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Employment Law

It never gets easier: Firing incompetent dental staff

Feb. 6, 2023
Dental practices can be held liable for a multitude of legal violations, including firing an incompetent team member, if they're not careful. Here's how to avoid getting into hot water.

Dental practices are subject to a variety of local, state, and federal employment laws. While dental practice owners assume they’re justified in their reasons for firing employees, employment laws can make the termination process complicated.

Claims may arise from bad employment decisions. These claims can be asserted by any employee, and could include, but are not limited to, workplace discrimination or retaliation, harassment, breach of contract, and defamation. Employment litigation can bring its own set of challenges, including attorney fees, loss of time, disruption of services, and unwanted stress.

Hiring an incompetent employee could lead to certain malpractice claims against your practice. Your practice could be held liable for the unlawful action of employees. Hiring dishonest employees might also cause difficulties in running your practice.

A practice owner should balance the relative risks and choose among an assortment of different options when it comes to handling employment matters. Practice owners should ensure that their employment decisions are justifiable and fully supported by employee evaluations and other documentation.

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When possible, practice owners should give their employees notice of their deficiencies and a reasonable opportunity to correct the problems. Even the most frustrating employees are to be treated with dignity and respect. Finally, if a decision to terminate an employee has been reached, careful planning of the actual termination and the handling of the transition is important.

What to know before termination

Are the employee's problems so serious that the practice simply cannot afford to keep the employee for the sake of quality patient care and the efficient delivery of dental treatment?

Is there a larger point to be proven?

Is the timing of the termination decision risky because the employee has asserted his or her legal rights?

Is the person's behavior so toxic to the workplace that the practice simply cannot retain the employee without risking the loss of other valued employees?

Will the practice's retention of a difficult and/or incompetent employee cause harm to the dental practice's reputation in the community?

There will be situations where the risk of liability for employment discrimination is outweighed by these other factors, and the dental practice has no choice but to accept the risk. At this point, the dental practice has an option to offer a severance package with a release agreement, prepare a vigorous defense, or reach a reasonable settlement.