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Costly Employee Termination Mistakes that Practice Managers Should Avoid

[ Practice Consulting, Human Resources ]

It’s a difficult time to be an employer in any industry. Yet, there are countless situations that can be made worse with the wrong information or inaccurate details. As a dental professional, your goal should be to treat patients and operate a successful dental practice. Dealing with intense matters like employee termination is not something you want to spend your time on. More so, when you have problems such as management mistakes to handle or correct, the situation gets much worse.

Dental practices, like all other employers, can face numerous complications when dealing with employee termination mistakes. This includes unexpected legal issues due to poor human resources management and missteps. What are those mistakes and what can be done about them?


Mistake: Failure to Follow Progressive Discipline

A poorly performing employee may not have to be terminated.  Maybe this is someone who can be coached and assisted with getting their job performance back on track.  That may be the case if the dental practice has a progressive discipline policy in place. This type of policy provides guidance to the employer with the goal of getting the problem employee back on track. This is the type of policy that most well-managed employers have in place. Most often, employers with a progressive discipline policy include this policy in what we call a team policies manual.

Does your organization have one of these policies? If you haven’t followed a progressive discipline policy that allows a poorly performing employee more than one chance to correct their deficiencies, it’s important to do this now.   Effective progressive discipline policies contain one last warning after at least two prior warnings to the problem employee. If this isn’t happening within your practice, you may be making a serious mistake by immediately terminating a problem employee.

The challenges of running a dental practice are certainly not that simple. There are some types of performance issues, policy violations, and behaviors that cannot be tolerated and would result in immediate termination. Examples of these include:

  • Theft
  • Threatening the safety of another employee
  • Insubordinate behavior that is so disrespectful and/or disruptive to the practice or the team that you have no choice but to terminate that individual
  • Acts of violence
  • Behavior that puts patients or other employees at risk


Just want to get rid of someone that is a problem?

As you learn more about how to run a successful dental practice, one thing you likely will find is that sometimes managers just want to get rid of an employee because they’re difficult to deal with or incompetent. While this may be the case, unless one of the exceptions listed above applies, it is usually the best practice to coach and counsel a problem employee through a progressive discipline process by following a written, well-communicated progressive discipline policy .

In some situations, a termination without following progressive discipline, to include a last-chance warning, is a potential tempting invitation to a lawsuit. It’s the type of lawsuit many attorneys would be glad to take if an accusation could be made that an employee was terminated due to one of the protected class reasons such as gender, race, ethnic origin, or disability.


What can you do then?

The best advice is to have a progressive discipline policy in place, ensure it’s understood by all employees and all managers overseeing those employees, and verify that proper disciplinary steps were taken prior to terminating the employee. Follow the progressive discipline policy you have to ensure there’s no misunderstanding or total surprise during the employee termination.

If you do fire someone, and they seek legal assistance, the first thing you can expect the employee’s attorney to do is to subpoena a copy of the practice’s team policies manual. He or she will then search it with a fine-toothed comb for any inconsistencies. It’s their job to find how you could have violated your own human resources policies.   Of particular interest will be your progressive discipline policy. 

If there are any inconsistencies present in the way your practice handled progressive discipline in the past, you can bet that these cases will always be resolved in the employee’s favor.

For example, let’s say you gave the problem employee a break in a previous, but similar situation to what is happening now. In this case, the jury will wonder, then, why didn’t you give the employee the same break this time? What was the difference in the two situations?

For this reason, it’s critical to always be fair and consistent in how you treat your team members. This is what helps make a dental practice successful when it comes to managing its people and minimizing unnecessary legal problems.

More so, be sure to document every step of the progressive discipline policy that’s taken in the performance coaching and counseling of every problem employee. Be sure to treat every employee in the same way. Ensure that all practice employees understand the company policies. These are there to protect you as an employer, as well as employees, from problems ever occurring.


What should you do now?

  • Determine if you have a team policies manual  in place that includes a progressive discipline policy. Read every policy in the manual and understand them.
  • If you don’t have one, seek help from dental practice management consultants or an attorney to create one.
  • Ensure that every employee has read, understands, and has signed off on your team policies manual. That ensures they know what to expect.
  • Ensure every manager follows the guidelines in place for all disciplinary action that’s necessary.
  • Follow up and make sure management mistakes do not happen. Review all employee terminations before they happen.

Is your practice struggling with employee problems or management oversight? Let Dental CFO offer the resources you need. Take a minute to subscribe to our list today or watch our videos.


Mistake: Failure to Have an Independent Review of Employee Terminations

The real mistake you may have made is not seeing the value in doing just that – having an independent review of employee termination situations.

Excellent practice owners and managers don’t take a decision to terminate someone’s employment lightly.  Effective managers recognize the value of working through a policy and procedural process for performance improvement because they see the value in it. However, there are instances in which an impatient owner or a manager will jump the gun – and that’s where problems happen. It’s always best to avoid this type of situation.


What can you do?

Without exception, it’s always a good idea and good business practice to run a potential employee termination situation by an independent party. This is a party that has no emotional stake in the situation. That’s key because it’s often emotional baggage that gets in the way and causes owner or manager mistakes in situations like this.

The goal of an independent reviewer is to push the envelope. They should ask questions and play the devil’s advocate. Their goal is not necessarily to prove you should not fire a person, but to ensure you have the grounds to do so without a doubt.

Why is this so important? In short, it can save you time and money. It enables you to avoid some of the most costly mistakes that practice owners experience when it comes to employee management and human resources in general. It also works to relieve some of the stress and worry that you have – and your practice manager may have – related to the most difficult of situations…..those which involve employees. 

Let’s be frank. There are plenty of situations where the employee is not going to work out and has contributed to problems within your dental practice.  However, the goal here is to be able to turn to someone and ask if you are making the right decision from a legal standpoint.  You want to make certain that you have a legitimate reason to take action based on issues related to job performance. 

If that’s not the case, or you do not have the right information documented or a clearly defined process, then you can learn about that and make corrections to protect yourself.

The bottom line is this. You need to make certain that you have a legitimate reason to take the action you want – to terminate the employee – based on issues related to job performance and, if possible, to get another opinion. Working with dental practice management consultants who can do this not only provides safety from missteps, but it can also provide you with peace of mind.


What Can You Do Now to Protect Your Business?

Are you struggling with the need to terminate an employee right now? Perhaps you are tired of the challenges you are facing in managing your employees. It’s not uncommon for a dental practice owner to be facing these types of challenges.  The key to remember is that you can only do so much on your own to make wise decisions. Sometimes, that extra help is not only nice to have but beneficial to creating a successful, smooth running practice.

It’s never easy to terminate an employee. It should always be a well thought out process before any action is taken. An important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do it alone.

Dental CFO offers a solution. Our team is dedicated to providing a layer of support and protection that ensures you can properly manage your practice without the turmoil from mistakes such as these. We are the healthcare management consultants you need to manage these difficult situations. With a better level of oversight and documented procedures, you can feel comfortable managing your employees – both those that go out of their way to support your success and those that may be holding you back.

We encourage you to do something today that will make a difference. Call our dental CPA and healthcare management consultants now. Request a free consultation. Learn more about the outstanding resources we offer. We are here for you no matter what your needs are.

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