Thursday Troubleshooter: New employee in dental practice suspects embezzling

How should new employee approach her dentist employer about her embezzling suspicions?

May 8th, 2014
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QUESTION: I recently started working part-time at a dental office and I really like my job. The doctor and staff are very nice. My problem is this ­— I think the office manager may be stealing from the practice. I've noticed her doing a few things that don't seem right, such as putting cash in an envelope and saying, "I'll get to that later." Plus, she knows everyone's passwords, including the doctor's. I used to work in an office where the doctor was embezzled, so maybe I’m overly sensitive. If I say something and I’m wrong, I might lose my job, but even if I don't, she will blame me for “reporting her.” If I'm right, the doctor deserves to know. She has worked here for over 10 years. What should I do?

ANSWER FROM SUSAN GUNN,Susan Gunn Solutions:
Unfortunately, dental practice embezzlement is high, and it is always someone the doctor has trusted who is doing the embezzling.

You have noticed some obvious red flags, probably because you’re new to the office. You do have a responsibility to say something! Preface the very private conversation with, “It is certainly possible I’m over cautious because I worked for a doctor who was embezzled, but here are a few red flags that I’ve noticed, and I feel I have a responsibility to share this with you.” Then leave the ball in the doctor’s court. The doctor may want to have an audit of his (or her) financial systems, but if he does nothing, then understand that’s his prerogative. I offer a free one-hour consultation for the practice’s primary doctor if he would like to call and discuss it.

ANSWER FROM DAVID HARRIS, CEO of Prosperident:
I can definitely understand the uncomfortable position you find yourself in, and I admire your courage in wanting to deal with this properly. For the record, I don’t think that you’re being overly sensitive, and your concerns are ones that I believe are justified.

All I can say is that if I were your dentist, I would WANT you to come to me with your observations. Remaining silent would deny your doctor the chance to deal with this issue. It’s possible that the doctor may refuse to listen to you (in which case he or she becomes the author of their own misfortune), but I think that you at least owe it to him or her to ask for the chance to air your concerns.

And that is exactly how I’d suggest that you do it — ask the doctor for permission. You might say something like this, obviously in a private setting, “Doctor, I’ve been in other offices where embezzlement was happening. If I was seeing some of the same things in this office that I saw there, would you want me to confide in you?” I would expect almost any doctor would want to hear what you have to say. Now it’s a bit harder for you to get in trouble over your suspicions because you’ve been “invited” to share your concerns.

Assuming that you get the green light, the next thing I would say is, “I really hope that I’m wrong about this, but I’m afraid I might be right.” Then I would tell the doctor what you’re seeing.

I can offer you a fantastic tool to help. We offer the Embezzlement Risk Assessment Questionnaire. This is a scored questionnaire that helps a doctor capture and classify behaviors that are consistent with embezzlement. This is something that we sell on our website, but if you email me privately at david@dentalembezzlement.com, I’ll be happy to give you one. I’d suggest that you complete it in advance, and then give one to the doctor for him to complete. Also, I certainly would welcome your showing this Thursday Troubleshooter to the doctor, with my comment that, speaking as an embezzlement expert, he would be foolish to ignore your concerns, or worse, to punish you for bringing them forward.

Your concern about this issue shows you to be the kind of caring employee that any dentist should value. I hope that you’re able to communicate that you’re taking a professional risk because of your desire to help the dentist. Good luck and feel free to let me know how it goes.

ANSWER FROM SANDY BAIRD, MBA, Baird Dental Business Concepts:
Yes, tell your dentist! Do it in person and in private. Ask the dentist to keep your identity in confidence. Stress that you love your job at his (or her) practice. Emphasize that your relationship with the person in question is healthy, and that you’re not acting out of vengeance. Confide in your dentist your struggles with whether to tell him about your strong suspicions, and exactly how to approach it with him. Confess your fear of losing your job or his respect.

Tell your dentist you experienced embezzlement in another practice, and you can’t sleep at night thinking it can be happening to him. Discuss the actions you see that cause you to suspect embezzlement. If appropriate, ask if he would like to talk to your former dentist about his experiences. If so, get permission from your former dentist to divulge his name and contact information.

That is essentially all you can do. What follows is up to your dentist. If urged by your dentist to participate in any type of covert action to try and "uncover" the truth, inform him that you want to focus 100% on your work duties and teamwork. And know that you did what is best for your dentist and his practice.

ANSWER FROM JANICE JANSSEN, Global Team Solutions:
This is a very tough situation for you to find yourself. I’m sorry about that. It will be difficult to approach, but you’re right, the doctor does deserve to know if something like this is going on in his practice. I recommend asking the doctor if you can have a private conversation with him, and that he keeps the information confidential. Also, tell him you do not want to get anyone in trouble, but that you’re looking out for him and his practice. Explain exactly what you witnessed (the more information the better, such as patient name, date, payment, etc.). The doctor will then have a decision to make as to how he is going to proceed.

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Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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