On Her Last (Broken) Leg: Can You Terminate Now?
“One of my dental employees is on her last leg at the office and coincidentally just today I put an ad out to find a replacement . . . she texted me this evening saying that she hurt her back at the office today putting away water and left early after her back stiffened up. She says she probably will not be able to come in tomorrow. I will speak with my employees who were there to see what happened but I was in touch with one several times today and she just said that the other employee left early and didn’t say that anything was wrong with her.
I do have worker’s comp insurance but I’m wondering about what happens, what are best case and worst case scenarios? How should I proceed?”
In brief, the timing of the ad would not make me comfortable with a termination. Your at-will status does not protect you from firing someone for an illegal reason. Firing someone in close proximity to a workman’s comp claim could easily be used against you. It is illegal.
This is a tricky area to work in. She’s protected at this point. There are next steps you need to take, and they include reporting the issue to your workers’ compensation insurance carrier immediately. Your carrier will want to work with you to send the employee out to have her claim and injury verified. If she’s making a false claim in order to protect her job, then it is possible that will come out during the verification process.
Two additional components, if you happen to have them in place, could make your job much easier when handling this:
The first is an up-to-date job description. This would help determine which accommodations you might have to make and where you might draw the line.
The second is documentation of written and acknowledged corrective actions in the employee’s file. Since it is likely that you will eventually want to let this employee go regardless of what happens now, being able to show substandard performance prior to the claim would be very helpful.
Of course, each medical and dental office’s employee handbook should also appropriately discuss the practice’s coaching/corrective action and termination processes. Please call us for assistance (866-414-6056) if you have further questions.
Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert.