Doctor's PI Program
From the Desk of:
Mark Studin DC, FASBE (C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
You finally get busy enough to hire an additional staff member. This might be the first or the 30th staff member in your practice, but nonetheless, you are excited. You place an ad in the paper, on Craig’s list or ask a patient if they want a job.
The applications roll in and you are very excited about this new personality that is going to take stress away from you and make your practice work. This staff member is going to be the solution to all of your practice problems! After a rigorous interview process, you pick the nicest, best-dressed, well-credentialed applicant. She is smart, articulate, organized and a quick learner. You spend the next few weeks training her and as you suspected, she is a “great hire.”
After a few YEARS of being employed, you start to notice that little things are not getting done and some of the big things are not getting done either, so you have a chat with the staff member. You institute a stat for her job that she has to maintain daily so you can track her work. Within a few days, she comes to you and says she is pregnant and wants to keep working through her pregnancy. After conferring with 3 very knowledgeable friends, you decide to keep her through her pregnancy even though her work has now become sub-par and her stats are not good, as you do not want to get sued for labor violations and discrimination. As the months progress, her work becomes unacceptable, yet you suck it up and wait until she goes out on maternity leave.
You hire a replacement who is the new “savior” for your practice. She is the best and you decide to keep her. When the new mother wants to come back to work, you inform her that there is no longer a job for her and you are sorry. She gets emotional and leaves or hangs up and you think that is the end of it. YOU ARE WRONG!
3 months later, a lawsuit is delivered to you personally by a process server accusing you of discriminating against a pregnant employee, as that is the reason you fired her. You and I both know that has no bearing on the fact that she was terrible, bringing down your practice and causing you stress. However, this staff member sees you as her new “meal ticket” and her lawyer feels he can make a case against you whether it is the truth or not and “shake you down” for money.
I have now heard of three cases just like this in the past month and I am working with the owners of the practices to get past the lawsuits. Being found guilty can cost these practice $100,000’s for doing nothing wrong. The first question is do you have a signed office policy from every staff member where they acknowledge that upon maternity leave there are no guarantees of a job being open when they return? I have written about that before. Every state requires that you have a written office policy where every staff member is treated equally.
Do you have an office policy and is it signed by every staff member? In 2 of the 3 cases I am working on, the employment files are missing from the office where no other files are missing. Make sure you remove them from the office or keep them under lock and key. If you do not have an office policy outlining this and other issues, you can get one from the “Forms & Templates” section on the Web site. GET IT…That is non-negotiable.
Secondly, when you have an issue with a staff member, do you write it up? A written notice is a critical step in protecting yourself from your staff. I personally was threatened by a staff member and her mother that they were going to sue me until I informed them that I had a signed statement of reprimand from the staff member. In fact, I had 5 signed reprimands, which was the basis for my firing her. I was never sued by that staff member.
Should you have an issue with a staff member, write that person up and have him/her sign it. If this is not your policy, have an office meeting with your entire staff and tell them that in the future, any problems that you have with them will be in writing. Blame it on me, but that is another non-negotiable issue. If a staff member doesn’t like it, let him/her quit now. It’s better than fighting a law suit later.
Thirdly, we all have “demented senses of humor” and your staff members are not your friends, buddies, pals or family members. A joke made today and laughed at by your staff could be held against you for sexual discrimination, as you used “foul language” and there were witnesses. He/she could bring patients in against you and other staff members. A sexual abuse case is more than a physical act. Clean up your act and remember your staff is your staff; if you need a friend, go elsewhere.
As economic times get more difficult and jobs more scarce, your wonderful staff members, in many instances, have become the new “predators,” looking to make a payday from you long after they are gone. Lawyers also make a living preying on innocent employers and we are not excluded because we are doctors. In fact, we are easier targets because everyone assumes doctors are rich and can afford to pay.
I know that you do not want to work in a confrontational environment and you pride yourself on having a “family atmosphere.” I was no different, nor are the three other doctors being sued. You need to run your practice like a business and this is what real businesses do. Having a family environment and running a tight business are not mutually exclusive. Be smart and be prepared, as there are many obstacles in the real world and these types of predators are real and will “rip your heart out” because you trusted them. Be proactive now that you have seen another area to bulletproof yourself against.