Employer's Guide for Optometrists


Perhaps the most difficult part of being an independent optometrist today is managing your employees. We have years of schooling and ongoing continuing education to train us to perform competent eye examinations, make accurate diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatments. But nowhere are we taught the rules of employment.

Careful attention to detail and conscientious care will, more often than not, protect you from a malpractice lawsuit. But almost nothing can guarantee that you will not be sued for discharging an employee. Worse yet, not only might you be sued for firing an employee, but you can be sued for not firing one, for giving a bad recommendation, for giving a good recommendation, or for "allowing" one employee to harass another. Our schools of optometry can't teach you how to be an employer, and, sad as it may be, often we are forced to learn it the hard way - through a lawsuit.

The age old axiom "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" could never be more true than in the area of employment. Nothing can guarantee that you will not be sued, but taking the appropriate steps before you hire and when you fire will certainly make being sued, and, importantly if you are sued, losing, less likely. And, since most plaintiff's suits of this nature are taken by attorneys on a contingency fee agreement, if the lawyer sees a good defense he or she may just shy away from the matter entirely.

This guide was written to aid the optometrist in his or her role as an employer. By following the guidelines provided herein you will go a long ways toward minimizing your exposure to a termination lawsuit. I have also tried to provide you with some additional information and materials to help you stay in compliance with state (California) and Federal laws regarding employment practices. This will, hopefully, take away another favorite weapon of a disgruntled employee - the threat of a complaint to the Labor board.

Each employer must, of course, decide for him or herself which parts of this guide and handbook will work for his or her particular situation. Some sections should be used and implemented without change (indeed, some sections are required by state or federal law). Other parts will require you to add some details, and yet other sections may be deleted entirely. Regardless, it is my hope and expectation that after reading this guide you will be far better prepared to handle the rigors of being an employer.

Finally, in keeping with my commitment to my optometric colleagues, if you have questions or suggestions that pertain to this guide, or if you need assistance in implementing it, please contact me personally by mail or, preferably, by e-mail.

Craig S. Steinberg, O.D., J.D.