When you’re growing your eye care practice and building up your staff to handle more patients, it’s easy to overlook a critical role—a job so important to your practice’s solvency and profitability that without that position filled, you can pretty much scrap your plans for a successful expansion. The role? Human resources specialist.
It’s tempting to cut corners as you look at growth expenses and simply assume that any added human resources duties can be easily allocated to your practice manager or that the physician owners can manage the hiring and firing. After all, it’s not that complicated. Anyone can take this on with a little extra training, right? Wrong. Without a dedicated human resources specialist on your team, the risk you’re taking on is like driving blindfolded.
Pop Quiz! Test Your Human Resources Knowledge.
Try weighing in on these thorny HR scenarios posed by attorney Marcus Crider with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis for attendees of the 2017 annual meeting of the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association. Then, review the answers to see how you did.
An intake specialist is instructed by his manager not to refer females to a particular clinician. The intake specialist doesn’t file a complaint but instead proceeds to refer female clients on an equal opportunity basis. Does the intake specialist’s refusal to obey the order constitute protected activity?
A: No, the intake specialist must at least voice his opposition.
B: Yes, the intake specialist’s noncompliance is protected opposition.
C: The intake specialist needs to file a complaint or grievance to comply with policy.
D: Yes. The intake specialist’s manager and that therapist are both jerks!
Your practice manager, Karen, believed that your facility was improperly denying certain requested reasonable accommodations under the ADA. After she reported this to supervisory management, they transferred her to a position with less responsibility and pay. Is this retaliation?
A: Maybe, but we need more facts.
B: No, as a manager, the law requires her to report this activity.
C: Yes, her reports of unlawful actions were protected.
D: All I can think about are those poor disabled employees #teamkaren.
In response to a supervisor’s repeated sexual comments, Leslie tells him, “Leave me alone and stop.” A coworker intervenes on her behalf, also asking the supervisor to stop. Is this protected activity?
A: Yes, for both employees.
B: Yes, for Leslie, no for the second employee.
C: No for both. They should have reported the supervisor’s behavior per the policy.
D: Who knows? Leslie was probably just playing hard to get.
Brandi, a tech, discussed with her coworkers that she believed she was being discriminated against because her pay was lower than male techs doing similar work. The practice code of conduct includes a gossip policy which prohibits discussing pay. Brandi is disciplined for violating the policy. Is this retaliation?
A: Not if she signed the policy.
C: No, there is a difference between disciplining her for violating the policy and retaliating against her.
D: Yes. Policies like that are illegal anyways.
Joe filed an EEOC charge alleging that he was racially harassed by his supervisor and coworkers who all deny they engaged in the conduct. There were no witnesses. Human resources assigned two employees to watch him and report back about his activities. Is this retaliation?
A: No, if HR is trying to help him by finding evidence of the harassment he reported.
B: No. HR has the right to conduct a thorough investigation into his claims.
C: No, if he remains in the same department, but yes, if they transfer him.
D: Yes, if this deters him from making future complaints.
Bill filed a suit against his former employer alleging that his supervisor sexually harassed and constructively discharged him. The employer ultimately settled. Bill applies for a new job and has a conditional offer contingent on a reference check. When the new employer calls the old employer, his former supervisor says that he was a troublemaker, started a lawsuit, and was not anyone a medical practice would want to get mixed up with. The new employer withdraws Bill’s job offer. Is this retaliation?
A: No, for the new practice. This is the reason we take the time to check references. Yes, for the former employer.
B: Yes, for the new practice; no, for the former employer.
C: Yes, for both.
D: No, you can’t sexually harass a male.
A physician-owner receives an expletive-laced email from Sally about her manager harassing her. Sally has documented performance issues and insubordination. She is terminated, and the termination notice cites her performance and the email as reasons. The email is attached as the term cause email. Is this retaliation?
A: No, the email is not an example of insubordination.
B: Yes, her complaint is still protected.
C: Probably so.
Check Your Answers
- C. Karen is a manager so this is her job and managers are still eligible for protected activities
- B. You can’t prohibit discussion of pay. You can certainly have that policy but it might end up costing you. Barring employees from discussing their pay is risky, legally speaking.
- C. Crider says that if he were defending the new employer, he would hope that the lawsuit was not “the reason” Bill wasn’t hired. Bill would have to prove that it was because of the former employer’s statement that his offer was rescinded.
- C. Sally clearly was making a report but not in the best manner. What if she copied the entire practice on the email, or announced it on the loudspeaker? The manner in which you raise a complaint does count. That’s why the answer is “probably” instead of “yes.”
The Bottom Line
You need someone who understands employment law, emphasizes Suzanne Rupert, director of human resources & recruiting at Talent Acquisition Innovation. Healthcare laws are changing all the time and you need an HR person who is staying up to date and keeping your staff informed. If your practice is growing, you’ll also need a mediator to help integrate new employees into an existing office culture. More people will be working closely together, and there will be flare ups, Rupert says. “The HR person has to listen, they have to mediate, and they have to be able to mitigate risk which is really important.”
Get your doctors on board.
To be successful, your HR hire needs the full support of your physician staff and your board of directors. Doctors don’t always think like employers, advises Kat Park, director of RCM services at Eye Care Leaders. They’re more concerned with patient lawsuits, aren’t thinking about employment lawsuits, and frequently don’t have training in employee issues. Early in the hiring process for new doctors, there needs to be buy-in to understand the value and necessity of a human resources specialist so your doctors are open to advice and training from this staffer, says Park.