Terminating an associate is never easy, nor is it something to consider lightly. If you're thinking about terminating an associate at your dental practice, not only do you want to be sure that you protect yourself and your practice, but that you take the right steps to remain a reasonable employer. Make sure you keep these key things in mind.
1. Read through the associate's employment agreement before calling a meeting.
Before you call a meeting, sit down and read through the employment agreement. Make sure you aren't missing any key details of that agreement including details that could cause you to rethink your plans for termination.
2. Document everything.
Leading up to a termination meeting, make sure you document everything: any issues that have arisen, discussions with the associate about those problems, and any plans you've put in place to help implement improvements on both sides. Don't cease documentation just because you're ready to move forward with termination. You should consider including:
- Documentation about the termination meeting, especially if it goes poorly or the associate loses their temper.
- A written termination letter, which can prevent future disagreements about the timing of the termination and provide clear reason for termination.
- Documenting any evidence of breach of restrictive covenant.
3. Keep a cool head when approaching termination.
Never terminate an associate when angry, no matter the violation. You should avoid interacting angrily with the associate during your termination meeting or discussions, even if the associate gets angry with you or attempts to make things difficult. Make logical, practical decisions in the best interests of your practice and conduct practical interactions after you've had time to think them through. Consider:
- Do you have a plan in place for termination? Not only do you want to be sure that you conduct that termination in a respectful way, you need to plan ahead. For example, if you are considering terminating immediately, then paying out the rest of the notice period will benefit your practice.
- What do you want to tell your team members and patients about the termination? You want to keep those discussions brief as possible, offering few details. Speaking to patients may be as simple as letting them know that a specific associate has left the practice. If you must offer other details to your team members, keep them as minimal as possible to avoid the potential for legal problems.
4. Keep the discussion simple and concise.
When approaching the associate during a termination meeting, don't drag the meeting out unnecessarily. Instead, be as concise as possible. If terminating without cause, don't feel as though you must provide a reason for termination. If terminating with cause, keep the explanation clear and simple. You need not prolong the discussion with apologies or unnecessary details, instead, try to keep it as short and simple as possible. Give the associate room to process without dragging out the meeting. Keep in mind that the associate may have a very emotional reaction. You can allow the associate to collect him or herself without needing to stay in the room.
5. Think through all the logistics ahead of time.
Terminating an associate isn't as simple as having them come into the office for a meeting, then leave, no longer employed by your practice. Think through the logistics before the termination meeting, including:
- How the associate will retrieve their physical belongings.
- How the associate will retrieve virtual files and other personal property that might be stored on the office's systems.
- Termination of benefit claims.
- Checking your malpractice coverage: if you have a claims-made malpractice policy, you will need to make sure the practice is covered through any applicable statutes of limitations.
- Changing any passwords to which the associate had access.
- Revoking any permissions the associate had to conduct business for the practice, including making orders from suppliers.
- Reminding the associate of any restrictive covenants that apply after termination of employment, including the associate's potential ability to take patients with them or open a competing practice within a set geographic area. You may want to include this in the termination letter to help protect your practice.
6. Seek legal counsel if needed.
If you're concerned about any step in the termination process, seek legal counsel. Don't hesitate to contact an attorney early in the process, especially if you're concerned that problems may arise. Remember, it's better to consult an attorney before you need one than after you do something you can't take back. Ask any questions you might have about the process, including your ability to enforce any terms of your contracts.