Learn how to protect yourself from employees who embezzle.
Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.
A staff member who's knowledgeable about optometry and wonderful with patients is embezzling. How do I deal with this situation?
Dr. L. Studaker
It's not unusual
Unfortunately, these types of situations are common. If this is happening to you, ask yourself, "Is this a matter of money, product or time? Is the rest of the staff aware of this employee's behavior?" Let's look at some reasons why doctors are easy prey for embezzlers:
- They typically lack awareness of business operations.
- Doctors usually don't have a daily system of checks and balances for finances.
- They allow employees to open mail unattended or unsupervised.
- They assign banking duties to unsupervised employees .
- It's common for doctors to allow employees to write checks from or have access to the office checkbook.
- They give staff the ability to order products and open supplies unsupervised.
- Some doctors give their staff access to the cash drawer without having a checks and balances system in place.
- Doctors typically don't have a system to alert the staff that the doctor is monitoring money, supplies and time.
- They don't use a time clock to monitor tardiness and breaks.
- Doctors are often unaware of proper interviewing processes.
- Some staffers have access to the doctor's signature or stamp.
ILLUSTRATION BY NATHAN
The trouble with Cathy
Dr. List called my company because a senior optician, Cathy, was stealing product, money and time. Many of the other staffers knew of Cathy's habits. The doctors in the office were the last to know though, because they didn't keep tabs on what was going on in the office and they didn't have a checks and balances system in place. Cathy's actions affected the rest of the staff -- their morale was low because the doctors didn't know what was going on.
I traced Cathy's work history and found numerous complaints lodged against her. Apparently, Dr. List had never conducted a background check before hiring Cathy. She was good with patients and had the best sales record of the staff, but she embezzled money and product and was blatantly tardy.
Taking care of business
After a day and a half of evaluating schedules, records, payments and lab invoices, the evidence was overwhelming. I found $26,000 of theft over a little more than 1 year. With evidence in hand, I contacted Dr. List's attorney. The three of us gave Cathy a chance to admit to her deeds or face a lawsuit. Cathy chose to pay the money back to Dr. List.
In some states, the former employee can file for bankruptcy and avoid paying the balance. Before leaving Dr. List's practice, I taught him safeguards and what kind of checks and balances systems to use to prevent this from recurring.
Keep tabs on the scene
Doctors frequently say they're too busy to oversee the business portion of the practice. But if staff know of internal detection systems they're less likely to attempt dishonest behavior. You must define boundaries and have standard operating procedures in place.
DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR INFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES OR E-MAIL HIM AT
ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM. THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.
Optometric Management, Issue: September 2002