Date ArticleType
2/12/2019 Insights

3 Risky Policies You Don't Want in Your Employee Handbook

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3 Risky Policies You Don't Want in Your Employee Handbook

Life is risky business, and we humans make careful choices about which levels of risk are acceptable.

We generally don't choose to skateboard down the freeway. We don't adopt alligators as pets. We roast marshmallows over campfires, not volcanoes. And, on the off chance that you do pursue any of these actions, you are inviting and welcoming an extreme level of risk into your life.

Well, certain policies we commonly see in dental practices also carry inherent and extreme levels of risk, and some are downright unlawful.

But many practice owners and managers may not even know they are employing risky policies and thus have not accepted the risk involved in using them.

After all, there are hundreds of ways to run afoul of employment laws—and the
“common sense” policies any employee handbooks contain often turn out to be the riskiest.

Here are three widespread employee handbook policies that are NOT legal to enforce:

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1. “No talking about salary or wages.”

To many employers, this policy seems like an easy and practical solution to one of the most common sources of employee drama: the dreaded pay comparison.

But whether as a formal policy or a stated rule, it’s simply not legal to tell your employees that they cannot discuss their salaries.

That’s because a federal law called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) specifically protects employees’ rights to attempt to better their working conditions—and as such, it gives all non-supervisory employees the right to discuss employment conditions without any fear of retaliation.

2. “Posting negative comments about work/management on social media is not permitted.”

We know, it’s tempting to try to fix individual behavioral problems with an overarching policy. After all, we tell everyone that they must be on time; we tell everyone that they must follow HIPAA’s regulations or risk termination; why not have a “no negative comments” policy, to prevent ill-advised tweets and posts that could hurt your practice?

First off, it isn’t effective anyway. Stopping a person who is driving negativity within your team is not that simple and takes strong management. Your best bet is to
deal with specific misbehaviors or drama they’re causing within the practice, not try to limit their behavior online and on their own time.

Second, this type of policy may also be illegal. Much in the same way that you can’t ban employees from discussing wages, limiting your employees’ ability to discuss working conditions -- for better or worse -- 
could be construed as an NLRA violation. Policies like this have been identified before as rules meant to suppress legitimate complaints about working conditions. Just having this policy, and certainly enforcing it, is potentially cause for legal action against your practice.

3. “Unauthorized overtime will not be paid.” 
There are legal ways to limit employees’ ability to work overtime at your practice, but this policy isn’t one of them. For non-exempt employees, all time worked must be paid, and overtime hours must be paid at 1.5X the employee’s regular rate of pay. Saying you won’t pay unauthorized overtime is a policy that can come back to bite you later! If you’ve missed paying overtime and an employee, ex-employee, attorney, or the IRS notices it, only documentation proving that you did in fact pay the time can save you.

If you’re looking to limit the money-bleeding tendencies of overtime rates, your legal and better option is a policy that simply requires employees to obtain authorization before working overtime. It’s true that you must still pay for the time if an employee works unapproved extra time—but you can then have a management conversation about following the rules.

Note: some states, like Alaska and California, have special rules pertaining to daily overtime, calculation of overtime, and more. It’s essential to be aware of your state’s rules! 

Take a close look at your employee handbook—do you have any of these policies? If you do, we recommend that you reject the risk!

Your best course of action is to stop using them immediately and seek expert HR guidance. We help members quietly resolve these types of problems all the time, and your practice will be safer and stronger for having done so.

Have an HR issue you’d like to discuss?
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Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards is the CEO and Co-Founder of CEDR HR Solutions (, which provides individually customized employee handbooks and HR solutions to dental offices of all sizes across the United States. He has over 20 years’ experience as a manager and owner, and specializes in helping dental offices solve employee issues. Paul is a featured writer for The Profitable Dentist, Dentaltown, and AADOM, and speaks at employment education seminars, conferences, and CE courses across the country. He can be reached at (866) 414-6056 or [email protected].