2 'to-do' lists
This legal threat, as with so many others, leaves us as veterinary practitioners with a "to-do" list. Actually two "to-do"
lists, and they are as follows:
Steps to take if you already have an employee who has made a workers' compensation claim and you would like to let him or
1. Recognize that there is a fairly good likelihood that a firing under such circumstances may lead to a lawsuit.
2. Decide whether to discharge the employee now or tolerate him or her long enough to establish a delay period between the end
of the compensation leave and the loss of employment. This may make the possibility of a suit less likely. (If the employee
is bad enough, it might not be worth it to wait.)
3. Evaluate other potential claims that employee also might bring in the event of such a lawsuit, including age discrimination.
4. Be prepared for the inevitable question if the matter is tried: Why did you wait so long to consider firing this person
in the first place? Assemble whatever proof you may have to refute the plaintiff's claim.
Steps to take if you have an employee whose work really isn't good and could somehow end up on workers' comp at any time:
1. Warn the employee about poor work and document the warnings. Don't let them hear about a problem for the first time when
they are let go.
2. If you feel that you may consider firing a worker, let them know in advance that discharge is a possibility. If they get
warnings but never are made aware of the risk of job loss, an eventual comp claim may appear to be "the final straw." (The
law doesn't permit you to consider workers'-compensation claims as any type of straw, ever.)
3. Don't permit wimpy supervision of employees. If you are considering letting someone go for bad work, don't claim that "business
is down" or that they are performing OK but that the "practice is overstaffed." If you are unhappy with a worker, tell them
so, (preferably in a documented performance review). This is exactly the evidence necessary to overcome the "smell test."
Keep in mind, too, that good worker evaluations and documentation are equally important in beating the "smell tests" associated
with age, race, sexual harassment, family leave and disabilities-act cases as well.
Dr. Allen is president of the Associates in Veterinary Law P.C., which provides legal and consulting services to veterinarians.
Call (607) 754-1510 or visit