What You Should Know About Firing Office Staff

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A Guideline For Progressive Disciplinary Action

“It’s always best to follow your written termination policies,” says Homisak. She suggests that your practice’s employee manual or handbook section regarding disciplinary action follow a progressive discipline course similar to what is outlined below.

• Employee counseling or reprimand
• Written reprimand
• Written warnings
• Day off without pay for reflection on the problem
• Discharge

Stephanie Wasek, Special Projects Editor

    “We sit down with each employee every six months for performance reviews,” says Dr. Feit. “We discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and encourage them to work on the weaknesses between that time and the next review. This is for all employees because everyone has room for improvement.”

   This way, if there is a new issue, you have the opportunity to address it in what should already be viewed as a neutral kind of meeting.

   Homisak does caution podiatrists about sending contradictory messages.

    “It’s important to not praise or reward poor performance with a raise just to avoid confrontation with the employee because it totally contradicts any decisions to fire if there is no improvement,” says Homisak.

   • Address second/repeated offenses immediately. This sit-down should go much like the initial discussion in terms of documentation and temperament, but this time, there should be appropriate, proportional repercussions as outlined previously. Remember to maintain a calm focus on the employee’s actions.

    “When employees get in trouble, they look to blame someone else,” says Dr. Feit. “What happens is, they start guessing who ‘told on’ them, so it is very important to defuse that problem, particularly if you are going to reprimand and not fire the employee. Do not let the situation become a blame game.”

   • Document everything. Anything that is written should be discussed and anything that is discussed should be written. “Anything worth remembering is worth writing down,” says Homisak. “Do not be skimpy. Write the details as they occurred.”

   • Take a moment to consider other options. “Keep in mind there are alternatives to termination if appropriate in cases of poor performance,” says Homisak. “For example, if an employee is doing a poor job, it could be because she isn’t a good fit for the position’s strengths/skills and moving her to another position may be the better move than firing.”

Ten Pointers On Proceeding With Termination

You have given the employee the opportunity to correct the inappropriate actions and behaviors. The employee has not followed the discussed improvement steps despite your best attempts to counsel him or her. You know your documentation is in order and you have decided firing is the next course of action. Homisak recommends the following 10 steps for proceeding with terminating employment.

   1. Meet privately away from other employees. However, Dr. Werber notes that it may be a good idea to have a member of staff in a supervisory position on hand as a witness. “I do not want anyone coming back and filing a complaint with the labor board,” he says. “A false allegation is still an expensive allegation.”

   2. Be brief — terminate in the first seven to 10 minutes. “Don’t chit chat,” says Homisak. “Be direct and do not postpone the inevitable.”

   3. Be prepared for emotional outbreaks (anger, crying, etc.). “Usually, they cry or become angry,” says Dr. Titko. “If they become offensive, it is a matter of getting them off the property.”

   4. Listen. Do not respond by becoming defensive or argumentative. Whatever you do — even if it is your emotional style — “Don’t attempt humor,” says Homisak. “It’s not funny to them” and won’t ease the situation.

   5. Stay focused, hold your ground and repeat the main message. “We present to the employee the fully informed reasoning of the dismissal and what it is based on,” says Dr. Titko. “It is short and to the point, and we do not make them any promises such as a letter of recommendation.”

   6. Don’t blame the employee. What’s done is done. “It is a lot like breaking up with a partner,” says Dr. Werber. “Simply outline the reasons and try not to be accusatory.”

   7. Don’t say you understand. Sympathize but don’t empathize. “It is not a time to make excuses,” says Dr. Titko. “The supervisor doesn’t say, ‘We are sorry we have to let you go.’”

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