It wouldn't surprise me if a certain percentage of readers who merely scan this month's piece do so because they don't see
what relevance the topic could possibly have to the practicing veterinarian. I understand completely because, at first blush,
it doesn't seem possible that any "investigations" would need to be carried out in an animal hospital and, even if one did
need to be done, how complicated could it be?
Sorry, my fellow doctors; it is a new world, and if you will indulge me a few more sentences you will understand what I mean
and why you should care.
Employees may use illicit drugs. Some steal money. Others punch fellow employees' time cards. Partners sexually harass employees.
Bookkeepers embezzle tax deposits. Veterinarians and their helpers from time to time abuse animals. For every instance where
one of these types of behavior occurs, there are a dozen false accusations of such behavior. So where does that put the practicing
veterinarian, particularly the practice owner?
Initially, of course, it puts him or her in the position of losing money or having the practice suffer damage to its reputation.
In severe cases, co-worker misdeeds expose the owner and sometimes others to the risk of civil suit or criminal prosecution.
All of this happens even before a supervisor or the owner becomes involved in attempting to identify and remedy the bad employee's
In today's world, the liability and cost of actual wrongdoing is only the beginning. The resultant attempt by management to
remedy the problem can expose that same owner to even greater potential cost and legal liability.
Bear in mind that under no circumstances may employee impropriety or workplace legal violations be ignored. Nonetheless, if
an employee's workplace violations are not investigated and handled skillfully and with a plan, the attempted fix can develop
into a nightmare for the owner.
What are these looming risks? A less-than-artfully conducted employee misbehavior investigation carries with it a number of
subtle "clinic culture" landmines. However, the legal landmines are fairly clear. Here are some of them:
Destruction of evidence
When the owner of a business begins to look into evidence or complaints of missing cash, product, pharmaceuticals and other
property, it is not at all rare for documents and ledgers to turn up missing, too. These business records have a way of becoming
mysteriously "doctored." Remember that if a person is willing to commit one felony to satisfy his or her need for cash or
drugs, he or she probably won't have a real problem with committing a second crime to cover up the first.
As a result, the development of an order of operations when looking into potential illegal behavior is key. Documents may
need to be quietly and secretly sequestered or copied before the first question is asked. This step permits: 1) identification
of subsequent document alteration and forging, 2) preservation of the original entries for evidentiary purposes and 3) protection
for the practice owners and licensed prescribers in the event that state or federal authorities want to know how medicines
were "negligently" allowed to disappear after having been ordered under a DEA number.
Libel and slander
It is an actionable tort (recognized civil lawsuit claim) for a person to state orally or in writing to a third person that
an individual has committed a crime (if that is not the case). Therefore, it is a dicey situation when, in a small-business
environment, a supervisor tries to get to the bottom of a problem such as missing money or animal abuse.
For example, if Joan reports to you that she saw Kate sadistically kicking a dog when Kate thought she was alone in the kennel
room, Joan may be committing slander. If the accusation is accurate and provable, it is merely true. On the other hand, if
the accusation is not true at all or the behavior was actually less outrageous than described and/or was somehow justified,
slander may have occurred.
When you try to find out more, you need to be pretty delicate in your wording of the "alleged" event when other employees
are called into the office for questioning. You must not mindlessly ask, "Were you around when Kate was kicking that shepherd?"
If you do, you are opening yourself up to your own potential slander or defamation suit.