Issues often neglected in employee manuals

Issues often neglected in employee manuals

Be sure your handbook addresses them to protect yourself, practice against litigation
Nov 01, 2008

I am sure that by now pretty much every veterinary hospital owner is aware that it is important to have an employee handbook or manual for clinic workers.

The benefits of taking time to put one together are enormous.

Everyone who joins the clinic can read about the policies of the practice, saving management a lot of time. Also, no one can claim later that they weren't told this or that when it's time for a performance review or reprimand.

There are a lot of "boilerplate" or "template" veterinary-practice employee manuals out there, from various sources. Many are quite good and almost all are far better than nothing at all. However, many don't include subtle issues that may turn out to be important when an employee engages in undesirable behavior that isn't covered in the practice booklet.

New causes of action

As the 21st century moves forward, many in the state and federal judiciaries are carving out a new group of citizens' rights and expectations. Depending upon your political views, this reality may or may not be palatable. Nonetheless, the fact remains that new avenues for employees to follow to obtain money damages from the workplace are developing constantly.

Additionally, the emergence of new communication technologies has created a vast array of new legal rights and responsibilities. That would be, of course, mainly rights of the employees and public authorities and responsibilities for employers.

But, not to worry. A carefully constructed and thoroughly inclusive employee handbook can go a long way toward helping protect the veterinary hospital and its owners, partners, shareholders and members from undue exposure to lawsuits and administrative sanctions. I've outlines some of the issues you should address:

Invitees and acquaintances

You know what an employee acquaintance is. That is the ex-boyfriend of your recently hired technician who insists on coming to the front desk constantly and asking to have a word with her. (He probably wants to retrieve his stuff from their apartment or to beg for a reconciliation or discuss something else urgent).

"Invitee" is a legal term that means someone to whom your receptionist says, "It's OK for you to wait for me in the treatment room so I can drive you home at lunch time." An invitee also could be that same receptionist's lawyer who just stops by on his way to court to "chat about developments" in her ongoing divorce case.

Employee invitees and acquaintences are not clients. They are not vendors. Their presence in the clinic does nothing to enhance your practice. Consequently, it is important for the employee manual to specify that they are not welcome to appear at your facility on a reqular basis.

Ex-boyfriends start fights in the waiting room. Friends hanging around put fingers in cages and chat with the staff while they are on the clock. The employee manual should mention that such visitors are welcome only at management's discretion and that their presence should be minimized.

Defining 'personal space'

Any law junkie probably has heard of the concept known as the "expectation of privacy." This idea springs from the U.S. Constitution and means that, as citizens, we are supposed to be protected against intrusion into our "private areas" where we would not reasonably anticipate intrusion by authorities or their agents.

A person's house, for example is such a private area and cannot be searched without a warrant. Other spaces may or may not be private; hence, we see a lot of press about whether cops can break into kids' gym lockers at school when they suspect drugs to be there.

Veterinary-hospital employee manuals may, and probably should, be used to help shrink or eliminate the "expectation of privacy" in the workplace.

For example, language can be included that specifically mentions the areas where employees are authorized to store personal belongings (coats, hats, purses, cell phones, etc.). The manual may go on to explain that these areas are practice property and as such are subject to search.

I recommend that the text state specifically that a search may be conducted, if necessary, by management and/or authorities without a warrant.