Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Good Documentation and a “Clean” Firing can Help Protect your Practice


Without being mean and cold-hearted, a manager needs to keep communications with the terminated employee short and simple. The more you talk, the more trouble you can stir up. Firing an employee is never easy. You have to be careful and thorough to make sure you haven’t said or done something that could be used against the practice in a wrongful-termination lawsuit. It’s important that you clearly document the history that led up to the termination, and it’s critical that the record shows that you have treated the terminated employee the same as you treat everyone. Lawyers look for evidence of discrimination—especially if the worker is part of a “protected” class. 

In trying to make a firing easier on the employee, many managers and physicians trip themselves up with legally clumsy mistakes. Here are five pointers for avoiding some of the common errors:

1. Keep the discussion short and direct. It’s tempting to unload on the failing staffer with a history of underperformance and mistakes. Each problem you raise gives the employee a chance to argue each point. If the worker tries to draw out the conversation, tell him or her that “there’s nothing left to talk about.”

2. Be clear that this is a termination. Trying to soften the blow can relay a mixed message—a firing sounds more like a last-chance warning. Leave no room for misinterpretation.

3. Tell the truth about your reason to fire the employee. If you’re firing the staffer “for cause,” don’t call it a layoff. Calling it a layoff (or eliminating a position) can affect unemployment claims. Worse, you can get in legal hot water if you then turn around and hire a replacement. Similarly, don’t call an economic elimination a performance-based firing. You likely won’t have the records to back up your claim.

4. Calm the remaining employees afterward. Don’t lie, but don’t divulge too much information either. Tell remaining staffers only what they need to know to assure them that the decision was fair and that their own jobs are not necessarily in jeopardy.

5. Take the former employee to the door immediately. Don’t let a terminated employee talk with other staff members. Have someone (probably yourself) accompany the worker back to his or her desk to collect personal items. While this can feel like you don’t trust the employee, it also protects him or her from being wrongfully accused of unprofessional conduct or theft.

Once you’ve made the decision, though, make sure the employee understands that there’s no room for discussion or negotiation. If you allow him or her to talk you into allowing one more chance, you will only extend the process and delay the inevitable firing. You’ll lose credibility with the under-performer and with other members of your staff.

Good documentation, fair practices, and a “clean” firing will help protect your practice and will remind the rest of your staff that you mean what you say about performing up to standard.


www.greenbranch.com   The Journal of Medical Practice Management   Fast Practice