“I think practices let it go because getting into an all out fight with an individual will likely end up damaging the practice for more then the stolen amount, even $20k, if that individual enlists all their friends and family to badmouth the practice online and in the area, you will likely loose much more then $20K worth of business not to mention any potential legal/marketing fees/stress.“Practice Owner
Firing a dental embezzler. “I’ll just let her go”
Most dentists when they are forced to confront a dishonest employee will often first say say to themselves, “I’ll just let just let her go.“
They believe the best solution to their “dishonesty problem” is to simply terminate the person’s employment and move on.
Hey I get it, no one enjoys confrontation.
Confrontation is unpleasant and in some situations we will take great strides to avoid it.
Some dentists avoid accusing their employee of embezzling for fear of retaliation.
“She’ll badmouth the practice.”, says one.
If your employee is stealing from the practice, whether you choose to “just let her go” or to terminate her employment for theft, she will bad mouth you and your practice anyway.
“Her friends and family will badmouth the practice online.”, says one more.
It’s very unlikely her friends and family will start badmouthing you online, and if by chance they do, then they’ve committed libel. A properly worded letter from your attorney can resolve the matter.
“My patients just love her and will hate me if I accuse her of stealing”, says another.
Guess what. Your patients already hate you. Seriously, all of your patients love you, most of them anyway, some of the time. :-)
Some dentists fear holding their employee accountable.
Some doubt they have “enough proof” to fire their employee. (I can help with that, finding evidence is right in my wheelhouse)
Others fear being sued for wrongful termination. (keep reading to learn the proper way to fire a dishonest employee)
Still, why do so many dentists and practice owners still believe the best solution to their employee dishonesty problem is to suck it up, let her go and move on?
That was a trick question. They know it is not the best solution, but it is the easiest.
It can also turn out to be the costliest decision financially and emotionally
Here are some things that can go wrong when you let a dishonest employee go without any accountability.
YOUR EX-EMPLOYEE IS HIRED BY ANOTHER OFFICE
Soon after firing your employee, you learn they were hired by another dentist. Ugh… “your problem” has now become “their problem”.
Can you imagine meeting the dentist who hired your ex-employee and then tells you she was caught stealing. awkward…..
Your ex-employee “bad-mouths” you and your practice.
There is a high probability that your former employee will start to bad-mouth you and yur practice the moment she walks out the door.
She’ll do it at her new workplace and to her friends. Some will make frivolous allegations, saying that you abuse drugs, alcohol or children.
Others will say you committed fraud, have a psychological disorder, or are a gambling addict.
They do this to tarnish your reputation in order to build a wall between you, her friends and the new office where they work.
THEY CONTINUE TO STEAL FROM YOU AFTER THEY ARE GONE
During the time your employee worked for you, they likely had access to information about you, your business affairs, and your employees.
Dishonest employees may have copies of your patient and business records.
After the employee has been “let go” they can use this information to withdraw money from your bank account, obtain credit lines or credit cards in your name. (yes, it is easier than you are thinking)
You may also be unexpectedly billed for things you did not purchase. For example, your former employee has access to an online account (like Amazon) account and starts racking up orders. (this happens, more often that you’d expect)
They can use any credit card information they took from from you, your employees or patients to commit additional frauds, even months after they have been fired.
YOU ARE SUED FOR WRONGFUL TERMINATION
All dishonest employees maintain a strong sense of self-entitlement towards their employer’s money, and this self-entitlement does not stop after they have been fired.
When you fire a dishonest employee “without cause“, they may decide to hire an employment lawyer and threaten to sue you!
Here is what happened in one of my previous cases . (for brevity, I have left out many details)
The dentist suspected his employee was stealing and decided because he was in an “at will” state, he could just fire her.
The dentist confronted the employee, told her she was for stealing and said “your fired!”
The former employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
About a month later, the dentist hired me to perform a fraud examination an confirm if his suspicions were correct and that she was stealing.
I uncovered about $60,000 in theft and submitted my report to the dentist.
The dentist used my report and the $60,000 theft as ammunition in the wrongful termination lawsuit.
It did not go well.
The judge told the dentist that the theft was not admissible in the wrongful termination lawsuit.
