Legal Duties of a Dental Office Manager

The office manager in the dental practice must have a day to day working knowledge of a variety of laws affecting both small employers and dental practices specifically. The “office manager” may have other various titles like the “business manager” or “administrative assistant,” but he or she must be someone who is capable and trustworthy in any case.

There are some laws which mandate that a title actually exist for compliance under federal or state laws. A “privacy officer” must be designated by the dental practice under HIPAA’s latest amendments to create and implement policies and procedures for compliance under that statute as well as provide the training of new and present employees. Specified risk management analysis responsibilities of HIPAA are left to the privacy offer to comply with. Security of information under the “red flags” rules and Massachusetts data privacy regulations should be left up to one individual such as an office manager.

OSHA is one of the most critical statutes that must be complied with by dental offices, and the responsibilities of following the detailed regulations specifically involving dental practices are great enough so that OSHA requires designation of one or more persons by name to follow individual parts of the statute. That includes the responsibility of obtaining and maintaining the Material Safety Data Sheets for the many hazardous materials dental offices have to handle daily. Additionally specific persons must be designated to be responsible for the proper labeling of hazardous materials kept in the office as well as shipped to other locations, and fulfilling the detailed training requirements of the legislation.

The office manager, with the help of an attorney dealing on a regular basis with dental practices, needs to take charge of the OSHA compliance requirements to avoid the increased penalties and enforcement now taking place as a result of announced or unannounced visits by OSHA inspectors.

Discrimination law compliance under the ADA or Massachusetts General Laws requires that someone like the office manager be specifically knowledgeable of the applicability of these statutes to dental offices. The ADA requires non-discrimination against many “protected classes” in all employment decisions for offices with 15 employees or more, and very similar requirements exist under the Massachusetts General Laws for offices with 6 employees or more. Hiring, firing and nearly all important decisions involving employees fit within these statutes. Access requirements for individuals with disabilities exist under the ADA and Massachusetts law in designing and maintaining the layout of the dental office.

Massachusetts workers compensation law can be complex when applied to small employers such as dental practices, and the office manager should make sure to follow through on both the insurance requirements and what required of a practice should an employee be injured on the job. Sometimes employees try to claim workers compensation benefits for injuries which may not be job-related, and the day to day tracking of whether injuries are indeed job-related should be the office manager’s responsibility.

Meeting unemployment compensation requirements is a regularly occurring responsibility which should be accomplished accurately and knowledgeably in order to avoid additional unemployment insurance costs. Many times discharged employees think they are entitled to unemployment compensation no matter how the separation from employment happens. This is simply not the case, and the office manager should make sure that the termination or separation is made for compensable reasons if the employee claims benefits.

It often is wise to make background checks on employments with possible criminal records or bad credit. In this case the Fair Credit Reporting Act must be complied with by the office manager, as well as acting within the record obtaining restrictions under the Massachusetts criminal records search law, CORI.

Meeting payroll deduction and other wage laws are of course a major function of the office manager, as well as ensuring that various federal posting requirements under both wage and other acts are met.

You may think that all the above legal responsibilities require that you hire a lawyer to be your office manager! That is of course not the case, though some of the details of the statutes should be turned over to a lawyer who the office manager has a good relationship with. Foremost, what an office manager can do is have an attorney prepare an office handbook which will lay out all the responsibilities and rights of the dental practice and the employee in an organized fashion. Proper wording can avoid liability claimed by employees for all sorts of actions as well as lay out the office manager’s legal responsibilities.