Has an employee ever come into your office and rattled off one negative story after another about a coworker? Usually, the conversation starts harmlessly, about a minor problem, such as a spotlight being burned out or the need for another uniform shirt. But then the topic shifts to other complaints, namely the "bad" employee. Soon you're listening to a monologue of epithets and anecdotes, including how just watching that person makes their skin crawl. Then, the final blow: "You need to get rid of this guy/gal."
I can't count the number of times I've been involved in such conversations. Usually, the confiding employee is taken aback when I don't immediately jump up and terminate the offender. But they always continue to press their point.
As I've said before in this column, terminating an employee is not an action that should be taken lightly, whether valid or not. But because you'll likely have to terminate an employee at some point in your career, and it may be the toughest thing you do as an EMS manager, you should be fully aware of your obligations and the best course for the employee.
Employees fall into two categories when it comes to job protection. Some organizations consider employees to be "at will," serving at the discretion of the owner, administrator or board, and they can be terminated without cause. Other jobs are protected by civil service, a memorandum of understanding or a contract between the employee (and/or their recognized bargaining unit) and the employer.
I've always been of the opinion that, regardless of their job protection, you don't take away somebody's income and reputation unless they've clearly demonstrated that they can't perform the job or they've violated a regulation in such an egregious manner that you have no choice but to terminate them. Violating a local, state or federal law or serious organizational regulation leaves no gray areas. But what about the employee who can't perform the job?
For employees who don't consistently meet job expectations, you must consider several areas of their employment. To begin with, determine how they got through your vetting process in the first place. Do you need to revisit your hiring, testing and evaluating processes for new staff? A thorough pre-employment appraisal would help keep undesirable employees from being hired.
For those employees who were considered competent on hiring but now demonstrate deficiencies, identify their specific shortcomings. Is it their assessment skills? Their customer service skills? Their inability to recite your ALS protocols?
Next, develop a remediation plan in conjunction with your training officer or training academy. The plan should clearly cite deficiencies, expected performance and measurable outcomes, and an expected date for re-evaluation. It should also include an evaluation tool to objectively measure the employee's performance. For example, if you require employees to have the ability to read and recognize 100% of life-threatening ECGs presented to them, you should also require them to know your organization's ALS protocols for those life-threatening ECGs 100% of the time. The percentage of accurate ECG interpretations and recitation of protocols is measurable, as opposed to a subjective expectation, such as "improve ALS skills."
If the employee is to be mentored and evaluated in the field by another EMT or paramedic, the evaluator should be a seasoned professional who's capable of teaching and assessing. Juggling the employee from one crew to another isn't fair to the employee and certainly won't create a true mentorship and assessment. Also, be careful to select an evaluator who will be honest and constructive. I've seen some evaluators who didn't want to say or write anything negative because they didn't deal well with conflict and would just as soon avoid it.
For those who will respond to assistance, offer it, but only through a planned process in which the employee and mentor/evaluator are clear on the deficiencies, expected performance outcomes and dates of reassessment.
Finally, remember that although sometimes it's necessary, terminating an employee takes away their livelihood and provides no lesson to assist them in improving as a prehospital provider or as a person.