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How to Handle Romantic Relationships in Your Dental Practice

Dominic Kelley
Posted by Dominic Kelley on February 12, 2020

UPDATED 11/24/20 1:32pm PT:

Would you date someone in your dental practice? Even if it harmed your career? Around one in four of us would date a team member, and more than half have had a romantic relationship in the office in the past. (72 percent would date a team member again if given the chance!)

Romantic relationships bring all kinds of challenges into dental practice, from team conflict to sexual harassment claims. This is why it’s a good idea to evaluate your policies for relationships between coworkers, supervisors, etc. 

Romantic Relationship Policies in Your Dental Practice

Surprisingly, only 42 percent of organizations have formal, written HR policies for romantic relationships in the office. Yet, a massive 99 percent of these organizations have "zero tolerance" for romantic relationships between supervisors and their subordinates. (A dentist and their hygienist, for example.) 

It's not just supervisors and subordinates. Problems persist between all employees who develop romantic relationships in a dental environment — doctors, optometrists, dentists, physical therapists, insurance coordinators, administrative assistants, you name it. These problems intensify when a couple breaks up, especially when the break up gets nasty! 

Here are some of the things that could happen...

  • Rampant gossip
  • Conflict 
  • A negative impact on productivity (which could influence patient care)
  • A toxic environment 
  • Favoritism 
  • Sexual harassment claims
  • Lawsuits 

How an Employee Handbook Regulates Romantic Relationships in Your Dental Practice

You can't stop employees from seeing each other outside of your dental practice, but you can create effective HR policies to help lower your liability if something goes awry. You should include these policies in your employee handbook so everyone understands the rules. It's also important to have a sexual harassment, conflicts of interest, and discrimination policy and include this in your handbook too. 

If a relationship leads to an internal investigation, for whatever reason, use digital HR tools like cloud-based document vaults and e-signatures when collecting and storing evidence and statements from employees in your dental practice.  

What to Include in Your Romantic Relationship Policy

There are no federal or local laws that forbid romantic relationships in your dental practice. So, you're free to create your own HR policies, just the way you like. 

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will you forbid all romantic relationships in your practice?
  • Will you limit fraternization between supervisors and their subordinates to prevent romantic relationships in your practice?
  • Should employees keep relationships outside your practice? 
  • What are the consequences for employees not following HR policies?

Think about the answers to these questions when compiling policies for your handbook. We've compiled 5 employee handbook must-haves so you can protect your dental practice from expensive lawsuits. Some dental teams reserve employee handbooks for new hires, but you should give handbooks to all employees every time you update your policies. 

Tip: HR for Health lets you customize employee handbooks based on the bespoke needs of your dental practice. Learn more here

Provide Romantic Relationship Training to Office Managers in Your Dental Practice

Once you've updated (and distributed) your employee handbook, provide romantic relationship training to office managers so they can support dental employees. When tensions grow after a relationship in the office breaks down, this support should include conflict resolution.  

Office managers should know how to:

  • Handle gossip
  • Mitigate tension in your practice
  • Make sure a break up doesn't impact productivity or patient care
  • Address more serious issues like sexual harassment

An office manager, however, should never get emotionally involved when a relationship in your practice breaks down. 

Recommended Reading: Check out our blog on how to intervene in conflicts

Final Word

Whatever you decide, be clear. Make sure all employees in your dental practice are aware of your HR policies. (The best way to do this is to include them in a customized employee manual.) You should also treat all policy violations in the same fashion and address any harassment or discrimination claims immediately.

Schedule an HR Consultation

Did you know that we at HR for Health monitor all the specific laws and regulations that affect your practice? If you have questions about compliance issues, please reach out to us. Schedule a call, call (877) 779-4747, or email now to learn more.

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. 

Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services

Topics: HR Tips, conduct, workplace, general hr, employee issues, office policies

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