Responding to and Preventing Claims of Harassment in the Dental Office – Part 2

This article is a follow-up to “Responding To and Preventing Claims of Harassment – Part 1,” which discussed: (i) the various forms of workplace harassment; and (ii) the establishment and enforcement of your practice harassment policy and procedures. The dental practice attorneys and employment attorneys at Nardone Limited emphasize to their dental practice clients that it is important to respond promptly to an employee’s complaint of discrimination, especially a complaint of harassment. Your prompt response to an employee’s complaint of discrimination will be key to responding to any future allegations of discrimination by an employee, if the employee files such a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Additionally, your dental practice should know how to proceed if an employee complains about harassment in the workplace. And if your practice does not know how to proceed with an investigation of a complaint of harassment, the practice should immediately contact its employment attorney for guidance. For more information on employment matters that affect your dental practice, see our article titled “Responding To and Preventing Claims of Harassment – Part 1,” and our article about employment agreements with associate dentists.

Responding to a Harassment Complaint

Once a Practice receives a complaint, whether it is reported orally or in writing, prompt action should be taken.  As part of the Practice’s discriminatory harassment policy and procedures, the Practice should develop and provide the staff, as part of the Practice’s employee handbook, a form that can be used by the staff to initiate a complaint.  The form should identify the following items to be completed by the complainant: (i) staff’s name and position; (ii) type of complaint; (iii) details and basis of the complaint; (iv) others involved; (v) dates and approximate times of the incidents; (vi) places of the alleged incidents; (vii) any witnesses to the incidents; (viii) any additional comments; and (ix) the signature of the reporting staff member and the date when it was signed by the employee.

Once the employee completes the complaint form, a determination needs to be made as to who is going to investigate the complaint.  It is recommended that the discriminatory harassment policy designate an individual who can investigate complaints of harassment and discrimination.  In most circumstances, this individual should be the office manager, the doctor, or an outside professional.  No matter who ultimately conducts the investigation, the person investigating the complaint must be able to remain fair, impartial, and objective throughout the investigation.

In addition to deciding who is going to conduct the investigation, the following decisions need to be made prior to initiating the investigation:

1. What interviews are needed, and who will conduct those interviews?

2. What is the timetable for completing the interviews and the investigation?

3. Who will be involved in evaluating what to do at the end of the investigation?

4. Should the Practice use or consult with outside professionals prior to initiating an investigation or responding to the complaint?

5. Is there certain insurance that covers harassment complaints and does the Practice have any obligations to notify the insurance carrier of the complaint?

In summary, your dental practice must be: (i) aware of the various forms of harassment; (ii) how to prevent the harassment; (iii) how to respond to a harassment complaint; and (iv) what legal obligations and rights the Practice and the complainant may have under the specific circumstances complained of.

Contact Nardone Limited

If you would like the help of an experienced employment attorney to: (i) draft a discriminatory harassment policy and corresponding complaint procedures for your dental practice; (ii) provide discriminatory harassment training for your practice staff; and/or (iii) assist you with responding to a charge of discrimination or harassment from the OCRC, you should contact Nardone Limited. Nardone Limited, a Columbus, Ohio law firm, provides specialized dental practice representation across Ohio. The dental practice attorneys and employment attorneys at Nardone Limited represent dentists in such diverse areas as: (i) buying and selling dental practices, (ii) asset purchase agreements, (iii) employment contracts and noncompete agreements, (iv) labor and employment, (v) human resources, (vi) Ohio Dental Board proceedings, (vii) lease agreements, (viii) real estate purchase agreements, (ix) tax planning, and (x) estate planning. Contact Nardone Limited today to discuss your practice and how Nardone Limited may help you.