What You Should Know About Firing Office Staff

Stephanie Wasek, Special Projects Editor

    “All the partners need to walk around, look in treatment rooms, see if things are clean, listen and pay attention to how front office staff speak to the patients and answer the telephone,” he says. “Most practices are small and there is no reason you cannot keep your awareness level high.”

   • Talk directly to patients. “I ask patients,” says Dr. Werber. “How was your experience when you called? Did you have problems with the voice mail? Issues with the staff during your visit?” By letting patients know he wants their experience in his office to be the best possible, Dr. Werber says he “gets patients to tell me what they are feeling.”

   • Look for operational red flags. “For example, if the financial records are not balancing, you might detect some lack of regard for the practice’s policies and procedures,” says Kristin Titko, DPM, MBA, a Trustee of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management and Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

   Homisak agrees. “Have operational system checks in place — for example, to check whether money proves at the end of the day,” suggests Homisak. She says other examples may include restricting certain computer passwords and the timecard system to employees for whom access is a job necessity.

Keys To Appropriate Documentation And Discussion

However you learn of an employee’s ill behavior, it is imperative that you document everything from the moment you get an inkling something may be wrong. If you have observed the inappropriate behavior, write a summary, including the time and date, and place it in the employee’s file. The same goes if an employee has filed a written or oral complaint.

    “Documentation could be invaluable to supporting your decision so it is especially important to honestly recount any incidents based on fact and free of opinion, including what efforts were made to correct poor performance and the outcomes of those efforts,” says Homisak.

   She recommends that, unless the offense requires immediate termination, you take a more methodical, ameliorative approach.

   • Discuss the situation before it escalates. In the case of more minor transgressions or changes in behaviors or attitudes, it is best to approach the issue or issues head-on. Many times, you can head off or correct problems, according to Drs. Titko and Werber.

    “We do a verbal communication first with the employee in which we discuss the details of the situation, ask the employee the reasoning of his or her behavior, and discuss corrective measures,” says Dr. Titko.

   Dr. Titko’s practice uses a standard form of acknowledgment that employees sign. “It basically says that they have received the verbal warning — not that they necessarily admit to wrongdoing, but rather that they have had the discussion and are aware of the situation” presented by management, according to Dr. Titko.

   Dr. Werber suggests that the form also remind the employee that the issue could be grounds for termination and present the steps that may follow. This may include the timeframe for resolving the issue and, should the timeframe go unmet, potential intermediary repercussions, such as probation or time off without pay.

   The form — signed by the employee, yourself and perhaps a third-party observer such as the office manager — then goes in the employee’s file.

   • Review annually or semiannually. A review is a good time to discuss performance objectives as a whole and does not come as a surprise to employees if you are consistent about it.

    “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.”

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