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Good managers avoid termination disasters

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Letting an employee go is rarely easy. Even when the decision is inescapable or the party in question so obviously a negative for the office, the act of termination is usually unpleasant.

Most managers will wonder if they’ve made the right decision. They’ll wonder, “Perhaps I should give this person just one more chance,” or “Do the bad qualities really outweigh the good?”

Increasingly, there are also other issues. Even terminations that are handled well can result in morale problems among otherwise solid staff or other unintended consequence. Doing it wrong can almost guarantee problems.

As a manager, you should know that employees have significant rights to recourse if they have been wrongly terminated. While many states have employment “at-will” statutes, going into court with only these can result in a weak defense. The Department of Labor has granted protected status to minorities, people over the age of 40, women, and other groups. If the terminated employee can qualify for any of these or other categories, they are probably in one or more protected classes. Termination of employees in protected classes can be very expensive if done poorly.

You can and should work to reduce your risk. With a little advance planning, knowing the rules of the game and observing them, you and your practice can keep potential problems to a minimum.

First, it’s almost always better to negotiate a separation rather than fire an employee, if at all possible. A structured exit has win-win advantages for the employer and the employee. A flat-out termination is a win-lose situation that the employee can turn against the employer by filing wrongful discharge during the statute of limitations, which is up to two years. A structured exit may require something from the practice, usually a cost. It may be something as simple as a severance payment, or the cost of training or education, but these costs are a fraction of possible legal and other costs that can be assessed.

During your discussions, talk to the employee, not the world. Never speak to the employee through the media or other third parties. That can happen easier than you may think. Publicizing the firing of an employee works against the employer and in most cases violates the employee’s rights to confidentiality. Even talking about the issue with other staff members can bring problems.

Finally, take the high road. Never attack an employee with disparaging remarks about personal health or other issues. Never break confidentiality rights about a staff member’s medical or other history by speculating that he or she has or needs “help.”

Lawsuits, fines, negative office morale, and other issues are not fun. You may be justified in terminating an employee, but take time to make sure the decision is the right one and that it is executed intelligently. In the long run, it’s almost always the best option.

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 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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