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How Progressive Discipline Plans Improve Employee Relations & Avoid Lawsuits in Your Dental, Optometry, or Veterinary Practice

Giselle Solorzano
Posted by Giselle Solorzano on May 22, 2019

UPDATED 9/16/20 9:57am PT:

What should you do when your insurance coordinator is always late processing payments? Or one of your opticians lied in their job interview? This is where progressive discipline comes in. In the most simple terms, progressive discipline is a system of corrective action for managing the poor performance of employees in your practice — doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, office managers, and all other team members. It's one of the most critical components of healthcare HR.

Your progressive discipline plan traditionally contains various steps, including verbal, written, and final warnings. You must communicate this plan in your employee handbook or you could face lawsuits for wrongful termination.

How Does a Progressive Discipline Plan Work in Your Practice?

Progressive Discipline Plan Improves Employee Relations

A progressive discipline plan documents all the disciplinary and grievance procedures in your practice, including warnings and structured termination practices. In other words, the disciplinary action you will take when dealing with violations of rules, policies, and values in your practice.

Violations might include:

  • Poor attendance (Tip: Use digital time-tracking tools to collect evidence for poor attendance.)
  • Tardiness (A dental hygienist who is consistently late for appointments, for example.)
  • Discriminatory behavior/sexual harassment 
  • Bullying behavior (An office manager who abuses other members of their team, for example. Or a disruptive attitude)
  • Poor completion of job duties
  • Insubordination (A doctor's assistant who deliberately refuses to follow a doctor's lawful and reasonable orders, for example.)
  • Actions that compromise patient care or healthcare outcomes (A physical therapist who fails to safeguard confidential patient data or refuses to use security technologies like cloud-based document vaults, for example.)
  • Actions that compromise health and safety outcomes (A surgeon who consistently fails to wear personal protective equipment, for example.)
  • Other actions such as excessive cell phone use or unauthorized overtime (Not following schedules or clocking in too early, for example.)

Disciplinary action might include:

  • Written warnings
  • Verbal warnings
  • Final warnings
  • Suspension
  • Termination
  • Immediate termination

Keeping all disciplinary information in a customized employee handbook provides employees with a frame of reference for understanding your disciplinary and grievance protocols. It also improves compliance outcomes: (You should retain disciplinary records and procedures as required by law.)

Think of your customized employee manual as a set of expectations in your practice. This document communicates the behaviors and values that you expect of employees. It also communicates what employees can expect from you. It serves as a reference manual and a deterrent. 

HR for Health creates personalized employee handbooks tailored to your practice's culture and goals, with fool-proof policies developed by employment law attorneys and HR consultants. You can also optimize HR with performance and task management tools, cloud-based document vaults, 1-click payroll, e-signatures, and more. Learn more here.


Recommended Reading: 📃 5 Key Policies in Every Employee Handbook


Why is a Progressive Discipline Plan So Important?Progressive Discipline Plan Improves Employee Relations

A progressive discipline plan fulfills two functions: It documents consistent patterns of poor work performance and provides a defense in the event of an unfair (or unlawful) termination claim from an employee. Even states that exercise "at-will" employment are not immune to discrimination claims under federal legislation so it's important to keep a record of all disciplinary action.

In the event of a wrongful termination lawsuit, a litigation attorney assesses the validity of an employee's claim and reviews all employment documentation during a consultation. This documentation might include:

  • Separation documents
  • Violations
  • Most importantly, your employee handbook and progressive discipline plan

Not having these documents (or having inconsistent, inaccurate documentation) might indicate other missteps in your disciplinary and termination processes. However, accurate documentation like customized and legally-compliant employee handbooks deter even the most proficient of attorneys. 

A progressive discipline plan also benefits employees in your practice. Unless a dentist (for example) commits an egregious act like theft or violence, she deserves objective and consistent documentation that supports your termination decision. 


Recommended Reading 📃 Best Practices For When You Revise Your Employee Handbook


What's the Difference Between a Progressive Discipline Plan and a Development Plan?

Progressive Discipline Plan Improves Employee Relations

A development plan is more forgiving than a progressive discipline plan. It's more of a coaching tool than a means of termination, reserved for situations where improvement is certainly possible. (For example, a vet technician who requires additional support to address their tardiness problem.)

Development plans typically include a timeline for improvement and tangible measures of success. 


Recommended Reading 📃 We've compiled a list of COVID-19 resources for doctors, dentists, surgeons, veterinarians, and other healthcare professionals. Click here for more!



Final Word

A progressive discipline plan (or in rare circumstances, a discipline plan) is one of the most important documents in healthcare HR. Follow the steps above when communicating disciplinary and termination procedures in your practice and stay on the right side of the law.

HR for Health's human resources platform features all the tools practice owners need to manage progressive discipline plans, payroll, timekeeping, 401(k), and more with total integration and ease. 

Whether you’re looking for HR support for a small business or you’re a large group dental practice, HR for Health has the solution to fit your practice and budget. Reach out to a HR for Health account representative to learn more, today.

Topics: Progressive Discipline, How to write someone up, Write-ups, Violations, Development plans

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