Walking Through the Fire
This is the fourth in a four-part series on hiring and firing in the dental practice.
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Many dental practices do everything they can to help a problem employee become an effective member of the team only to be forced to eventually terminate the individual. Oftentimes, the primary reason is a poor attitude. The problem employee is so negative that she/he drags down the entire team. It is poison for any practice and must be dealt with swiftly.
In other cases, the employee’s skills are weak and could be improved, but they won’t take the necessary steps to become a more effective member of the team. They repeatedly fail to perform up to the practice’s standards. Or perhaps the employee makes a half-hearted effort to improve for a while but eventually slips right back into their old ways.
With the progressive discipline procedures that we discussed in Part 3, the penalties become stronger if the employee misconduct or poor performance is repeated. For example, it may start with an verbal warning, proceed to a written warning, then suspension, and ultimately termination.
When the employee sees the documentation and when they understand the progressive discipline policies, they cannot deny that they are responsible for their actions and the consequences. The dentist doesn’t just decide to terminate the employee on a whim, rather the employee chooses not to correct the problems and the doctor simply takes the next and final step in the progressive discipline plan – termination.
However, you can’t pretend to be Donald Trump and wrap up the exercise with two words and a pointed index finger. In firing an employee, thorough documentation and careful preparation are absolutely critical and can significantly minimize anger, misunderstandings, and nasty accusations. Take these measures in handling the final step:
- Meet with the employee in private but have a witness present such as your attorney, office manager, or spouse. Patients should not be in the office or expected in the office when an employee is being terminated.
- Tell the employee that the purpose of the meeting is to release them from their position.
- Don’t go into the details of the performance problems. Through the progressive discipline procedures, the employee has been provided numerous opportunities over the past 60-90 days to understand and address the performance issues. One of the most common mistakes employers make in terminating staff is talking too much during this final step. Script or outline your words and stay on point.
- Don’t assess blame or make apologies for the action. It’s not necessary to blame the employee, the practice, the team, the patients or anyone else for the termination.
- Be clear. Make sure the employee knows she/he is being dismissed from employment in your practice.
- Let the employee speak, but do not become argumentative or try to defend yourself or the practice. You can tell the employee that you appreciate their candor but do not get into a discussion and do not admit to any wrongdoing. And you should be calm and controlled at all times.
- Give the employee a check on the spot for earned salary and benefits or tell them to expect payment within a certain number of days.
- The person then should be escorted to collect their personal belongings and hand over the office key.
- Shake their hand and wish them luck. Yes, you can still end on a positive note, but avoid getting drawn into any kind of discussion. It’s time for the employee to leave the premises.
When they are gone, call the team together and inform them that the employee is no longer with the practice. Do not get into any details regarding the dismissal. It’s important that the team hear from the doctor as soon as possible to avoid speculation and gossip.
Although firing an employee is something extraordinarily difficult for most people, once the step is taken most dentists find that it was the best thing they could have done for both themselves and the practice, and, typically, it was long overdue.
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