How to Write a Top-Tier, Professional Eye Care Employee Handbook
By Practice Growth May 17, 2021
If you’re opening a new eye care practice for the first time or are looking to revise your employee procedures and rules, you'll need to know how to put together a thorough and professional eye care employee handbook.
But what should you include? Are there any big legal hurdles you need to be aware of? How much freedom do you have when it comes to rules about workplace attire? This guide will answer all of those questions and more.
What You Need to Include
Your employee handbook needs to include several key sections to cover legal liabilities, explain expected behavior from your employees, and help distinguish your practice from other eye care offices.
Your Practice’s Legal Obligations and Policies
Naturally, you’ll need to specify all of the legal obligations and policies you plan to follow at your practice. The Department of Labor requires you to print both Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination policies in detail, as well.
At a minimum, make sure that you explicitly write out your employees’ family medical leave policies and workers’ compensation policies.
Standards of Conduct
Your eye care practice’s employee handbook should also include standards of conduct clearly written out so employees are set up for success from the start. These can include examples of ethical conduct (such as how to report workplace violations and how to treat fellow employees), standards of workplace behavior (will you allow phones or other electronic devices out on the clock, etc.), as well as explicitly state that your workplace should be both drug and alcohol-free.
Note that a thorough and professional employee handbook should also include anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. This makes it very clear to your employees how you expect them to treat one another and how they can report harassment if it ever occurs.
In the spirit of making things even clearer for your employees, be sure that your handbook details their responsibilities. This can include:
● Job responsibilities and requirements
● Specific requirements for positions like supervisor or manager
● Who is in charge of opening the practice and closing up, etc.
The practice-specific procedures listed in your handbook will help to separate your eye care practice from others. You have a little more leeway with these, as this section should cover things like timekeeping, how long employees have for various breaks, how and when performance evaluations are performed, and more.
Are you a stickler for punctuality? Make it clear here. Do you mind if employees take an hour for lunch? That should be in this section, too.
As a medical practice, your eye care office’s handbook should include rules surrounding confidentiality and patient records. Be sure to include in detail:
● Who is allowed to pick up prescriptions from your practice;
● Who is allowed to handle prescriptions for patients;
● Where patient information is stored; and
● What documentation software you plan to use.
Work Attire Restrictions
This is another area with relative freedom; you can explain the work attire requirements and expectations you have of your employees. Do you require everyone to wear white coats, scrubs, practice branded polos or button-downs? If so, will you pay for those clothes? Or are you okay with employees wearing business or business casual attire instead? Being clear with these elements will prevent misunderstandings in the future.
Benefits Provided to Employees
Be sure to explain any benefits your office will provide to your employees (if any). It’s often helpful when building up your workforce to offer benefits to employees and immediate family members, like discounts on optical products or free eye exams (limited to once per year).
Closing Procedures and Equipment Rules
Don’t forget to explicitly list the procedures for closing down your eye care practice and handling equipment. Again, this all helps to give your employees as much clarity and specificity as possible regarding how you expect them to perform their jobs, as well as provides you with precedent in case you need to correct behavior or terminate an employee for subpar job performance.
At-Will Employment Disclaimers and Other Legal Matters
Perhaps most importantly of all, you’ll need to add several legal disclaimers concerning at-will employment, non-retaliation policies, and geographic non-competes. Optometrists located in Montana will probably already know that their state is the only non-at-will state.
The legal disclaimers are important since they:
● Prevent employees from suing you after termination;
● Preserves your right to terminate the employment of an employee at any time, with or without cause or any prior notice;
● Preserves the rights of employees to leave your employment at any time; and
● Gives employees a way to report policy violations to you or other managers in your practice (without facing possible retaliation).
Maselli v. Valley National Bancorp – A Lesson in Clarity
The importance of including the above section is best demonstrated in Maselli v. Valley National Bancorp, which was a 2018 case ruled on by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
In a nutshell, the court decided that some employee handbook disclaimers, particularly those regarding promises on a company's behalf to uphold a code of conduct during and after the employment of a worker, can be ruled "ambiguous" depending on the language used.
In the above case, the terminated employee argued that their bank breached promises to proceed according to a code of conduct found in that employer’s employee handbook before the employee was terminated in the first place. As a result, the court found during the resulting investigation that the disclaimers present in the subject handbook were ineffective or ambiguous and technically resulted in an unfair termination.
In other words, modern employers need to be very careful about the language they use in their handbooks to avoid being held liable for certain decisions. By being precise with your language regarding at-will employment disclaimers, you’ll retain the flexibility you need to handle employment situations as they arise without getting into legal trouble.
Add a Proof of Receipt at the End
Don’t forget to add proof of receipt at the very end of the employee handbook. This is a basic form your employees can sign and return acknowledging that they have read everything. The proof of receipt is important for both legal precedent and so you can keep track of who has read the most recent version of your handbook for your records.
Consider Having Your Handbook Reviewed
After putting your employee handbook together, it’s a good idea to have it reviewed by a lawyer specializing in these matters before printing it and using it as your eye care office’s official resource. Not only can a lawyer check for issues with at-will employment disclaimers, employer behavior disclaimers, and more, but they can make sure the rest of the handbook is airtight as well.
A good employee handbook can set your employees on the right track, help define a positive workplace culture, and serve as a critical litigation avoidance tool.