Disciplinary Process for Practice Employees: 9 Tips

Many eye care practices struggle with the employee disciplinary process. Most people just don’t enjoy correcting other people. But an official, documented disciplinary process is essential to protect your practice from liability. Below, tips from the experts.

Let a pro handle it.

You don’t want amateurs handling problem employees or firing them. An HR professional will know how to impose discipline in a professional, impartial manner. What you want is a person who is positive, treats the employee with dignity, conducts the encounter privately, and is transparent about the process, according to attorney Marcus Crider, who spoke at the 2017 annual meeting of the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association.

Create a progressive disciplinary process.

The employee disciplinary process is typically progressive, notes Crider. The process usually progress in this order:

  1. Counseling with a supervisor
  2. An oral warning
  3. A written warning
  4. Suspension
  5. Termination

Tip: Make sure you retain your right to make an immediate termination, if appropriate, says Crider. “If you bash in your manager’s windshield, you don’t just get counseling.”

Document disciplinary actions.

You cannot overemphasize the importance of documentation in disciplinary action, Crider advises. You may have to support your decision if someone subsequently challenges it, he says. If you do not have the information, you cannot manufacture it later. And it’s better to go “old school” with actual forms than rely on email documentation, which has “sort have softened up and rubbed down the corners of communication. Things can be misconstrued, taken the wrong way.”

Tip: When providing oral or written warnings, never refer to protected status like age, physical condition, etc. Crider gives this example:

  • Wrong way: Bob has to take care of his childcare issues before we can expect him to meet his goal of arriving to work on time.
  • Right way: Bob needs to arrive at work as scheduled.

When you’ve reached the end of the road…

Supervisors often woefully mismanage terminations, and when that happens, you’ve got a mess on your hands. Worse-case scenario, an employee goes postal and you end up on the evening news.

Sometimes a terminated employee will get hostile, and you need to let them say what they have to say, advises Suzanne Rupert, Director of Human Resources & Recruiting for Eye Care Leaders. Give them a chance to respond, even though it’s not going to change the outcome because they need to express their feelings. Thank them for the time they spent working with you. And always have a witness with you when you do a termination, says Rupert. It’s a matter of safety, and you avoid a “he said/she said” scenario.

What you want is an impartial professional who has the diplomatic skills to handle these situations appropriately. They can keep a conversation from getting derailed, Rupert advises. If things do get hostile, they’ve had enough experience to handle it and won’t panic.

During the termination conversation, your HR person will review such matters as when to expect the final paycheck, which can vary by state law, the vacation policy, the plan for returning practice property such as scrubs, keys, equipment, health insurance benefits and COBRA, unemployment eligibility, says Rupert. Plus, the HR person is the point of contact for further information or questions.

One of the benefits of having your HR person review all this during the termination conversation is that this employee is likely to be too upset to ask these things, and doing so calms the person down and reassures them, says Rupert. And that goes a long way toward staving off retaliatory actions.

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