How To Say 'You're Fired!' Better Than Donald Trump

Whether you work in the medical profession or another industry, firing someone is one of the hardest things that a supervisor will ever have to do. And giving an employee the heave-ho due to performance issues is a particularly difficult task. It takes skill and savvy to avoid causing a scene, harming office morale and landing your practice in legal trouble.

With "The Donald" in the news everywhere these days, how could I not bring him up when talking about needing to fire someone? His “You’re Fired” line from The Apprentice was much better than any of his debating skills!

Whether you work in the medical profession or another industry, firing someone is one of the hardest things that a supervisor will ever have to do. And giving an employee the heave-ho due to performance issues is a particularly difficult task. It takes skill and savvy to avoid causing a scene, harming office morale and landing your practice in legal trouble.

My last couple articles dealt with how good staff and nurses help your practice and your patients. I also had an article about some signs of bad nurses.

Hopefully, firings don’t happen too often in your practice—but when they do, it’s important to go about it the right way. And, although I’m not a lawyer and this is not intended to be construed as legal advice, here are a couple tips to help reduce the risk of unpleasantness:

1. Document, document, document

If you’ve done your job correctly, your soon-to-be former employee should be well aware that they are in hot water. You should have documentation showing that the employee received feedback, including verbal correction and written reprimand.

And, that feedback should escalate in intensity—a typical pattern might include informal correction (via email, for example), verbal (but still documented) warnings, written warnings, a negative performance review and formal counseling conferences that include human resources or upper management. Be sure record the date, time and place and have the employee sign any written documentation.

For particularly problematic employees, it might be a good idea to keep a log to document the date, time and nature of any infractions. Although keeping a detailed log can be a major headache, it can help justify the firing in the event that your former employee tries to sue.

2. Be direct

When it comes time to show your employee the door, it is best if you keep your “speech” concise and clear. Assuming that your documentation is in order and the employee has been given proper notice that he or she is in trouble, there should be no need to debate or discuss your decision.

I also advise against offering any kind of advice and engaging in discussions about the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, such discussions actually make the conversation harder for everyone and may cause the employee to think that you are willing to negotiate.

3. Exercise compassion

You should be as compassionate as possible when letting an employee go. We are physicians after all! No matter how much an employee has gotten on your nerves or made your job more difficult, a little kindness can do a long way.

Some employers ease the pain by offering to pay the former employee until the end of the week—or even until the end of the pay period. Other employers choose to give the employee an opportunity to resign so he or she does not sully his or her resume with a termination.

That being said, be sure that your compassion cannot be construed by the employee as an opportunity to talk themselves back into the job. Keep your decision final.

4. Get support

If your practice is large enough to have a human resources “person” or someone who takes on those responsibilities, it is preferable to have him or her in the room with you when you have the termination meeting with the employee. Just like a chaperone for patients, this person can help you if things go south.

If that is not possible, be sure to recruit another supervisor or manager who is familiar with the situation to serve as a “witness.”

Depending on your practice’s policies and your state employment laws, it might also be advisable to review the circumstances and documentation with an attorney prior to firing the employee. An attorney may be able to provide advice on what to say—and more importantly, what not to say—to the employee. Although this may delay the employee’s dismissal and cost money, it is a far better option than having to contend with an unfair termination lawsuit down the road.

5. Learn from the experience

After the deed is done, be sure to take the time to reflect on what went wrong. You should assess your training program and attempt to identify other factors that may have contributed to firing the employee. Make improvements and adjustments where you can, because you definitely don’t want to repeat this procedure with your next hire.

Firing an employee is a stressful, but survivable, event. By taking the high road, remaining professional and treating your employee with respect, you can greatly reduce the chances of bad blood and office drama—or at least prevent a very public storm-out (with a probable door slam).