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jca's avatar

Should the employer ask the receptionist to fix her teeth if she is the "face" of the company?

Asked by jca (36043points) August 3rd, 2015

I was just browsing around the NY Times and came across one of the Ethics columns. An employer was writing that his receptionist had 8 of her teeth knocked out and is stating she’s afraid of surgery. She’s not replaced them yet. It’s possible and also likely she does not have the funds that might be required for the uncovered portion of the dental bills, too. However, the employer is stating that she is the “face” of the company. When people come to the offices, the receptionist is who they see. Not only is her appearance affected, but with 8 teeth missing, it’s very possible her speech is affected, also.

Some in the column are suggesting that maybe it’s time for the receptionist to find employment elsewhere.

What do you think? The people participating in the discussion are doing so from an ethical/moral standpoint, not a legal standpoint. One of the participants compared the similarities and differences to what it would be like if she were overweight.

Read details: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/26/magazine/should-i-ask-my-secretary-to-fix-her-teeth.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fthe-ethicist&contentCollection=magazine&action=click&module=NextInCollection&region=Footer&pgtype=article

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21 Answers

marinelife's avatar

The employer has the right to make appearance part of the job requirements. If her speech is affected, it is not like being overweight, it affects her job performance.

janbb's avatar

If it is very important to the employer and s/he is happy otherwise with her job performance, s/he should offer to pay the difference from what her insurance covers.

Pachy's avatar

If I were the employee and wanted to grow with a company I liked, I would sit down with my employer and let him know that I understood his concerns and appreciated his advice. I would then explain my financial situation and request that the company contribute to (not totally pay for) the cost.

jca's avatar

Good suggestions. To reiterate, the employee is saying she’s not replacing teeth because she is afraid of surgery. The people in the discussion were suggesting that the cost could be an issue, but that’s not what the receptionist is saying. So if she is saying she is afraid of the surgery/dental work, then what?

janbb's avatar

@jca Ah yes, I overlooked that. Just read the discussion and i’m not sure how I feel. As one of them said, the employer has to have to have a fuller understanding of what the employee’s issues are, i.e. a long talk, before determining what actions to take. It would seem to be a detriment, for sure, to holding that position.

Here2_4's avatar

I think the employer could pay for his “Face”, but also set up someone to talk with her. Many hospitals have people just for that, to talk with people about surgery, chemo, etc., to help them with their fears.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

The employer could help out. Or take her to a hockey game.

ibstubro's avatar

I think the cost is being greatly underestimated, and that it might be so much that it’s cost prohibitive.
The last I knew (several years ago) implants were $5,000 – $10,000 each. If she’s missing both upper and lower teeth, she’s going to need a minimum of 4, maximum of 8. The last I knew (several years ago) implants were considered cosmetic and insurance eith didn’t cover them at all, or had something like a $1,000 lifetime cap.
If I was the employer, I would start by talking to the insurance company. If it’s covered, then I would check into the mental health services available through insurance. Go into the conversation with the employee informed. She has to be very self conscious about it. There’s no point in making the conversation any more excruciating for her tha necessary.

trailsillustrated's avatar

How did she get the job in the first place, if appearance is a factor. She could get a denture or an over denture for much less than implants. I can’t imagine having lost any teeth, I’m surprised she got hired at all. Seems like they should’ve thought about this during the hire process, some people are fine with no teeth.

jca's avatar

@trailsillustrated: Details specify she had the job first, then lost the teeth.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Well if your receptionist resembles a hillbilly or hockey player is it going to be good for business?

ibstubro's avatar

Given a lawyer’s clientele, @Adirondackwannabe?
50/50.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I can see that an employer would not want a person at their front desk who has no front teeth. And as @marinelife said, the injury could be affecting her speech too.

If I were the employer, I’d explain my position to the staff member and that I do need her to have her teeth fixed. I’d also help to identify a dentist that has a reputation for safe, quality work but that carries that work out with empathy for people who are frightened of dentists. They do exist.

If cost is a factor in holding her back. I’d offer to pay for it and for her to repay it a small amount at a time out of her pay. I’d also offer to pay some of the costs because I will benefit by having a receptionist who no longer looks like she’s gone a round or 10 in a boxing ring.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@ibstubro I guess so. Laughs
This question reminds my of the hockey player that took a puck right in the mouth. He lost eight teeth. They found four of them on the ice. No sign of the other four. And he played the rest of the game.

gorillapaws's avatar

If I were the employer, I’d meet with my lawyer. This could become a lawsuit really fast if you say/do the wrong things. I know enough about employment law to know that you need to be careful and consult experts.

jca's avatar

What the discussion specifies, @gorillapaws, is that she is not in a protected class of disabled, so not sure what law would cover her. I am wondering what the law would say if someone who did not have a good appearance for any reason and was turned down for a job. I don’t see why or how it would be different.

gorillapaws's avatar

@jca I just know that this stuff can get weird when employment lawyers get involved. I’m not sure if there is a law about forcing employees to undergo surgery or loose their job, but I would think having a conversation with an employment lawyer would be a lot cheaper at several hundred dollars/hour than facing a lawsuit for orders of magnitude more to fight/settle.

jca's avatar

@gorillapaws: I know what is possible. Instead of actually coming straight out and firing her, they just start finding fault with her work, building a paper trail, not being tolerant of mistakes (everyone makes mistakes – nobody’s perfect). Then voila, she is fired with all kinds of evidence showing she’s an awful worker, when in reality, it’s due to the teeth.

LostInParadise's avatar

I sympathize with the receptionist, but I agree with the employer. The receptionist is often the first contact that an outsider has with the company. First impressions, as they say, are lasting impressions. Nobody is going to come right out and say that they don’t want to deal with the company because the receptionist is missing teeth, but subconsciously it could be a deciding factor. Unless the receptionist either agrees to the surgery or does something to hide her lack of teeth, she is hurting the profitability of the company. The employer should then see if there is some other position that he could give her, and if none is available, he needs to let her go.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Oh, I did not realise she lost the teeth while in the job. Her employer should certainly help her, it would be terrible to lose ones teeth, I think many employers would help.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

After following this question since it was posted and reading the responses, my gut reaction is still the same. Ethically, the employer’s desire to have the the receptionist get her teeth fixed solely based on appearances seems wrong.

I’ve worked with enough people who had a disability that didn’t hinder their job performance and weren’t judged by clients. A few occasionally brought up to other associates who quickly explained the situation.

She experienced a traumatic situation and is still coping with it, compounded by an irrational fear of dentistry work. It is highly doubtful that she wants to go through the rest of her life missing eight teeth, but just currently cannot cope with the situation. It sounds as if she needs to contact the insurance companies to find out what is covered for both therapy and dental assistance; maybe even speech therapy if the missing teeth are causing an impact in job performance.

The legality of the situation is another ball of wax. Surely the employer, as lawyer, understands that and knows or can quickly find out what the options are.

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