{ the dental team } by Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP One Snarky Comment Too Many

I messed up. Last month in a moment of anger, I fired an employee. The individual had a consistent snarky attitude, and even though I had several discussions with the employee about the comments that I felt undermined me, the person did not change. So, during a morning huddle one day, another sarcastic comment was made, but this time it was one too many. I was mad and said some things I don’t remember, but one of the things I did say was—to my shock and the employee’s—“You’re fired”! Unfortunately, this exchange happened in front of the entire staff. Although I do not regret the termination, I certainly wish I would have handled it better. My reaction has frightened my other employees who are now concerned they could be next in line to bear my wrath. What can I do to assure them this action was not typical, and I hope a one-time event after a lot of build up? Related to this employee, I also recently received a reference request from a dentist I know. This ex-employee was good otherwise, but her mouth would prevent me from giving her a positive reference. But, perhaps for my guilt out of my handling of the termination, I don’t want to get in the way of her getting a new job. How should I handle it?


osing it” at the workplace does little for your reputation as a manager, as you found out. I agree that your actions

may lead other employees to be concerned about the way you may treat them. There are a few things you can do to influence the staff’s opinion of you, and actions speak louder than words. The most important thing to do now is to let the dust settle and go out of your way to treat your employees profes- sionally and respectfully. If your staff did not see anything wrong with the com- ments of the terminated employee, you are going to have more difficulty.

Check your handbook to see if you have any language around code of conduct and/or professional communication expectations for your office. If you don’t have a handbook, or your handbook is missing this section, now is a good time to add it in. While it won’t do much for the situation that already has occurred, it will reinforce your desire for a cooperative, positive, supportive work- place. With this, you have a document that can be used to hold employees accountable for the behavior and communication style you expect. Those who are not understand- ing or complying with this policy can be

coached up or counseled out—in a mea- sured, appropriate (private) fashion.

The policy statement is only part of this solu- tion, though. You must show your staff that the behavior you exhibited was an excep- tion, rather than a rule. This is done through your actions alone. No matter how much you tell them and they agree and say they understand, this little “losing it” episode will remain in their memories for years to come. From now on you need to show them that you aren’t prone to spontaneous termina- tions. People tend to remember the one bad thing that occurred rather than the hundreds of good things you did. Keep trying, count to

30 focus | SEP/OCT 2020 | ISSUE 5

10, remain calm and don’t let anyone push your buttons.

As far as the reference is concerned, I would ask for a signed authorization from the ex- employee with a “hold harmless” clause and retain a copy of it in your files. Then let the prospective employer lead with their questions. Do not answer questions unless the behavior has been documented in the employ-

ee’s file. Only answer the questions asked and do not expand on them. Most people do not ask specific questions. Instead they will ask a broad question like, “What kind of employee was this person?” Answer the question in general terms, focusing on the previous employee’s work skills rather than snarky ways. If asked why the individual is no longer working for you, be honest, but stick to the facts. Rather than saying “I lost it” when yet another snarky comment was made, instead say that you had difficulty with the person’s communication style and the employee was no longer a good fit for your office. f

Jodi Schafer is owner of Human Resource Management Services. To learn more about her and services available, visit

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