Like that seasonal flu going around, you've avoided dealing with a toxic employee in your healthcare practice. You see the negative impacts on other employees, you hear the swirls of gossip around the office, and maybe you even have other team members leaving because of that one bad apple. You know this person needs to go, but it never seems like the right time.
Now that 2017 is well under way, it's a perfect time to revitalize your team. But before you start cleaning house, there are some precautions you'll need to take.
Even though it's sometimes necessary, firing an employee can be one of the riskiest moves for a small business owner. According to the EEOC's charge statistics, discrimination lawsuits have increased steadily over the last two decades, while charges alleging retaliatory behavior have doubled, making employers feel like they're walking on egg shells anytime they must discipline or terminate an insubordinate worker.
You don't have to fear making decisions for the well-being of the physician practice just because of the looming dark cloud of litigation. By taking precautionary steps, you can safely carry out necessary changes to your team.
Is at-will putting you at-risk?
First, know what you can and what you can't do, as an at-will employer. While you can terminate for virtually any reason except an illegal one, you're still bound by law not to fire based on protected classes (race, color, gender, age, pregnancy, many others) and protected activities (discussing wages, voting, filing a workers' comp claim, among others).
If you do try to terminate for one of these numerous illegal reasons, or if an employee claims you did, at-will can quickly turn into "at-risk" for a dangerous lawsuit. Protections cast a wide net, which often makes terminating employees a legal minefield.
Documentation is your shield
Does that mean physicians and managers can never fire an employee who falls into a protected class, or who has participated in a protected activity while employed at your healthcare practice? Not at all. It's just that you're safest if you have very clear documentation showing that the termination was entirely for legitimate business or performance reasons.
Your first defense against false claims begins well before the termination stage. You should always keep a paper trail of past issues, requests for correction, and the results of your interactions. Without a record of events, it's very hard to prove that you didn't fire for the illegal or retaliatory reason an employee may claim.
Plan your meeting
Firing someone is never fun. Even the most justified terminations can leave you feeling like your company's grim reaper. It is emotionally difficult for you and the affected worker, which is why preparing for the meeting is essential.