Fire Fairly

January 1, 2005

Do I have grounds for terminating a clinical staff person for misconduct? We had agreed on a compensation package, but now he is going behind my back trying to get all the other staff to push me for higher salaries.

Question: Do I have grounds for terminating a clinical staff person for misconduct? We had agreed on a compensation package, but now he is going behind my back trying to get all the other staff to push me for higher salaries.

Answer: In most states, employment is at will. You generally can fire people unless the termination is for discriminatory reasons - the employee filed a sexual harassment suit, or is pregnant or disabled, for example - or unless you have promised employment for a specified period of time.

But you're safer, especially if the issue goes to a jury, if the termination seems fair. And I'm not sure how a jury would look at this case.

I recommend you cool off for a day or two, ponder your long-term objectives, and consider what is going on in your practice.

The risk you take in firing a staff member for seeking better pay is that the others will see you as something of a tyrant and conceivably develop a kind of Norma Rae complex.

It may be better to have a very calm and collegial meeting.

Explain that you thought you were all agreed and had a good working relationship but now know there is secret conversation going on. You want to make sure you understand their needs and objectives to meet an outcome you all can agree on long-term. That gives you the high ground.

My point is that angry firing probably isn't the best option even if you can get away with it.