Can I have an incorrect reason of termination changed?

by Susan
(Columbus, GA)

I have worked in the same medical practice for 23 years. I had the most seniority and benefits. When the physician's wife took over managing the office, it was clear that she wanted me gone as I was the largest overhead there.

Two weeks ago, she called me into his office and said that "someone said" that I violated HIPAA and I could either resign or be terminated. No severance, nothing. I was so floored, I didn't know what to do. I had not done what they accused me of, and I wouldn't sign the resignation paper that said I did.

So therefore they terminated me and listed the reason as "violating HIPAA." My question is, could they be made to take that off? It is not true, it didn't happen. I know that having that on my record would hurt me trying to get a job in the future.

The lady at the unemployment office said "he can fire you for anything, but legally he can't put down that he fired you for something you didn't do unless he has proof you did it, and someone just saying it isn't proof." Is this true?

Is this something I could pursue? I don't want anything from him, I just want what's not true off my record. Any information you can give that may help me would be greatly appreciated.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Can I have an incorrect reason of termination changed?":

Susan (Columbus, GA):

The lady in the unemployment office should not be rendering legal advice.

First: It is not true that your employment can be terminated for ANY reason. You can not be fired on the basis of discrimination, including discrimination by age, race, gender, or sexual preference.

Second: Your employer can write down anything he or she wants on a resignation paper, or other document, whether it is true or not. However, if the statements are false, and as a result of those false statements you are unable to gain suitable employment, then you would likely have the basis of a legitimate civil lawsuit for libel.

However, unless you were working pursuant to a written employment agreement, you are considered an "at-will" employee. As an at-will employee in Georgia, your employment can be terminated for just about any reason short of discrimination as set out above.

This can include the physician's wife not wanting you to remain, even if it's because she believes your salary or benefits are too high. In your case, you can also be fired if the physician's wife believes, or at least states, you violated HIPAA regulations. While seemingly unfair, in Georgia employees can be fired if their employer doesn't like the color of their hair, or even the clothes they wear.

In other words, short of discrimination, and/or a written employment contract, you can be fired at will, with no notice and no severance pay.

If though, your termination is based on a false statement which has been disseminated to one or more third parties, and as a direct result of that statement you are not hired at a prospective job, then you should consider retaining an attorney to represent you.

Fortunately, in such cases, most attorneys will not charge for an initial office consultation. If possible, get a copy of the document which states your were being terminated for violating HIPAA. If your former employer won't give it to you voluntarily, your attorney can subpoena the document as part of a lawsuit.

Here's how to choose the best attorney for your case. If your attorney succeeds, the judge may order your employer to pay "damages," which can include monetary compensation. Moreover, the judge can also order the violation of HIPAA language be stricken from your record.

If you believe your employment was terminated based on discrimination, you can contact the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to file a claim.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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