When employees walk away from the job

August 24, 2018
Melissa Young, MD

Consider taking precautions to prevent staff from leaving-and taking your belongings with them.

Editor's Note: Physicians Practice's blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or UBM.

My practice has had a fairly stable staff for the last several years, but I’ve had my share of unpleasant employee exits.

There was one who gave notice but one day up and left without saying a word.

There was another who quit but claimed I fired her. We were on the phone with unemployment, and it was her turn to tell her side of the story. She started with, “Well, Dr. Young was in another one of her moods…” I listened in angry silence. When it was my turn, I was honestly confused and asked, “I just want to clarify, she gets to collect unemployment even if she has a new job?” I knew she did since she wrote “start new job” on her desk calendar and told another employee all about it. Needless to say, she was ineligible to collect.

And then there was the one who was technically employed for about a month but was only physically present for a week. Someone was always sick, had to go to the doctor, or the car broke down.

But even when employees don’t give you troubles like these, they can still cause headaches.

An acquaintance of mine recently had a long-time employee who just disappeared one day, along with hundreds of dollars in cash and a few items from the office. There was proof should she wish to prosecute, but it’s more than the theft. She feels betrayed and violated. Now that former employee wants her last paycheck. It is our understanding that, by law, she cannot withhold this from the employee.

Some people are telling her to send the check and let it all go. That it isn’t worth the hassle for a few hundred dollars. Then there are others who feel she should fight this on principal because the employee committed a crime and should be held accountable. That a police report should be filed. Some have suggested deducting the losses from her paycheck but as far as us non-lawyers can tell, that’s not legal.

Regardless of what is legal or what a lawyer might advise, she has still been hurt by this employee's actions. Those actions are likely to cause a ripple effect throughout the physician's exisiting and future relationships with co-workers and staff. The theft is more than a monetary loss. It's a violation of trust.

What can physicians do to protect themselves from theft in the office? A good background check and references are helpful prior to hiring. Establishing a system of checks and balances system for cash transactions at the front desk is also important. No one person should be solely responsible for all the financial transactions. Physicians may also consider investing in security cameras. If there are any valuables or controlled medications, a good inventory must be kept.

Most physicians in solo practices are so busy seeing patients and running the practice that they don’t have time to serve as human resource managers and security officers. But we must find time to take steps to prevent such events when we can. Otherwise, we will pay the price.

Melissa Young, MD, FACE, FACP, is sole owner and one of two physicians at Mid Atlantic Diabetes and Endocrinology Associates, LLC. As such, she is both actively involved in patient care and practice management while also raising two kids and a dog in suburban New Jersey.