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December 8, 2016
December 7, 2016

Hey, It’s Not Okay to Hit Another Employee

Sheila Grosdidier

I spoke today with a client who shared with me about a disturbing occurrence at her practice over the weekend. 

One of her team members, during a conversation, slapped one of the other team members on the head. 

Team members who witnessed this were so startled by the action that they stood silent and, before anything was said, the offending team member walked away as if nothing had occurred. The victim of this action did not report it to her supervisor but another team member, who had witnessed the event, did speak with her supervisor about what they had seen. The practice manager followed up with the employee who was struck and the employee said she didn’t want to make it an issue, preferring to have nothing said.

So now the practice manager wants to know what to do? What would you do? In reviewing the employee manual with the practice manager, it clearly states that any act of willful violence upon another employee, client or patient will result in termination. Does this apply even when the victim of this action asks for nothing to be done? Before answering that question, let’s look at a checklist to review if you are considering termination:

1. What is in your employee manual? Does it clearly identify situations where immediate termination would occur? Make a commitment that the disciplinary process, when it will be used and when termination will occur is common knowledge with employees. This is transparency, no surprises.

2. Review carefully any prior documentation on issues with performance or failure to follow policy. Yes, in this case, there were early signs, outbursts, slamming of hands on counter tops and shouting when another employee left the room. It had not been addressed directly with the team member.

3. Obtain feedback from other management. Check in with key personnel about their experience, findings or special conditions that may affect the decision.

4. Identify if there are special circumstances that would place this employee in a protected status should they be terminated.

5. Assure that the disciplinary process has been applied in a fair and consistent manner.

6. If you determine termination is in order, prepare the necessary documentation, assure that security is maintained (passwords, locks, access to building, etc.), payroll is alerted, and that state regulations on when a terminated employee must be paid are met. This may or may not include vacation, etc. Check your state laws.

7. Have someone else witness the conclusion of employment and be prepared to escort the terminated employee from the building with minimal interaction with others. This is difficult for everyone, be sure to maintain the highest level of respect and courtesy. There is nothing to be gained by being overly harsh. The best time to conclude employment is often at the end of the day to diminish the impact on the team and reduce the stress that can result with the team.

What did this practice do? Their employee manual was clear, touch another team member in an intentional, violent manner and termination will result. No other factors applied (special circumstances) and so the employee was terminated. While never an easy situation, it is one that needed to be addressed. Consider carefully the implications of your policies in a practice. 

If you aren’t going to enforce a policy, then reconsider whether it should be in the manual.

The big issue with the terminated employee is that she evidently has done this before and it has gone unreported. Now the manager is hearing the stories. Encourage the team to share concerns with their supervisors and then consistently apply policy. Policy is two dimensional in your employee manual. Practiced consistently and respectfully, your policies will come to life and be a 3-dimensional part of the veterinary hospital and your culture.

For a comprehensive Human Resources training experience, join Mark and Sheila at the next H.R. Boot Camp in your area.

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