The court ruled that because the theft was discovered after the employee was fired, it was not admissible.
The dentist lost the wrongful termination lawsuit and was ordered to pay $80,000 in damages to his former employee. He subsequently filed a counter suit for damages.
YOUR PATIENTS START TO COMPLAIN
Dishonest employees will use various methods to conceal their thefts. They conceal their dirty work by adulterating patient ledgers and records .
Soon after the employee has left the practice, patients can start complaining that their statements are not correct.
“I already PAID THIS! Why are you sending me a bill.”
“Why did my insurance company send this to me?”
Your staff may not know how to properly respond to patient complaints like this. Patients can (and do) lose faith in the office.
“If they can’t keep my account balance (or insurance) straight, how can they do dentistry?”
YOUR UNEMPLOYMENT TAX GOES UP
In many states, being fired for theft will stop your employee from receiving unemployment benefits.
When you just “let her go”, your former employee can file for unemployment benefits and you see an increase in your Federal Unemployment Tax payments.
That’s like being ripped off twice!
PATIENTS LEAVE YOUR PRACTICE
If your dishonest employee has been with the practice for many years, they will have developed friendships and relationships with many of your patients.
After the dishonest employee is gone, patients will often ask questions:
“Why is she not working here anymore?”
“What happened to Janie, where is she gone?”
If you have not terminated the employee for theft and “just let her go”, some patients will think your a “bad person” (yes, this happens) Those patients believe that you should not have dismissed the person they liked the most.
INSURANCE COMPANIES START ASKING QUESTIONS OR WANT TO AUDIT
It is common for a dishonest employee to commit healthcare fraud by over-billing insurance companies for work that was not done. These schemes can go on for months or years, all under the watchful eye of a dishonest employee.
While working in the practice, your dishonest employee was responding to questions from patients and insurance companies, and telling them what they want to hear.
When your dishonest employee is gone, there is no one in practice to deflect questions from insurance companies or patients.
Your staff are not likely prepared to respond to these questions either.
One case like this wound up costing my dentist client over a quarter-million dollars that she had to pay back to the insurance companies for money the employee stole.
“LET HER GO” SENDS THE WRONG MESSAGE TO STAFF AND PEERS
Some (maybe all) of employees who remain with your practice after you “let her go” will feel you made a poor and unethical choice to not hold the dishonest employee accountable, and to fire her for theft.
How to terminate the employment of a dishonest employee
PUT THE ONUS ON THE EMPLOYEE
When you first discover theft has occurred and have a few examples of the allegations to go on, I recommend using a “reverse onus” approach.
The reverse onus approach places the burden of proof on the employee.
When you terminate employment using this approach, you will be able to say to anyone that asks:
Q: “Why does she not work here?”
A: “She was fired. I gave her every opportunity to explain what happened and when she could not, I had no no other choice but to terminate her employment”
Caution: using reverse onus to fire an employee for stealing shoudl not be done without obtaining professional advice. (contact me if you ever require assistance.)
“REVERSE ONUS” STEPS TO FOLLOW
The safest approach is to provide your employee with an employment suspension letter giving notice to the serious allegations that have been uncovered and to provide your employee with 2 business days to respond to the allegations contained in your letter.
If your employee fails to respond, or their response is not satisfactory, then you will exercise your right as the employer, to terminate their employment terminated accordingly.
If the written allegations are clear and compelling, it unlikely that your employee will be able to provide a meaningful response that can absolve them of dishonesty.
If your employee does provide a suitable explanation, then you will lift the employment suspension and pay them for the time they were suspended.
If the allegations against your employee are clear and compelling your employee will not offer any plausible explanation to clear them of the allegations. (note: I have used this method dozens of time with 100% success)
Using the reverse onus approach, if the employee subsequently commences any action against you or your practice, you will be able to demonstrate that you gave your former employee every opportunity to explain their conduct, and they failed.
Have a question?
I am always happy to help dentists and practice owners. If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me for a consult.
How to mentally prepare yourself before terminating employment
Lisa Mergens has some good suggestions on how to mentally prepare for an employment termination, written from the perspective of when you are firing someone “without cause”.