There may be trouble ahead
All practices want to avoid claims being made against them in employment tribunals. One of the easiest ways to avoid such claims is to ensure that your practice’s employment documentation is up-to-date. It’s a statutory requirement for employers to provide its employees with basic written terms and conditions of employment and have written disciplinary and grievance procedures. Practices can protect themselves further by providing employees with terms and conditions of employment and by having an extensive handbook setting out internal policies and procedures.
The employment contract can be used to impose post-termination restrictions on an employee ensuring that they’re not permitted to provide dental services to existing patients or otherwise compete with the practice for a fixed period after the termination of their employment. Restrictions like these must be carefully drafted.
A properly drafted contract can also give the practice flexibility in relation to the employee’s job role, place of work, sick pay and hours of work. A contract of employment can only be amended if there is a contractual entitlement or the consent of the employee is obtained. It’s important that any contract of employment imposes an obligation on the employee to keep such information confidential.
In relation to policies and procedures, these should be set out in an extensive non-contractual handbook.
Failure to follow a fair procedure that ideally should comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, can result in a tribunal finding that an employee has been unfairly dismissed or justify a claim for constructive dismissal. In addition, financial awards can be increased by up to 25% in such circumstances.
Some payment plan providers, such as Denplan can arrange for practices to receive a free, no obligation review of their employment documentation and provide a detailed report setting out any changes recommended.
Performance, equality and harassment
A detailed capability procedure can be included in the handbook to address issues of poor performance and to assist in the management of employees.
All practices should also have a detailed equal opportunities policy. The policy should state what sanctions would be imposed if the policy is breached.
Employers are able to defend discrimination claims if they can prove that they took ‘reasonable steps’ to avoid discrimination taking place.
A comprehensive anti-harassment and bullying policy should also be set out.
Bribery and corruption
The Bribery Act 2010 introduced a series of offences relating to corruption and bribery. Significantly, the penalties for such offences include 10 years imprisonment and unlimited fines for individuals, disqualification from being a director for up to 15 years, unlimited fines for practices and debarment from UK government contracts.
Practices have a defence to offences under the Bribery Act 2010 if they can establish that they had ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent bribery and corruption. Whilst there is no definition of what would be considered ‘adequate’, it’s likely that the existence of a detailed anti-corruption and bribery policy together with evidence that all staff are aware of the policy, will assist in establishing that a practice has ‘adequate procedures’ in place.
Social media has had a huge impact on the way that practices promote themselves. It can be useful to a business if used properly. But it can cause damage to a practice if used incorrectly. It’s therefore vital that practices have detailed social media policies setting out the conduct expected of employees both at work and outside the workplace.
Clearly, there are a number of other policies and procedures that should be included within a handbook. The details of these policies will depend on the nature of the practice, but it’s clear that a regular review of all employment documentation to ensure that it’s up-to-date is vital to ensure that your practice is protected as much as possible.
Amanda Pillinger is partner with MFG Solicitors LLP and specialises in all aspects of employment law, including unfair dismissal and discrimination policies and procedures.