I’ve been a registered dental hygienist for almost twelve years, mostly in private practice, and now as a clinical coordinator/professor. In the past few years, I have found myself frequently answering questions from new graduates regarding questionable labor practices.
These same questions are also popping up at an alarming rate on social media forums for dental hygienists.
In this article, I will discuss the three most frequent dental office labor practices that could be violating the law.
1. Should my employer be classifying me as an independent contractor (and/or sending me a 1099)? NO – The IRS imposes strict guidelines to determine if an employee can be classified this way. Does the company control or have the right to control what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job?
Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer (these include things like how worker is paid, whether expenses are reimbursed, who provides equipment/instruments/supplies, etc.)? If you answered yes to either of these two questions, the employee cannot be classified as an independent contractor.
The Department of Labor and IRS could view the misclassification as an intentional avoidance of mandatory federal, social security, and medicare tax. For more information about IRS classifications, click HERE.
2. Should I be paid for a working interview? YES – The law appears clear on this topic, and it is neither a choice, nor a matter of opinion. Unpaid working interviews are not only unethical and distasteful, they could be viewed as illegal. Remember that US History lesson on sweatshops? That type of behavior paved the way for radical changes in labor law and the protection of workers who can be easily taken advantage of by prospective employers. Furthermore, those who do choose paid working interviews must still add the applicant to their payroll and pay appropriate payroll taxes. When a dentist is collecting payment from a patient, subjecting the worker to dangerous chemicals and potential employment related injury, he/she is bound by law to not only pay that person an agreed upon wage, but add them to the payroll (even if for one day). That person is also covered under workers compensation. A for-profit business cannot classify workers as volunteers.
3. Should I be clocking out between patients? NO – I’ve heard of some dentists forcing hygienists to clock out if a patient no-shows. The U.S. Department of Labor defines on-duty waiting time as time that an employee is waiting for work to do. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employee who is awaiting their next assignment while on-duty is “engaged to wait” and entitled to compensation. The employer can negotiate, prior to employment, a period of time that can be clocked down (reduced pay for waiting times). However, the employer cannot enact a new pay agreement without the employee’s consent. Any employer who alters the employment contract without consent of the employee may be subject to pay for workers compensation claims if the employee chooses to leave. I don’t think I even have to say what this type of practice will do to office morale.
The bottom line is: success of the business depends upon the success of the team. In my experience, dental offices that have questionable labor practices get a bad name and have a hard time retaining employees. Many hygienists bring in well over $200,000 ($1000/day X 4 days/week) annually for the dental office, and their contributions should be valued and compensated with fair labor practices, not just because it’s the law!