Four Ways Medical Practices Create Employee Disputes

June 18, 2015

Avoid employee disputes against your practice before they start by steering clear of these four common bad habits by physicians and owners.

"I'm not worried about employee lawsuits, because I don't mistreat my employees."

Who hasn't thought this after hearing about an employer who ended up in court over an employee dispute? You're a good boss, after all, so there's no need to worry.

Unfortunately, it's possible to sow medical practice dissent without realizing it. Then later, when a small conflict explodes, doctors and owners are shocked at finding themselves facing the same employment dispute as the other employer they scoffed at earlier.

But there's hope: Many employee disputes can be prevented long before they become dangerous, in part by steering clear of the bad habits below.

1. Treating "good" and "bad" employees inconsistently
Stellar employees should be rewarded, and employees who need to improve their performance shouldn't feel coddled. However, owners and managers still need to treat employees equally. When "good" employees receive preferential treatment and "bad" employees are marginalized, you are helping to brew dissent and distrust in your practice.

To reward high-performing employees, come up with fun, non-monetary perks they can earn, like an extra-long paid lunch. Show this type of appreciation in a formulaic way, as your off-the-cuff interactions with your employees should be consistent. And don't focus all energy on your best performers, as this will alienate those who don't receive the same attention.

Likewise, remain fair in your treatment of any employees you are less fond of. If performance is not satisfactory, coach the employee and set goals so they can see a path toward success. Avoid the temptation to give them unpopular tasks or less convenient shifts. An employee who feels disparaged can quickly become toxic to your practice.

2. Resistance to promoting "irreplaceable" employees
Sometimes an employee is so great at what they do, you can't imagine anyone else doing that job. After all, Melinda is the best receptionist you've ever had. Should you really move her to that new position in the back of the office where she won't ever answer phones or deal directly with patients? It's better just to hire someone new, right?

Be careful. The last thing you want is a resentful employee feeling trapped at their current position because of good performance. A compliment like, "You're so great at what you do, I could never replace you," can easily be heard as "You're so great at what you do, I will never promote you." As an employer, you may be reluctant to make changes when something is working well, but that attitude could result in your best talent walking out the door.

As much as possible, leave your personal wants aside and simply ask yourself: "Has this employee earned a promotion?" If so, let them move on to bigger and better things. Ask them to train their replacement to ensure great results after the switch.

3. Explaining the reason behind every decision
 When meeting with the team or individual employees, doctors and owners often explain their decision-making process in an attempt to be approachable and fair. And in moderation, that's a good thing. When your team buys into your vision, things run more smoothly. But collaboration can be taken too far.

Bending over backwards to justify changes or new initiatives sets an expectation with your employees that they aren't expected to comply with unpopular decisions. Don't hamstring yourself by seeking input when you don't really want it. Some decisions are yours to make.

If your employees don't always feel entitled to an explanation or a say in big decisions, they are less likely to balk at your requests, while still appreciating opportunities to give input when appropriate. Remember: You are the boss - and that should usually be the only reason your team needs.

4.Not consistently following the policies in your employee handbook
Assuming it's complete and up-to-date, your employee handbook is your best protection against employee disputes. It provides guidelines to help both you and your employees navigate day-to-day responsibilities and addresses how grievances should be handled.

As a doctor, owner, or manager, don't let "Do as I say, not as I do" become your management style. This prompts disrespect from bad employees and good ones, and will eventually cost you. Each policy is there for a reason, and to avoid the most common yet serious issues, you need to follow them consistently.

A bicycle helmet may be uncomfortable, and you may go on hundreds of rides without an incident, but when you need one, you really need it. Your handbook is a similar type of protection, and not managing in accordance with it could cause you to lose the legal protections it was created to provide.

In all areas, prevention is the best cure when managing employees. With a little attention, most disputes can be avoided or nipped in the bud before they become dangerous.

Paul Edwardsis the CEO of CEDR HR Solutions, provider of customized medical employee handbooks and expert HR support for medical practices of all sizes and specialties. He can be reached at pauledwards@cedrsolutions.com.