attorneys who make a living off initiating lawsuits against doctors. The financial consequences to a doctor can be high, making it a good source of business.
Is it difficult for a medical practice to be compliant with labor laws?
Not if they have done their homework and have a completely current and updated Employee Handbook developed by HR experts.
Does a compliant Employee Handbook benefit the employer, or the employee?
That is a great question as it actually benefits both parties. It keeps the employer current with areas of the practice that need special attention, and it gives employees a clear understanding of practice policies and procedures so everyone can go about their work without question.
How does an attorney based in Arizona adequately serve practices in other states?
CEDR HR Solutions is celebrating 10 years of working with medical practices across all 50 states. We keep up with laws in each state using information aggregation systems, and as attorneys we are trained in methods to look up a law. Obtaining information on labor laws is not the difficult part of the process, but analyzing the applicability of the law and its impact on a medical practice is where our expertise and experience is necessary. We monitor changes in labor law nationwide on a daily basis. Offering expert advice on a particular situation is the extreme value of what we do here at CEDR. It’s actually one of the most gratifying things I do in my job.
If a doctor has a pre-existing employee issue can they still work with CEDR HR Solutions?
CEDR’s HR expertise and guidance is open to all medical practitioners. If a practice has a pre-existing employee lawsuit, complaint, or issue we will certainly listen to the explanation of the problem and determine whether it is something we can help with, or something that requires referral to a trial attorney. Many times, physicians come to us with existing issues that we can help them solve without repercussion. For instance, if a doctor is considering firing an employee and seeks our advice before doing so, we can review the situation, review any documentation, do a risk assessment, and then help strategize an exit plan. If there is already litigation with an employee going on we will try to point the individual in the right direction, but we might not be able to assist too much given that the lawsuit is already happening. CEDR is very solution-focused and open to helping however we can.
Does CEDR offer any kind of education program to its doctor members so they can keep updated on labor laws?
Yes. As advisors, we don’t just speak to physicians about their individual issues; we also turn our information and research into resources that can easily be used by our members at their leisure. We continuously draft articles and white papers, create podcasts, and send email updates to educate our members on all matters that can affect their practice in terms of employee issues. Recently the Department of Labor issued new rules on overtime regulations and pay. That was big news and something all our customers needed to know, so we instantly developed educational outreach to our members to help them understand the changes they would have to make to be compliant with this new law.
What are the most common labor law violations that occur at a medical aesthetic practice?
In my experience doctors do not set out to violate labor laws. Generally things happen where there are either no clear employee guidelines, or the doctor simply did not know that a certain situation was not acceptable to the Labor Board. Termination of someone who is in a protected class (meaning someone who is risky to terminate, such as an employee who is currently pregnant, a minority, etc.) needs special handling and is one of the most common problem areas. Even if an employee is not performing well, or creating internal problems, the employer still needs to know exactly how to safely terminate them and prevent a lawsuit. The other big one is staff leave wherein an employee needs time off for a pregnancy, health issue, or surgery and it is going to impact the practice. As an employer the doctor needs to be prepared in advance on how they are going to handle unexpected leaves of absence for reasons considered valid by the Labor Board. They also need to know how to plan for these types of staff interruptions in advance.
In working with a medical practice what is CEDR’s main goal?
CEDR’s goal is to mitigate or resolve a problem rather than move a customer into legal action. We are experts at soft-skill management techniques that can keep a practice legally safe. It starts with the Employee Handbook. Once one has been established and valid practice policies have been set in place and agreed to by all staff members, then the practice is relatively risk-free, as long as that handbook is kept up to date and the practice is managed in accordance with it. However, we are available at the touch of a button to help our members anticipate, prevent and resolve issues before they get anywhere close to legal action.
Grace Godlasky is an attorney and HR Advisor at CEDR HR Solutions located in Tucson, AZ and can be reached at 866-414-6056. To learn more visit www.cedrsolutions.com.
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