What is Summary Termination of Employment?  The words “summary termination” sound bad, much worse than simply “you are fired.” A factual situation will assist us in deciding whether the words suggest a career-changing event.  The following blog assumes that the reader has a written employment agreement. However, even without a formal agreement, the same description applies because other corporate documents will probably establish general employment behavior-based rules.

Example:  In the morning, usually a Monday or a Friday, a departmental secretary calls you and summons you to an urgent meeting with the head of your department.  You are puzzled by the urgency of the call. When you arrive you find that the meeting is not just with the chairman. Several other persons are present, including the head of HR and another person who you know is the corporate attorney.  Without much, if any explanation, the chairman tells you that you are fired and that the company security person will immediately escort you from the building. The attorney hands you a document that is labeled “Separation Agreement” and tells you to review and sign it within three weeks if you want the benefits the document describes.  You are stunned. The Chairman informs you that you cannot return to your office and adjourns the meeting without further comment.

The above paragraph describes a Summary Termination of Employment situation.  You are fired on the spot with little explanation of why. In most cases, it is a cold meeting and uncomfortable for everyone present except the attorney.  You have been an employee for some time, maybe years. Some of those present may be friends or acquaintances.

Often the employee knows the reasons for Summary Termination of Employment. There are two types of Summary Termination:  In type I – You have been told formally or informally that you are not performing up to departmental expectations; in Type II you have violated the “for cause” paragraphs of your employment agreement. The first is a subjective call and the second is an objective one.  It is important to determine the type of summary termination involved.

If the reason to terminate is due to an alleged failure to meet expectations, the reason is subjective even if backed up with some facts. Usually, the employer has a contractual basis to terminate because the employment contract provides for at-will termination, notice, and payments.  Such a termination is usually not a career-ending event. You can reach a reasonable separation agreement and the employer will not report to the National Practitioner Data Bank or licensing authorities. Future employment will not be impossible.

If the reason to terminate is due to an alleged violation of the “for cause” paragraphs of your employment contract, the employer’s reason is almost always based on some objective facts. In such a situation you are facing serious career damage; if a physician a report to the National Practitioner Data Bank and possibly loss of license.  It will make future employment difficult. You must contest, litigate and/or aggressively negotiate the terms of separation. You may be able to negotiate a change from Type II to Type I.

In future blogposts, I will discuss the procedure I recommend to deal with each Type of summary termination.