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Dental Practices Must Get Teeth Into Employment Law Pitfalls

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The country’s dental practices must equip themselves to be better protected against new employment legislation and social media trends, a lawyer has warned.

The alert has come from employment specialist Amanda Pillinger who believes dental practices across the country need to become ‘switched on’ to possible challenges they could face as small-scale employers.

The dental legal expert has reacted following her recent speech at a fringe event as part of the British Dental Trade Show where she spoke at length about HR issues. She came away from the event concerned the industry is not grasping the pace of employment law change.

Ms Pillinger, partner at Midland law firm MFG Solicitors, who specialise in dental matters, said: “Across the whole UK we have developing number of dental practices – and a substantial growth in the past five years. That’s a trend which is helping to support the economy but it also means the dental industry is a growing employer and therefore must be smarter on a host of developments.

“For example, high profile changes to the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims were brought in during spring 2012. The qualifying period is now doubled to two years and was designed to help small businesses, encourage them to recruit more staff and avoid around 2,000 tribunals every year.

“However, experience has shown that employees determined to make a claim against their employer will stop at nothing to overcome this hurdle and find other tactics such as discrimination claims or whistleblowing – two areas which do not need a qualifying period.

“That’s just one example where significant legislation if not understood correctly, could make life difficult, professionally and financially, for dental practices who rely heavily on good employer-employee relations.”

Continuing, Ms Pillinger said there are examples in recent months of inappropriate comments being made by workers on social networking sites – posts which have damaged the reputation of businesses. She also described the ‘simple but effective’ tactics dental practices can use to protect themselves.

She added: “Whether a dental practice finds itself in a tribunal with an employee, are dealing with unreasonable behaviour on the internet, or even experiencing problems with suspicious sickness patterns, a range of procedures, up-to-date contracts and even an employee handbook can be effective tools for a later date – especially if a practice employee has signed and understood the detail.

“At present too many dental practices see these types of documents as paperwork to be pushed to the back of the queue – a decision some are regretting after spending more time dealing with employee-related matters rather than growing the practice.

“Those who have taken time to protect their practice by understanding legislation, putting procedures in place and having constant dialogue with their employees have found 2012 much easier on the HR front than those who haven’t engaged with the changing employment landscape.

“It’s a legal backdrop which changes more than most and as a firm we are pushing to ensure dental practice owners can stay ahead of the game by planning and taking pro-active action, not re-active panic.”

Amanda Pillinger, whose firm deals with a host of contractual, litigation and property issues for dental practice owners, was one of the speakers at satellite event as part of the recent British Dental Trade Association showcase in London – the dental industry’s annual conference in the UK.