Physicians, Don't Rely on Forms to Fire Employees

December 15, 2017
David M. Rosenberg-Wohl

Physicians who solely rely on forms and checklists to terminate an employee are making a huge mistake, says this lawyer.

By some estimates, half of the cases in trial courts are employment disputes. If you have employees, more likely than not, you will fire an employee during the time that you practice. The loss of a job is not just financially disastrous, it is ego-shattering. When you have this much power, the possibility that you'll face a lawsuit for your decision should come as no surprise.

Many physicians treat employment as simply a human resources issue, something for someone else to handle. They rely on policies, even forms or checklists that come from professional associations. But people can tell when they're treated interchangeably, like objects - and they don't like it. And you can be sure they don't like being fired. When the gripe for unfair treatment meets a plaintiff's lawyer, or a friendly ear of an agency administrator, you're in for a fight.

Consider a matter in which a doctor had repeated conversations with an administrator about the administrator's need to take time off to care for a disabled child. From the perspective of both the physician and the administrator, all seemed to be clear: she needed to take time off and was going to get it. The problem came with the "legal" form the physician had in his files. It had boxes for "resign" and "terminate," but had no box for taking time off.

The administrator was furious. She thought the doctor had previously agreed to give her as much time as she needed to take care of her child and now the doctor was forcing her to quit. She sued for disability discrimination. The doctor then faced significant legal liability.

Was the "form" to blame? Yes and no, but mostly yes. The form allowed the doctor to believe he was acting reasonably, but he didn't take into account that his administrator could see things differently.

Forms and policies do not provide legal advice - lawyers do. Any time you take significant action, action that can lead to problems down the road, it's wise to consult a lawyer.

Only a lawyer can help you adjust the form you may have in your binder (or have found on the internet) to the specifics of your situation and minimize risk.