Ex-Employee Drama: Responding To The Tantrum
December is a month of festivities for many of us, and that sometimes means that your current employees are especially likely to socialize with your ex-employees. So, what’s your best course of action if you find that an angry ex-employee is bad-mouthing you or the practice to your current team members? Here’s a recent question on how to handle this type of situation, and my recommendation.
“I let an employee go about a month ago. She was underperforming, largely due to the fact that she was spending all of her time engaging in personal conversations rather than productive work. Now I am hearing that she is gossiping about my office and the reasons for her termination to everyone, including current employees, suppliers, and reps. Any ideas on what I should do next? I’ve thought about contacting her or contacting an attorney, but maybe I should just let it go.”
I would not give this employee any more energy unless you have a very specific issue you need to address. Out of the complex employee issues CEDR deals with all the time, and the hundreds of thousands of questions that come through our Solution Center, this one comes up quite often, so we have seen a lot of variations and outcomes.
Start with the understanding that it is generally unlawful to forbid current employees from speaking with ex-employees.  While we know how uncomfortable it may make you feel to hear that this terminated employee continues to attend holiday parties or weekly happy hours organized by your current employees, your ability to stop this from happening is limited.
The most proactive way you can deal with the issue is to create buy-in from your current team. In fact, anytime you let someone go, it is usually appropriate to meet with the team and fill them in on the appropriate details. Be honest. Start with your own attitude – don’t pretend nothing happened, but also take steps to put it behind you. You may say to the team: “It’s never easy for us to let someone go. It is always a difficult decision, and, in this case, we gave it careful consideration. We now need to focus on our responsibility to all of you, to this business, and to our patients.”
The way you handle both the termination and the aftermath sets the tone for how you expect your employees to treat the event. It is not going to be productive to speak negatively or engage in negative conversation about this person after she is gone. What will get you the outcome you want is to pull your remaining team close and refocus their efforts on the work they are doing.
Sometimes, however, the method outlined above is simply not enough. There are certain scenarios where taking additional steps may be appropriate. For instance, all CEDR members receive a Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreement (CNDA), which protects certain confidential information like pricing lists and patient names. Many of these items are also protected by HIPAA. If you become aware of either a HIPAA violation or a violation of your CNDA (which is very limited), you’ll likely need to address that behavior. In other scenarios, you may become aware that this employee is pursuing legal action against you, in which case, you will want to seek local counsel. However, if you are wanting to take action simply to stop a former employee from speaking with current employees or are thinking about pursuing a long-shot defamation claim, your time and energy are probably best spent on other things.
Trust me, the other employees know she’s a mess. Let it go for a bit longer and see if the ex-employee will get exhausted, like a child throwing a tantrum in a grocery store. Sooner or later the ex-employee is going to notice that people do not care for the screaming and the antics. Take away your energy from it, and the other person will burn out. 29 U.S.C. §157 (also known as the National Labor Relations Act) safeguards employees’ rights to engage in “protected concerted activity,” which includes discussions about wages, duties, and the like. Many state laws, including but not limited to California, Colorado, Illinois, and Nevada, prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees for engaging in lawful off-duty activities.
Paul Edwards is the CEO and Co-Founder of CEDR HR Solutions (www.cedrsolutions.com), which provides individually customized employee handbooks and HR solutions to dental offices of all sizes across the United States. He has over 20 years’ experience as a manager and owner, and specializes in helping dental offices solve employee issues. Paul is a featured writer for The Profitable Dentist, Dentaltown, and AADOM, and speaks at employment education seminars, conferences, and CE courses across the country. He can be reached at 602-476-1418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.