OSticky PredicamentsO (June 1997 issue) was a well-written article on ethical boundaries and governmental reporting. I believe some of the article?s suggestions are ill-advised and can cause severe harm to all concerned.
A hygienist or assistant who files an OSHA or dental board complaint about her dentist-employer is subject to legal retaliation. OSHA regs are quite complex and filled with exceptions and exemptions. For instance, a non-incorporated dentist is not required to practice OSHA regs for himself, just his employees. OSHA exempts many of the universal precautions under certain circumstances. If a complaint is made, the dentist can often be cleared and is then free to sue (libel, slander, etc.) his employee who filed the complaint against him. Few hygienists/assistants carry insurance to pay for this type of litigation (legal expenses can run from $50,000 to $100,000).
OSHA?s rule 11C (protection from retaliation) does not cover fraudulent complaints or actions by employers who feel that the employee is not following all the OSHA regs herself. The government also has severe penalties ($10,000 fine and or six months in jail) for anyone convicted of filing a false complaint. An angered employer may request OSHA to begin such an investigation.
Hygienists, who are licensed, also may find a complaint filed with the state hygiene board after they attack their dentist-employer. The old adage, OPeople who live in glass houses should not throw stonesO applies.
OSHA and state board inspections consume time and money. Such inspections can close down an office for several days. During this time, employees generally will not get paid. Employees may face OhardO interrogation by investigators. This not only will anger your dentist-employer, but also your co-workers who may express their feelings in unpleasant ways.
Should a dentist-employer get hit with heavy fines or suspension, the office may close with the loss of jobs or funding may be restricted so that lower salaries, fewer raises, or limits on patient treatment will result.
I agree with Dr. Miller?s suggestion that rather than file a complaint, first talk with your employer. If this does not generate the change you desire, your only other OsafeO option may be to leave instead of trading complaints and paying lawyers.
E.J. Neiburger, DDS
Editor?s note: Most of the scenarios referred to above suggest situations where a hygienist files fraudulent claims with malicious intentions. It is important to remember, though, that OSHA protection for OwhistleblowersO serves a legitimate purpose.