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RISK MANAGEMENT

When to call an HR expert for help

As a medical office manager, you typically handle day-to-day human resources responsibilities and likely feel comfortable in this role, at least most of the time. Yet, there are times when expert assistance would be welcomed or even seems required. The question is: How do you know when you need the help of an expert?

Going it alone

Among the various HR responsibilities, several are relatively straightforward and require little, if any, external support, according to Steve M. Cohen, president of Labor Management Advisory Group, a human resources management consulting firm, and HR Solutions: On-Call, an advisory service for medical practices and other small businesses.

These responsibilities include:

  • Recruiting and hiring. For the most part, you know who you’re looking for and you’ll know when you find that person, Cohen says. However, you should make sure you are aware of the rules and regulations that pertain to employee selection and hiring.
  • Onboarding. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to bringing a new employee “onboard” and everything it entails, including completing necessary paperwork, introducing her or him to the staff, touring the facility, providing a work area and appropriate supplies, arranging for any necessary training, and so forth.
  • Basic coaching. Employee coaching, aimed at supporting staff and helping them develop and enhance their skills, should be part of every manager’s job.
  • Basic judging. This includes judging the quality of things, services or people, and how they interrelate.
  • Policy formation and policy clarification. Setting policy, creating written policies, and providing clarification when necessary are likewise relatively straightforward.

Asking for assistance

Nevertheless, when it comes to certain areas of responsibility, an office manager is often over her or his head.

These areas include employee discipline and termination, and allegations of sexual harassment.

Discipline and termination

A medical office manager is capable of taking the first step in conflict resolution, Cohen says, pointing out that this involves due process and perhaps an oral warning.

The office manager may be able to also handle a written warning, with a few guidelines about what a written warning should look like, he says.

Yet, when a situation escalates, a manager should seek assistance.

“We think that the office manager should call for help when there are problems that go beyond the written warning,” Cohen says, adding, “for sure when you terminate someone.”

The worst thing that can happen when you terminate is that someone comes back with a gun, Cohen says, indicating the next worst thing is a lawsuit.

“Every time you terminate, the government calls that a precipitous action. It’s a good idea to bring in a third party, and to have the third party serve as the bomb squad,” he says. “This way, it becomes the consultant’s fault.”

According to Cohen, the third party spares the client the legal heat and the political heat, meaning the issues that have a tendency to arise in the office as a result of terminating an employee.

Sexual harassment

When it comes to sexual harassment, time definitely is not on your side.

“If there’s even a hint of sexual harassment, the government requires a thorough and timely investigation, and the investigation must start within 72 hours,” Cohen tells Medical Office Manager.

Talk about pressure. But wait, it gets worse.

“The government holds the office manager strictly accountable for maintaining a sexual harassment-free zone,” he says.

Then there are the financial consequences.

“The fine for a confirmed sexual harassment allegation is 25 percent of the net worth of the organization,” Cohen explains.

And this is only the government fine, once the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) confirms that sexual harassment has taken place. The victim then sues and the practice ends up paying even more. “It is literally designed to bankrupt the organization,” Cohen says.

In order to avoid this scenario, he recommends taking precautionary measures. “A practice needs to set up a very specific sexual harassment prevention program, and that’s an area an expert can help with,” Cohen says.

He points out that it helps to have an ongoing relationship with an expert, so that “if anything goes bump in the night, a manager can pick up the phone.”

Other areas requiring support

Medical practices also utilize Cohen’s firm to establish an HR system; write job descriptions; and provide clarity and continuity with regard to wage and salary structure, performance appraisal programs, and policy manuals.

In these areas, outside support is not critical but valuable, Cohen says.

However, he emphasizes that termination and sexual harassment are areas where a medical office manager does not want to go it alone.

 

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