- A policy links the day-to-day operation of the practice to its overall business vision and reputation.
- A good policy will set guidelines and standards of best practice.
- Most dental practices set out their policies and procedures in a staff handbook or manual, which is often given to a new hire as part of the induction process.
- A responsible employer has always kept its policies and procedures under constant review and supplemented policies with appropriate training.
Take a moment to answer these five questions:
- Do you have policies and procedures dealing with equality and diversity, for example in your
staff handbook or intranet?
- When did you last review and update your policies and procedures?
- When did you last provide training to all staff, including your practice manager?
- Have you provided refresher training?
- Do you know how to investigate a complaint of discriminatory treatment?
If you have answered ‘no’, ‘not sure’ or ‘over six months ago’, you should read on…
Policies and procedures: just paperwork?
Workplace policies and procedures form the cornerstone of a successful dental practice. They are one of the most important lines of communication from management to staff.
A policy links the day-to-day operation of the practice to its overall business vision and reputation. A good policy will set guidelines and standards of best practice. Workplace procedures explain to staff what action they should take to ensure compliance with your policy. Most dental practices set out their policies and procedures in a staff handbook or manual, which is often given to a new hire as part of the induction process. It is always the employer’s responsibility to ensure that a new joiner receives the handbook and that s/he understands the contents. However, the practice’s responsibility does not end there. A responsible employer keeps its policies and procedures under constant review and supplements policies with appropriate training. A staff handbook from 2019 may not have included any policy on social media. Just a few years later, guidelines on social media appear in almost all handbooks, and training alongside these should ensure that the policy is fully understood.
So, is a review every three years or so enough to ensure all policies and training are current? A recent decision in the Employment Appeals Tribunal considered the question of what is ‘reasonable’ when it comes to employers providing ongoing training to employees.
Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen
In Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen, a colleague made racist comments to Mr Gehlen, who was of Indian origin. These comments were heard by and reported to other colleagues, including two managers, but nothing was done. Allay (UK) Limited sought to defend the claim brought against it by relying on section 109(4) of the Equality Act 2010, which states that an employer can defend a claim resulting from otherwise unlawful discriminatory actions of an employee, if it can demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent employees from committing discriminatory acts. Here, the employer pointed to its policies and procedures on equality and harassment and training given to staff in 2015.
Allay (UK) Limited’s defence failed. Although the training clearly informed staff about what to do should harassment or discriminatory behaviour occur, at least three members of staff were aware of the racist comments made to Mr Gehlen and did nothing about it. The perpetrator tried to pass off the comments as banter. The Tribunal said that this showed that the training was ‘clearly stale’ and that refresher training was a reasonable step which the employer could and should have taken, even though Allay (UK) Ltd was a relatively small employer. The failure to take this ‘reasonable’ step meant that they could not rely on the defence which required them to have taken all reasonable steps and compensation was payable to Mr Gehlen.
What steps should the practice take?
You may wish to review your staff training schedule to make sure that it properly meets your requirements and provides for regular refresher training – then make sure the refresher training is undertaken.
Your policies and procedures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are up to date, in terms of both the law and relevance to your practice. Do not rely on generic, off-the-shelf policies that are unlikely to reflect accurately your practice’s specific needs. Similarly, your staff handbook should be bespoke to your practice, to show that you have really considered the needs of your practice and the policies adopted.
About the author
Karen Black of DR Solicitors has over 20 years of specialist experience in employment law. She advises dental practices and also individual partners and employees. Karen assists our dental clients from the point of planning and recruitment to termination and retirement. She has particular expertise in sensitively handling partnership and employment disputes, devising practical solutions to keep disruption during difficult times to a minimum. Clients return to Karen for her precise, decisive advice and diplomatic, sympathetic style. Her knowledge of the latest trends in this ever-changing area of law means that she gives valuable strategic advice, allowing our dental clients to be free from the worry of keeping up to date and instead to be able to focus on developing business success. www.drsolicitors.com