In medical school we doctors learn all about physiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. Then we go to residency training and become experts in our various areas of specialization. When we finally go into to practice, we become painfully aware of how little we know about running a business, especially when it comes to managing a staff. Most doctors respond to this by hiring an office manager and abdicating any control over the staff to that manager. This is especially true when it comes to disciplining a staff member. Most doctors avoid the subject at all costs. Yet effective management, and especially staff discipline, is essential to your financial success. So here are some simple guidelines to follow.
As always, keep in mind that as a practicing pediatrician, I cannot give legal advice. Any staff discipline system should be discussed with an attorney, competent in employment law.
1. Develop a staff handbook that elucidates what you expect from your staff. This handbook should include the basic responsibilities of each position in your office, as well as other office rules. In addition the handbook should establish the office’s disciplinary procedures. Of course it is prudent to inform employees that the handbook is a guideline and cannot be completely exhaustive and may require future modifications.
2. Start by using positive reinforcement to bring out the behavior that you want from your staff. The use of proper rewards and recognition can motivate your staff to work harder. It will make them want to do everything they can to make your practice run more smoothly.
3. Use a progressive disciplinary system for employees who fail to follow the practice rules Some business owners prefer to start with a verbal warning. In my own experience verbal warnings do not always work. Employees may not consider it to be a true warning. Also when you move to the next level of discipline, they may deny that they received a verbal warning. So I prefer to start with a written warning. On the second offense the employee should be given a second warning and be sent home without pay. The third warning would lead to termination.
4. If you come to the point of needing tp terminate the employee, discuss the situation with your practice attorney prior to meeting with the employee. Also ensure that you have a witness with you, in case the employee later initiates a legal action. Finally, it may seem ruthless, but it is often better to do it first thing in the morning when the employee arrives. After it is done, someone should escort the person to his or her desk to obtain his or her things and then escort him or her out. Again this may seem heartless, but given all of the confidential information that your office has, you do not want a disgruntled employee to be misusing this information.
5. Finally, when an employee is terminated all access that he or she had to Private Health Information should be severed. This means changing passwords and locks. It also means ensuring that other employees are aware of their obligations to keep medical information private.
As physicians this is not a topic we like to discuss. Most of us would prefer to see patients and just have the office take care of itself. However if you have a proper employee discipline system in place it will make it easier for you when an employee issue arises.