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By Sarah Buxton

How changes to legislation may impact dental practice owners

5 min
Sarah Buxton sitting next to plant

Sarah Buxton, Director and Solicitor – employment and HR, at Buxton-Coates Solicitors, explores some recent employment law changes and their potential impact on dental practice owners.

There have been several key shifts in trends that I believe are going to contribute to changes in employment and team dynamics within dental practices over the next few years. In particular, the introduction of new legislation designed to support team wellbeing.

Many practice owners and managers may already feel they are doing over and above statutory requirements when it comes to wellbeing; but, it is always wise to keep an eye on legislation to ensure you are up to date with any upcoming changes.

What's changing?

The latest employment law changes seem to be moving toward a greater focus on team wellbeing, with potential changes looking at more family-friendly rights, including support for mental health and flexible working arrangements.

Family-friendly rights

Carer’s leave

Anyone who is legally classed as an employee has the right to take time off to help a dependent who needs long term care. The right to take carer’s leave applies from the first day of work. One week of carer’s leave can be taken every 12 months.

Employees do not have to be registered as a carer to take this leave, nor do they need to provide their employer with evidence of their dependent’s care needs.

Neonatal leave

If your employee has a baby who goes into neonatal care following birth, they are entitled to an additional 12 weeks of neonatal leave if their baby stays in intensive care for more than seven consecutive days.  This leave is a day one right and can be used by parents at the end of maternity or paternity leave. 

Mental health first aiders

At present having a designated mental health first aider is not statutory, however I believe that in the next 12 months this may well change.

For practice owners, I would suggest that it is probably a good idea to get ahead of the game and upskill your team by ensuring you have a mental health first aider. There are several benefits to this; it helps the team to have a better understanding of mental health and for them to feel supported, which can also be helpful for staff retention.

This is also attractive to future employees, as they may feel more secure in the knowledge that their mental health would be looked after.

Changes to flexible working

On 6th of April 2024, there was a significant change to flexible working legislation - previously workers only had the right to make a flexible working request after 26 weeks of full-time employment – however, on April 6th this was changed to a day one right.

Understandably from a recruitment perspective, this can be quite frustrating. To put this into context, let’s imagine a practice owner hoping to recruit a full-time dental nurse, they would go through the recruitment process, which takes time, money and effort; then on day one of employment, that dental nurse is within their rights to make a flexible working request to change their hours or days or even to request to work from home.

The practice owner is obligated to go through a fair and reasonable procedure to either reject or accept that request – and there is also the added risk that if the procedure is not followed correctly, they could be taken to an employment tribunal.

Other potential changes

Although at present there are no statutory rights as to what happens in respect of miscarriage, IVF treatment or assisted conception, and a minimal amount of legislation in respect of bereavement, these topics are all on the cards for possible change.

There is also talk of upcoming changes to legislation in respect of domestic abuse and how much an employer should be involved in the domestic abuse situation of a team member, in terms of care and support.

What do these changes mean for practice owners?

Whilst most people are unlikely to disagree with the fact that investing in better wellbeing and mental health for everyone in the practice is a good thing, the implications of these changes could be quite challenging for practice owners.

If we consider the flexible working changes, for example, the difficulty that dental practices have is that the legislation doesn't discriminate in respect of the size of the business. A larger organisation with a designated HR department would be better equipped to deal with flexible working requests. However, for smaller dental practices this is more challenging and costly to deal with, and not only can an employee make this request on day one, but it can also be repeated again after 26 weeks.

Most practice owners probably go into ownership to run a business and practice dentistry hoping to build a supportive team that helps them run the business; they perhaps don’t consider that they may need to think about or be involved in some capacity, with the personal life of their staff. The balance has become more challenging for practice owners due to some of these changes in legislation.

I would say that it’s important that practice owners not only understand what these changes mean, but also that the members of their team do as well. With employment legislation, as long as you have the right support in place to help you to navigate your way through and properly understand what you need to do, and then feed those messages through to your teams to implement the changes, the process is smoother and easier to manage.

The issue is that if you don't keep on top of changes to legislation, because there is so much to digest and changes happen quickly, you could end up in hot water. So, it’s really about ensuring that you have the right support in place to manage this. Of course, it's important to remember that a lot of the legislation that is in place, or tabled to change, is there to help you have happy and profitable teams and that's what we want at the end of the day.

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