What You Should Know About Firing Office Staff

Stephanie Wasek, Special Projects Editor

Reducing The Risk Of Legal Trouble

Always speak to an employment law attorney if you have questions about an action you are about to take. Homisak recommends that, after the firing, you escort the employee out the door, take any keys (although changing the locks is a good idea) or office property, and obtain/change any passwords to office equipment.

    “Sometimes, in exchange for severance (such as Dr. Werber mentioned above), you can ask the employee to sign a document forfeiting her right to sue for wrongful termination,” notes Homisak. “Depending on the situation, you might let the terminated person submit a letter of resignation, which makes it easier for him or her to find other work.”

   In this age of social media, do not give into the temptation to post to your personal — and certainly not professional — Facebook, Twitter or other site. Avoid this temptation even if you just wish to “set the record straight.”

    “There’s really little you can do” that won’t look like retaliation, points out Homisak. “The only thing you can do is prevent the terminated employee from posting on your business page.”

Key Insights On Communicating To Other Staff

Do not pretend the firing did not happen. Hold a meeting that day or the next day to provide an official explanation. Resist the temptation to go into details, says Homisak. She suggests simply saying, “Out of respect for the employee’s privacy, I would rather not discuss the details. However, despite repeated warnings, so-and-so will not be working here anymore.” This kind of evenhanded disclosure avoids making employees fear they could be next while stressing that breaking rules poses consequences.

   “The staff almost always know already,” says Dr. Feit. “Not because there has been discussions among employees but if there are problems, staff have been telling me about them. It is often a relief and they feel happy I did not ignore their concerns and fairly acted on them.”

   Another way to ensure employee morale doesn’t dip after a firing is to have a plan for handling the new workload in place, even before you carry out the firing. This communicates to staff that you have thought about them and want to be as fair as possible until a replacement can be found.

    “It leaves a void that the remaining staff have to pick up,” says Dr. Titko. “It helps to have cross-training within the practice at all times so you are prepared to cover the loss of an employee under any circumstances.”

   Let remaining staff know that it is okay to maintain friendships but that it is not appropriate to use office time for that purpose. “It is disruptive to patients, doesn’t represent the practice well and looks unprofessional,” says Dr. Feit.

In Conclusion

“No one getting fired for breaking the law or even for poor performance should be ‘surprised’ when the time comes,” says Homisak. “If the employee is performing criminal acts, it is just a matter of time until he or she is caught and if work performance is not up to par, there should be enough evidence that the ‘firing moment’ is coming.”

   Following prescribed steps makes the experience psychologically easier for the person doing the firing, says Dr. Werber, because it lets him or her build his or her own expectations of what is to come.

   Moving forward, exit interviews can “be very revealing about the work experience itself and, if agreeable with the terminated employee,” it might be helpful to conduct, suggests Homisak. In addition, if you have had to fire an employee, it is a reminder to look at your hiring practices, according to Dr. Werber.

    “It all goes back to listening and being involved in hiring,” he says. “Preventive care is always better than a surgical excision.”

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