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Veterinary employee theft: The rain on your sunny day
Dont let theft steal the sunshine from your practice. Find out how to address it when it happensand steps you can take to deter theft before it occurs.
Gettyimages/ilustroIt's a sunny day. The team in your clinic is energized by the light shining through your front windows. Your clients and their pets seem happier too, as if the sunlight has somehow infused them with a dose of pleasantness. Phones are ringing and you can hear the front desk team members cheerfully interacting with clients.
A team member leans into your office and says:
“We need you to order more therapeutic food. We're almost out.”
And then she's back to work.
“Wait!” you think. “I just got that in two days ago. How can we be out already?”
You're ordering several items more often than you used to, without an increase in revenue. The realization grows like a thunderstorm brewing on the horizon; somebody is stealing from the clinic. It's as if the sunshine has turned to grey and the smiles are mocking grimaces. You look around at the team.
> Who's responsible?
> Why would they do it?
Hail on the horizon
Each time we hear about theft, we ask why.
Why would someone steal?
Sometimes people steal when they think they need something and can't get it any other way-there's a financial burden contributing to the behavior. People may steal when they're upset or dissatisfied and feel they “deserve” the items they're taking as payment for their work.
People also steal when they suffer from an underlying psychological issue that causes them to steal. Whatever the reason, you've discovered someone on your team
What do you do now?
Each employer can determine how far they will proceed with prosecution of their
employee, based on state laws and employment requirements.
Once you resolve the situation with the employee, debrief the remaining team members. They don't need to know all the details, but it helps for them to know that a coworker was caught stealing from the workplace, and this person is no longer employed at your clinic. It serves as a cautionary tale to other employees who may consider pilfering.
What is theft?
Dictionary.com defines theft as “the act of stealing; the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another; larceny.” We hear about theft in the workplace, but we never think it will happen at our practice.
We seem to hire a type of person in our profession who isn't prone to taking. They are more prone to giving,” says Sabrina Hoadley, practice manager at VCA Seaside Animal Hospital in Calabash, North Carolina.
But she admits that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. “In a previous practice, I once discovered entire cases of toilet paper were going missing. I discovered who was taking it, and she felt horrible about the situation. It was really very sad.
“Unfortunately, when a staff member steals, we must let them go,” Hoadley says. “Whether they are remorseful in the end is what determines whether we prosecute them further or accept their apology. They lose their job despite the apology. The difference: We will involve the law if they don't appear sorry for what they have done.”
5 prevention steps
1. Review your clinic's written theft protocol regularly. This keeps your expectations front of mind with your team. When your team members know your protocols or expectations, they're better able to measure up.
A written protocol also gives you legal grounds to move swiftly once you have proof that theft has occurred. If your employee handbook doesn't contain a section directed on employee theft, write one.
2. Review job requirements regularly. This may reduce feelings of entitlement. Remind team members they've agreed to perform their jobs for a specified amount of money. They have entered into an agreement with their employer, and their contractual obligation is to complete these tasks.
When team members understand the requirements of the job they've agreed to do-with excellence-for a specific hourly rate, this lessens the “I deserve more” feeling.
3. Take time to reward exemplary work over and above routine job requirements. Team members who feel valued at work will work harder. Who doesn't want to feel valued?
4. Don't ignore the employee who suddenly appears disenchanted or the employee you know is facing financial problems. Problems beget problems. A manager can intercept these issues before they develop into larger ones by being aware and willing to address difficult attitudes and situations.
When you explore the reasons your employee who used to be your hardest working technician is now doing only what's necessary to get by, this offers you the opportunity to once again review the contractual agreement within the workplace. During this review you can take the chance to highlight your expectations for employees and outline any consequences for aberrant behavior.
5. Consider cameras in your practice. This may be a powerful deterrent for those who are tempted to steal-and can promote better behavior all around if team members know you review the footage regularly and can dial in remotely to check in when you're not at the practice. Check with state and local laws to make sure you're following the rules about how and when you film.
Other types of theft
Here are a few types of theft you might forget about. But they're still just as damaging to your practice and your integrity.
> Time clock stealing: clocking in before you are ready to start work, or calling in to have someone clock in for you. This is stealing time from work
> Office supplies theft. An envelope here, a stamp there-it all adds up. If you take work supplies for personal use, it's theft.
> Online surfing or working another job from work. Kind of speaks for itself. Who's paying you?
A proactive leader is able to thwart many instances of thievery and deception. Remember even after an unfortunate event, the clouds will eventually dissolve, once again revealing the sunshine in your clinic.
Julie Mullins is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and lead trainer at Doggone Healthy in Calabash, N.C.