Guest Blog – HR Wisdoms: a Deep Dive in Two Common HR Processes


For those of you who attended the “HR Wisdoms” webinar recently, we hope you found the information helpful regarding HR Compliance and Recruiting/Hiring/Onboarding for your dental practice. 

We would like to do a deep dive into a couple of topics that are, in our experience, often overlooked in the world of HR. 

Part 1: Emphasize Your UEP in Job Postings

We touched on the “UEP” in the webinar. It stands for Unique Employment Proposition. You’re all familiar with the USP, or the Unique Selling Proposition: why should a patient choose your practice vs the one down the street? In the same way, why should an awesome, amazing, high-quality candidate choose your dental practice vs the one down the street? 

The labor market in dental continues to be tight in nearly all areas and all positions. If you haven’t increased your investment in retention efforts to keep your existing team, we would recommend doing that ASAP. Even with the perfect culture, turnover is inevitable due to retirement, major life circumstances, and other variables outside your control. 

When composing your job posting and other initial communications, you have to stand out from the crowd. Most job ads are the same: “Dental Assistant position open, good benefits, full time, $25/hour.” In a world where all of the postings are the same, the only variable becomes money. 

Consider this opening paragraph for a job posting: 

“We are seeking our newest amazing team member to join our practice! You will fill a critical role in our commitment to exceptional patient experiences. From day 1 we will invest in your success by providing competitive pay and benefits and a robust onboarding process. Our team is warm and welcoming, and they are all committed to your positive experience. We show our appreciation through a fun, friendly, and professional atmosphere, and we invest in your career through regular CE events. We are a fun group and enjoy celebrating birthdays, work anniversaries, and shared lunches together. Many of our team members have been with the practice for years, even decades. We look forward to welcoming you to our amazing office!”

Notice how the focus is primarily on the employee’s experience: what it feels like to be an employee, especially a new employee. Note how much it focuses on positivity, fun, and culture. To be clear, there absolutely must be a delivery. There’s no point saying all of this if it isn’t true. 

Your UEP doesn’t have to match this exactly. The point is to focus on your practice and what makes you unique. Maybe your office caters to high-end fee-for-service patients and has a very tight, polished, best-of-the-best atmosphere where the employees are absolute professionals of the highest caliber. The employee experience will be very different compared with the example above. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Dedicate time to clarifying your UEP. Work with your leadership team and brainstorm the attributes of your practice and what separates it from the rest. 
  • Put your UEP into words. Avoid too many buzzwords or jargon. Focus on the employee’s experience and what they will feel. 
  • Communicate your UEP from the very beginning: job postings, initial screenings, and at interviews. 
  • Check-in periodically and ensure you are walking the talk. Adjust as needed to keep it accurate and fresh. 

Part 2: The “Good Faith Interactive Process”

In the webinar, we touched on where HR compliance rules originate and how your practice’s employee threshold is tremendously impactful. In one state, protection might apply when you have five or more employees, while in a different state, it applies when you have ten or more. It is important to know your particular state rules, along with the federal rules, and how they shift based on your employee count. This is something our clients have access to on an ongoing basis.

Most practices are subject to state or federal discrimination and disability thresholds. This means a claim carries more weight and should be handled properly. The reason “disability” is mentioned so often is that pregnancy conditions are classified under the umbrella of disabilities. 

How do you proceed if you are subject to these rules and you have an employee claiming a disability? The path is known as the Good Faith Interactive Process. 

In the Good Faith Interactive Process, both employee and employer are expected to work together to find a solution that works for both parties. Neither one gets to make unilateral demands on the other nor simply state, “This is the way it is.” 

Here is how the process typically works:

Step 1: Request for Accommodations & Medical Certification

The employee, in conjunction with their treating physician, will certify their medical condition and make a written request for specific accommodations. This doesn’t have to be a written request. It can be direct or indirect, verbal or in writing. This is where a comprehensive job description is helpful, outlining the physical and mental requirements of the job. 

These accommodations can vary widely and include reduced work hours, changes in starting/stopping times, more frequent breaks, avoiding certain procedures, not lifting more than X pounds, or even the request to take time off without prior notice. 

Step 2: Employer Evaluation & Undue Hardship

Once the employer receives the request for accommodation, they determine how feasible or unfeasible the changes are in the context of the business itself. Again, this must be done in a good-faith manner and not immediately rejected outright. If the accommodations can be made, then the process moves forward. If they cannot be made, the employer claims “undue hardship” on the business. Note: some states use their own terminology for “undue hardship.” 

Unfortunately, in most cases, there is not a crystal-clear line-in-the-sand definition of undue hardship. This will vary widely from practice to practice. For example, let’s say a dental assistant needs to start work 2 hours later in the mornings for a period of 4 weeks. A dental practice with 5 other dental assistants and an easy supply of temps in their city can easily accommodate this request. A practice with no other dental assistants in a rural area may have to claim undue hardship. 

To make it even more complicated, some states even specify that the accommodations need to be significantly financially negative in order to claim undue hardship. An employer cannot just point to a small drop in production and claim undue hardship. Given the complexities involved, we always recommend consulting with an HR Specialist who is familiar with your practice details to ensure compliance. Our team of HR Specialists at Bent Ericksen are available for these situations.

Step 3: Final Decision & Next Steps

While making a final decision might seem obvious, we often see employers skip or procrastinate this step. It’s easy to reach an impasse in the good faith interactive process. Nonetheless, employers can’t leave this open-ended. A decision must be made. 

If the accommodations can be made, the adjustments happen, and everyone moves forward. Hopefully, the employee will return to their normal schedule soon, and everything is done. If the employee’s condition changes or worsens, everyone may return to Step 1 and begin the process anew. 

If the accommodations cannot be made and a true undue hardship exists, and if no other adjustments or alternative options can happen, then the most likely path forward is separation of employment. The employment relationship ends in a similar manner as any other, and the employer provides the final check, payout of any applicable benefits, health insurance continuation, etc. Given the liability risks, this is where proper documentation is absolutely critical. Employers may have to prove their undue hardship claim with financial numbers or provide a written explanation of how they arrived at their decision. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Know your state employment protections and the applicable employee thresholds, as well as the federal protections, or work with an HR company such as Bent Ericksen, who can support you in this area.
  • Have employees complete a Request for Accommodations and supply a Medical Certification from their treating physician. 
  • Engage in the Good Faith Interactive Process and attempt to make it work.
  • Finalize your decision one way or the other, document your decision-making process, and communicate clearly with your employees. 
  • If you are new to practice ownership, or new to HR management, or if you have never handled a situation like this before, be sure to seek guidance and training from an HR Specialist or someone who is an expert in these matters. Additionally, these situations can take a number of confusing paths, such as an employee not completing the paperwork or failing to respond to requests. 
  • This is not a time to “wing it” or consult with someone who is not a trained expert. As always, the team at Bent Ericksen is here to support you through these situations, providing training, knowledge, and step-by-step instructions.

– Alan Twig, Bent Ericksen