It can be hard to see straight when you're being robbed blind

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Should we be shocked to hear that the business office manager of a nursing home in Michigan allegedly stole more than $460,000 from a resident? Probably not.

The reality is that employee theft is not as rare as many of us would like to believe. Nearly two-thirds of all businesses (64%) are fleeced by workers, according to a recent University of Cincinnati study. And given the high prevalence of long-term care employees who feel underpaid and also have an opportunity to do something about it when nobody's looking, 64% might be a low benchmark.

But don't think it's just the frontline employees doing the dirty deeds, notes study author Jay Kennedy. He believes that the higher the dollar amount taken, the more trusted the stealing employee is likely to be. He found that 20% of the perpetrators were managers or executives.

His study also revealed that most thefts are not one-time incidents. More often, they are committed by an employee who is likely to rob again and again. Perhaps even more concerning is that most thefts are uncovered by dumb luck. A typical example: An employee who is stealing goes on vacation, and the person who fills in notices something funny and starts asking questions.

So what are your options as a long-term care operator? The Small Business Association recently released a half dozen tips to help curtail employee theft. They are:

1. Use pre-employment background checks wisely

2. Always check candidate references

3. Proactively communicate conduct guidelines

4. Don't be afraid to audit

5. Recognize signs of possible theft (such as workers who never take vacations, or those who are overly protective or exclusive)

6. Set the right management tone

Even if you religiously follow all six steps, there's no guarantee that you'll ferret out every employee with sticky fingers. But at the very least, they should help keep honest people honest.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.