Article Date: 10/1/2006

staffing solutions
Termination Tips

In the second of this two-part series, we look at management's most unpleasant task.


The most unpleasant task of practice management, as we discussed in Part 1 of this article ("When It's Time To Be the Terminator," August 2006), is the need to fire an employee. Most optometrists detest the job. The first thing to remember is there's no way to make a dismissal pleasant. You can only minimize the pain and hostility.

In Part 1, I listed action steps for the "Moment of Truth." Here are some additional recommendations:

► Paul Falcone, Director of Employment and Development for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, Calif., and author of "The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book," cautions against using the word "attitude" when terminating an employee. "It's simply too subjective a word and typically escalates disagreement by fostering feelings of resentment and anger." Moreover, he warns that courts have interpreted "attitude problems" in wrongful termination suits as mere differences of opinion or personality conflicts. "Only behaviors and actions that can be observed and documented may be presented as evidence in court," Mr. Falcone says.

► Tell other employees of your decision after termination, briefly indicating the reasons for it and ask for their support until you find a replacement. Staff members may be more aware than you are of the shortcomings of the former employee and applaud your decision.

Reality check: Remember that departing employees are also "ambassadors" for your practice — whether you like it or not. Even if they had a rather difficult time before leaving, if the parting was amicable, they'll be more inclined to speak favorably about the practice.

Keep these in mind

The following tips come from bitter experience:

► "A disgruntled employee can do more damage to your practice than employees in other fields can do to their employers," says Dr. Michael Metzger, D.P.M., M.B.A., of Dallas, in Podiatry Today ("When You Have to Fire an Employee," July 2002). "They could call Medicare with a complaint that you're over-billing or under-billing, or they could file an OSHA complaint. They could call a disgruntled patient and make problems there too. You have a liability in the medical profession that you don't have in other situations."

Document everything as it occurs in order to avoid lawsuits claiming a wrongful dismissal. When a problem is severe enough to require a warning, put it in writing, date it and have the employee sign it. If it becomes necessary, this paper trail will provide a sound basis for a subsequent firing decision.

► "There are three main ways that managers get firing wrong," say Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and Suzy Welch, co-authors of "Winning." These are: moving too fast (without giving the employee adequate warning of your dissatisfaction with his or her performance), lack of candor (about the person's shortcomings during one-on-one meetings) and taking too long.

From the success files

Following a recent seminar, a doctor wrote me: "When I returned to my office, I fired our bookkeeper of 13 years. It was without a doubt the hardest, most painful thing I've ever done. It was also the best thing — for my staff, my patients and myself. It was hard to recognize the negative impact she had on the practice — until she left."

For further reading, try "Rightful Termination: Defensive Strategies for Hiring and Firing in the Lawsuit-Happy '90's," by James Walsh. Among other issues, this book covers at-will employment, civil rights claims, wrongful termination claims and various termination methods.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2006