Physicians separate from multiple employers during their careers.  Some separations are amicable and some are not.  No matter what the reason physicians often sign Separation Agreements with employers.

Separation agreements consider many issues.  They are complex legal documents and you must carefully review each paragraph.  An issue of great concern to physicians is contained in a clause titled “References.”   

Reference language in a Separation Agreement specifically instructs the previous employer what it can and cannot reveal to a future employer.  It must be carefully reviewed.  A bad reference from an employer can seriously damage a physician’s career.  A bad reference letter or a response to a questionnaire from an HR person can have as profound an effect on a physician’s career as a report to the NPDB.

Unfortunately, health care organizations frequently bypass due process when they evaluate physician employees.  The HR person then takes committee material, including minutes,  that is hearsay and have not been subjected to peer review or cross-examination into separation agreements.

When we review a Separation Agreement I argue strongly with the employer to remove so-called “factual information” and demand that all responses to future employer questions be limited to a letter that provides dates of employment, that the separation was amicable and was not for disciplinary reasons.   The physician must have the right to be the first to provide the new employer with her reasons for separating.  Separation does not signify that something is wrong.  

Future employers are now sending detailed questionnaires to a physician’s current employer.  We have seen questionnaires that ask about highly controversial, contested, and unverified matters.   HR persons must not be allowed to respond to these misleading and invasive questions. A well-drafted separation agreement provides the HR person with a specific direction that limits what they can and cannot do or say about the Physician.