Dr. Derm has a 50-year-old staff person who has worked with him for 20 years. He knows her family and has spent time socially with both she and her family. She is under contract and can be terminated within 90 days for almost any non-discriminatory reason and immediately for “cause.” Reasons of termination for cause include conviction of a crime, which is a common termination clause in almost all employment agreements.
Three months ago, the employee was arrested for brutally beating up her husband after finding out about his adulterous relationship with another woman. She threw a wine glass at him and shards of glass cut his neck in numerous places, resulting in extensive bleeding. She also threw a frying pan at him, resulting in numerous other cuts and bruises and a broken nose. He nearly lost consciousness. The employee was immediately arrested, although she argued that her behavior was justified. The story ran in the local newspapers. The photos online were frightening. And, social media lit up with the employee’s actions. In every mention of the story, Dr. Derm was noted as being the employer. Consequently, he was very concerned about the negative impact on his practice as he received word that patients were frightened and multiple appointments were cancelled. Dr. Derm immediately terminated the employee, feeling justified by the impact her actions had on his reputation. The employee is now waiting for trial and has filed a lawsuit against Dr. Derm for wrongful termination.
Did he wrongfully terminate the employee?
In the wake of several years of highly publicized domestic abuse scandals, many employers are asking the same question: Can we fire an employee who has committed domestic violence? There is no clear, correct response. However, there are several factors dermatologists should consider before taking any adverse employment actions against employees involved in domestic violence disputes. The first is: Has the employee been convicted?
There’s a big difference between being arrested/charged/accused and actually being convicted. Without a conviction, a physician could open himself to a wrongful termination suit if he or his employee was simply accused of or charged with domestic violence. The tricky part here, of course, is that most employers don’t undertake background checks on existing employees. Dr. Derm only knew about his current employee because of the local press coverage.