By now you may have seen the sensational headlines, “Oral Surgeon Fires 12-year Employee for Having Cancer!”. Well, thanks to social media, everyone around the world has seen it. At first glance, it is pretty hard to defend this doctor – the letter in his own hand spells things out pretty clearly. “You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.”
Now, through his attorney, the doctor has issued a statement that he meant the letter to serve as documentation to allow his employee to collect unemployment benefits while she was unable to work. That his motive was actually humanitarian, not heartless. Click here for article
Disclaimer: I am aware that there is probably much more information that could change my opinion, but based on the admittedly small amount I have read,
I actually believe the guy.
I believe him because I see small business owners make decisions based on information they think they know or have heard from others without double-checking sources for themselves or seeking the advice of a professional who could guide them more appropriately. And, I see them take action based on faulty information without thinking through the impact it would have on their organization. In this case, the doctor’s epic fail is resulting in some pretty harsh backlash from the global community. Unless some spectacular PR work is done quickly, it will be a long road to recovery for his reputation and his bottom line.
Having a relationship with a Human Resources Management consultant would have enabled him, in the time it takes for a coffee break, to learn that despite any good intentions on his part or what he may have heard from others, merely being laid off from work would not have made his sick staff member eligible for unemployment. Directly from the Pennsylvania UC (Unemployment Compensation) website: “you must be able and ready to return to work (either to your old job or a new one) to claim UC . . . you’ll also have to actively seek work during each week that you claim UC benefits.”
Taking things a step further, the consultant would have also discussed alternatives based on the circumstances and through open dialogue with the employee about what her needs and limitations would be at various stages of her treatment. Now that would be humanitarian.
I would not expect this doctor to know about the unemployment rules, or that there is a wide range of alternative solutions to the problem, just like he would not expect me to know how to surgically remove a third molar. But as a Human Resources Management Consultant, I do know it, because it is my business to know it. My clients are better informed by letting me share what I know with them. And, I guarantee it would have cost a lot less than what he is spending on damage control or lost opportunity costs due to public opinion.
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