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Legal Speak

Under New Management

Published October 29, 2010 9:31 AM by Tony DeWitt

Oh Mandy

Well you came and you gave without taking,

But I sent you away, Oh Mandy...

In Barry Manilow's famous song he laments a lost love.  The folks in Courtland Virginia, however, are lamenting Mandy for a different reason.  Instead of giving without taking, a new administrator - Mandy Pennington -  has been giving out pink slips, and supposedly is responsible for taking 25 nursing personnel out of their long-time jobs.  The situation got so bad that the non-employee volunteers are quitting. 

One of the worst mistakes a new manager can ever make is to decide to fire long-term employees because they do not agree with her world view.  Long-term employees have institutional history.  They know things that newer employees do not.  They have forged relationships of all kinds with different people, including volunteers, and termination of the "old guard" is never a good idea in the absence of flat out rebellion or insurrection.

When I started my first job I was told not to do anything for six months.  In short, get to know everyone, find out who the players are, and then take action slowly and methodically.  No new manager listens to this kind of advice because they're interested in getting the job done.  But it's good advice, and it is especially good advice when dealing with employees who have been employed for more than a few years with the same institution.

One thing a new administrator might not be clued into is the fact that residents begin to identify with, and have relationships with their caregivers.  They come to know and love those who give them care, and feel threatened, isolated, and abandoned when those caregivers are suddenly, and without explanation, taken away from them.

Although the administrator at the home told media sources that she was not responsible for 25 terminations, making any kind of mass changes to a nursing facility often has undesirable effects on residents and other staff.  Rather than improving care, it often causes care to falter as people who are concerned about their jobs become more focused on rules, and less focused on residents.

And if an administrator cuts out a group of workers who are 40 or over, there are always possible legal ramifications under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Also, mass terminations cause an increased workload in the human resources department, both in out-processing old employees and trying to hire replacements.  The net effect of mass terminations is usually a volley of lawsuits followed by inspections by local ombudsman and unwanted attention from the media.

Sometimes mass terminations have to be done, for example, where employees are implicated in drug theft or where they are guilty of stealing from residents.  But unless the circumstances warrant it, mass terminations usually are a bad idea from a legal point of view, and from a financial point of view.  It's always better to wait a few months, document poor performance, and let employees go one at a time.

posted by Tony DeWitt
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About this Blog

    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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