Whether you’re opening a cold start practice or revising your existing documentation, having a personalized employee handbook for your optometry practice can make onboarding new employees an easy and streamlined process. An employee handbook is used to inform employees of their job duties, appropriate conduct, and other workplace rules and regulations. It’s not an employment contract, but it is a crucial document for setting expectations on the part of both employee and employer.
At minimum, an employee handbook should cover:
- Rights of the employee
- Obligations of the employer
- Conditions of employment
- Workplace rules and regulations
- Performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, and termination procedures
- Employee benefits, including sick leave, PTO, and health benefits
- Any other administrative information (payroll, overtime, and so on)
An employee handbook is especially crucial for small businesses that lack full-time Human Resources staff. It protects the employee and employer by making expectations for both parties clear: from confidentiality and HIPAA requirements to how employees are expected to dress at work.
If you don’t have a dedicated HR team, the employee handbook will be the go-to document for any questions regarding workplace rules and regulations. It’ll be the first place your employees turn to if they have questions about an office rule, or if they want to know how to resolve an office dispute. This is why it’s important for your employee handbook to be thorough and up to date!
If you don’t already have an employee handbook, we’ve created a template version you can download and edit to suit your practice!
What makes an employee handbook for optometry practices different
You can find a downloadable sample employee handbook anywhere, but it might not be the best fit for your practice. After all, optometry practices are medical offices, and the rules and regulations regarding appropriate behavior, workplace safety, and confidentiality are often different than they are for, say, a tech startup or an accounting firm. When you’re working with patients, insurance companies, and drug reps (not to mention other doctors!), it can be vital to have a document that clarifies expectations for all employees, from associate ODs to practice staff.
When building your employee handbook, the aspects that will make it unique to your optometry practice will include:
- Work attire: Will everyone wear scrubs and/or white coats (and if so, do employees buy those or will they be provided by the practice), or is business attire acceptable? What about business casual? Will you be instituting casual Fridays?
- Confidentiality: Don’t forget to include the legal requirements around confidentiality and patient records. Who is allowed to pick up prescriptions? How do you safeguard patient information? What documentation software (if any) do you use and how are employees expected to use it?
- Benefits: As an eye care provider, you might find it beneficial to offer complimentary eye exams to your employees and their family members. Maybe you also offer employee discounts in the optical, or other benefits that are unique to your practice. Whatever these benefits are, they should be outlined in your employee handbook along with more standard benefits like health insurance and paid leave.
- Equipment and closing procedures: Who is responsible for turning off and putting away equipment at the end of the day and ensuring the security of the office? This should be spelled out in your employee handbook.
As an optometry practice, it’s understood that you’ll have some policies in place that are different from any other kind of office, as well as policies that are potentially distinct from other optometry offices. An employee handbook outlines these policies for you and your employees, and gets everyone on the same page with regards to what is and is not appropriate behavior at your practice.
What should every employee handbook contain?
Your employee handbook should be a comprehensive document. Along with the rules specific to your practice, your handbook should also contain general rules and policies.
Legal obligations of the employer: Worker’s Compensation Policy, Equal Opportunity Employment Policy, and Family Medical Leave Policy
Most states require you to outline your Worker’s Compensation Policy in your employee handbook. Check your state laws to see what applies to you.
You are required by the Department of Labor to print your Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination policies in detail in your employee handbook. As a small business, you may or may not be covered by the laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, if you are an Equal Opportunity Employer, that should be noted in your employee handbook, and you should always make sure to outline your practice’s non-discrimination policy.
The Family Medical Leave policy is governed by the Family Medical Leave Act on the federal level. If your company is above a certain size, you are required to give your employees a certain amount of unpaid medical leave for cases of dire illness, childbirth, or the care of a child or sick family member.
Legal Disclaimers, At-Will Employment, and Non-Retaliation Policy
Don’t forget to include legal disclaimers in your handbook. These would include notes that the handbook is subject to change; the handbook is not a guarantee of employment (the non-contract clause—an employment contract is a separate document); and a statement that the policies outlined in the handbook supersede all others, such as prior directions or informal conversations. Make sure you include these, as they are part of what sets the status of your employee handbook as an important workplace document.
“At-will” employment means that both the employee and the employer have the right to terminate employment at any time, with or without cause or prior notice. This means employees have the right to resign, and the employer has the right to change the conditions of employment with or without cause or prior notice but not without notifying the employee.
With a non-retaliation policy in your handbook, you can spell out exactly how and when you expect employees to report violations of your policies to you or other managers. This policy also spells out that reporting violations of any policy will not result in retaliation against the person who reports.
Standards of Conduct: Ethical Conduct, Workplace Behavior, and Drug/Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy
This is one of the most important sections of the employee handbook for communicating what kind of workplace your company is to a current or prospective employee. It sets the tone for the ethics of your practice, for the level of formality you expect from employees, and for how you expect to treat your employees and be treated as their employer.
This section would ideally include your anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy (separate from your non-discrimination policy). While you can’t possibly list all behavior that could constitute harassment, you do want to make it clear how you expect employees to report harassment if they experience or witness it occurring.
This section should also include your policy on drugs or alcohol in the workplace, workplace safety, your workplace violence policy, and employee conduct (including your absence or tardiness policies). Obviously some of these standards of behavior are more stringent or extreme than others, but it’s useful to combine them in one place.
It’s also useful to include your section on personal appearance or workplace attire here. Are you a slacks-and-button-up office, a scrubs-only office, or a polo-shirt-and-dark-jeans office? Do you have designated “casual days”? Are visible tattoos or piercings allowed, or should they be covered up? These are important aspects of an employee handbook at the beginning, so that you can avoid or quickly address conflict later.
Procedures and Responsibilities
This section would cover aspects like attendance, payroll, timekeeping, breaks, reimbursement policies, and performance evaluations. It will also cover termination procedures and disciplinary actions, and how you as the manager will determine the need for those.
This is the most exciting section, of course! It’s where employees can find basic information on Paid Time Off, holidays, and sick leave, as well as information on company health insurance benefits and accommodations.
What should an employee handbook not contain?
Under no circumstances should you forbid employees from discussing their salaries with each other. This isn’t just overstepping your boundaries as their employer—it’s also a potential violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects workers from unfair business practices.
Other things an employee handbook should not contain include any policies that violate local or national labor laws, discriminatory language, and other policies that don’t pass the “sniff test.”
In fact, it’s a good idea to have your employee handbook reviewed by a lawyer before you start issuing it to your office!
The final page: proof of receipt
Don’t forget to include a form for your employees to sign and return acknowledging that they’ve received and read the employee handbook. This way, you’ll be able to keep track of who has received what and when—and if you make updates, you’ll be able to get the new version of the handbook to everyone who needs it.
This is a template document, and should be edited before you distribute it to your employees. While we make every effort to provide accurate information that is helpful to your practice, this information may contain errors and is not to be used in place of your own professional medical judgment. Under no circumstances shall CovalentCareers be responsible for damages arising from use of this information. Please consult with a legal professional before distributing your edited employee handbook!