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INSIGHT

Don’t make the right move for the wrong reasons

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

I’m sure you’ve heard people use expressions like, “it will all come out in the wash.”

I suspect this phrase is now a bit dated, but the idea is that even if things start in a negative way, they’ll be all right in the end. I generally agree with this philosophy, but if you’re a medical office manager, it’s not a solution I would count on.

The reason is that “how” you do things in management does matter. Regulation, process, and organization have some leeway, but following the rules and documenting them are among the realities you must acknowledge. And nowhere is this truer than when terminating an employee.

I’ve noted before that managers (and their employers) generally desire a professional atmosphere in the workplace, one free from unnecessary drama and distraction. I’ve also noted that even employee actions outside of work can be considered as reflecting negatively on the employee and serve as grounds for termination. I’ve written about a worker who showed up intoxicated at a child’s baseball game and another who verbally assaulted a news reporter at a public event. Both were fired by their organizations, terminations that were legally sustainable in my opinion.

This brings me to University of Missouri Assistant Professor Melissa Click who, last fall, was captured on video calling for “some muscle” to remove reporters from a campus protest site. At another event, she was alleged to have cursed a police officer. Earlier this year, the university curators terminated her.

I personally agreed with the termination. Although the professor was involved in protests that undoubtedly had cause—a point some debate—her actions reflected negatively on her judgment and could have been described as reflecting negatively on her employer.

Some, however, criticized the university for its rather slow deliberation over the firing. Given the many emotions and countervailing opinions, I thought they were smart to take their time and present the termination in the correct context. In brief, they underscored that Click had every right to support the protests but no right to interfere with others, including law enforcement officers and student journalists doing their jobs. As an educator in communications, her calling for intimidation of a student journalist seemed especially relevant.

As I said, the case involved a wide range of issues that often involve emotion and strong opinion. Some have argued that Click was involved in protesting legitimate grievances, including several that were well documented. Others thought she had so overstepped her campus role that she should have been fired immediately.

I believe the former professor is considering legal action to contest the termination and I wouldn’t be too surprised if she did. We live in a litigious world and wrongful termination suits are not always easy to defend. Although no one can predict the outcome of a legal action—something else to keep in mind—I would be a little surprised if she does so and wins, however. In this case, from the information available, it appears the university made a supportable decision.

Though obviously not a medical office, this lesson is relevant. When you face similar situations, take your time and make your decision based on fact, regulation, and law, not emotion and opinion. It can be very difficult—even this case is not nearly as clear-cut as it might seem in retrospect.

You also need to know the law. Many employee issues will not be one or two dramatic instances caught on video like this. They are more likely to be part of an ongoing problem that you should be documenting and communicating to the employee long before reaching the termination stage. Each situation will have its unique variables that fit law and regulation differently, and require different reactions by you, the manager.

Process does matter, and a good manager doesn’t count on things coming out in the wash.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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