Sunday, October 25, 2015
Getting rid of embezzlers shouldn't require pulling teeth
After an experienced dental hygienist, D.H., moved to a new state, she accepted a position to work at a medium-sized dental practice. After being on the job for a few months, D.H. noticed several red flags that suggested the dental practice's business manager was embezzling money.
D.H. had seen similar behavior in the office where she used to work.
The business manager was considered "honest and trustworthy," treated almost like a family member by the dentist. The relationship between her and the dentist was close - like mother and son.
D.H. noticed that the business manager was "overly protective" of her workstation, keeping others out and locking the business office door whenever she was away. She also regularly complained or bad-mouthed co-workers, drawing attention away from her own behavior, figures D.H.
D.H.'s experience at her prior job was that the embezzler got caught after being gone for a while on vacation and someone else went through the office mail. But the office manager at D.H.'s new job arranged for a niece to fill in for her while she vacationed overseas.
Bringing in her own replacement struck D.H. as suspicious. And there were those other tell-tale signs of embezzlement -- carefully guarding the office computer from other employees, diverting attention from herself by criticizing other employees and office conditions, living in a way that "seemed well beyond her means."
In spite of the tell-tale signs, D.H. believes it often seems safer to just look the other way and keep quiet. "An old rule says keep your eyes on your own plate."
But D.H. also figures that while the suspected embezzler may think she's just stealing from the dentist, she's also taking money that won't be available for raises or bonuses to the staff. Innocent workers also get robbed in the process.
"What are the options?" asks D.H. "What's the right thing to do?"
While some readers might think D.H. should mind her own business if she doesn't have definitive proof that the business manager is doing something wrong, I don't agree.
D.H. could approach the business manager and let her know that at her previous place of work they had instituted practices to ward off the chances of foul play. The risk, of course, is that if the business manager is stealing that she will suspect that D.H. is on to her and make her the new target of her complaints.
If D.H. truly suspects that the business manager is up to no good and that no good could come from directly confronting the business manager, she should let the dentist know. The risk, of course, is that the dentist would become defensive, arguing that the business manager would never do something like that to him, after all, he and the business manager are like family.
But letting the dentist know that his practice may be the victim of theft is the right thing to do. If the dentist refuses to listen, or if he refuses to take some action to protect himself against embezzlement, then D.H. must decide if this is the practice where she really wants to work.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.