Standards of appearance

have a wonderful dental assistant who has been with me for 14 months. She has so many good traits -- loyal, hardworking, never absent, friendly.

by Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA

Dear Dianne,

I have a wonderful dental assistant who has been with me for 14 months. She has so many good traits -- loyal, hardworking, never absent, friendly. However, today she came in to work with a nose ring. The piercing is the first thing you see when you look at her. To me it looks hideous, gaudy, and unsanitary. I don't see how she can even blow her nose, and I can't begin to imagine why she would do such a thing. I'm afraid her appearance will offend some of my patients, particularly the senior citizens. Heck, I'm only 50 and it offends me! I really hate to fire her, given her stellar job performance. What can I do? Is there any way this can end well?

Dr. Rick

Dear Dr. Rick,

You didn't say, but I'm guessing that you do not have a policy manual for your practice. Such a manual would spell out your policies on acceptable staff appearance, including body art, piercings, and attire.

Back when the tattoo fad was gaining acceptance, I remember attending a faculty meeting that addressed adding a departmental policy to our student manual prohibiting the display of body art. The policy didn't say that students couldn't have body art, but it did say that it was not permissible to have visible body art. Our manual clearly stated that the only piercings allowed were on the earlobe where one small, nondangling earring could be worn.

The fact is that every business owner has a right to set standards of appearance and behavior for staff members. In the absence of written standards, staff members make up their own standards. Since there was no policy prohibiting facial piercings in your business, the dental assistant had no way of knowing her nose piercing was unacceptable in the workplace. Now you find yourself in a "reactive" situation.

Since you feel that the assistant's facial jewelry could drive patients away from your practice, you must deal with this situation. I recommend a private meeting with the assistant where you deliver this message:

Cindy, you are such a joy to work with, and I can't imagine what it would be like to work without you. You have a decision to make. The decision is which is more important to you -- your job or your nose piercing? The piercing is an unwanted distraction, and as your employer, I am unwilling to risk losing patients who will be put off by your facial piercing. The piercing is not in keeping with standards of professional appearance that I desire from all my employees. If you feel that your nose piercing is more important than your employment here, I understand, and we will miss you in the future. The decision is yours to make.

If the dental assistant values her job in your office, she will agree to remove the piercing and allow the opening to heal back together. If she decides her piercing is more important, then you will be searching for another assistant. Just remember that this is a business decision that you must make to protect your business. When staff members dress or behave in ways that cause your patients to seek care elsewhere, your business suffers. Are you willing to permit that?

Either way, you need a policy manual for your practice that is customized and up-to-date. If you have a manual, the chances are strong that it needs to be reviewed and updated to ensure you do not have policies that are considered illegal by today's standards. If you need help, please contact me. Policy manuals are one of my specialties.

All the best,

Dianne

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA, is a consultant, speaker, and author. She helps good practices become better through practical on-site consulting. Her book, "Manage Your Practice Well," is available for purchase at www.professionaldentalmgmt.com. For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact Dianne at dglasscoe@northstate.net or call her at (301) 874-5240.

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