Theft, practice romance, illegal pets: Handling 4 sticky situations

Theft, practice romance, illegal pets: Handling 4 sticky situations

It's not easy to know the right thing to do when you're eye-to-eye with an ethical dilemma. Here's how to wash four sticky problems right out of your hair.
Apr 01, 2010

When it comes to your day-to-day dealings with clients and co-workers, chances are you've experienced a situation that left you red-faced, flustered, and fumbling for the correct response. Maybe you witnessed some inappropriate PDA between Dr. Jones and a team member or discovered someone helping herself to the practice's pet food. These types of sticky situations can happen at any time, in any practice. Here's how to handle them.

HAIRY SITUATION 1: Your co-workers are romantically involved

According to a 2009 CareerBuilder .com survey on office romance, 40 percent of respondents admitted to having dated a co-worker at some point in their careers. And most folks don't have a problem with such couplings as long as they don't have a negative impact on the workplace, according to a study from Ryerson University in Toronto. Still, a practice romance can cause serious problems, such as a hostile work environment or favoritism, says Marty Miller, MBA, SPHR, a human resources consultant with Veterinary Business Advisors Inc. in Flemington, N.J.

What should you do if your clinic co-workers are engaging in puppy love—with each other? First, check to see whether your employee policy manual offers any guidelines. If such relationships are prohibited, then your next step is to talk to your direct supervisor, says Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, founder of interFace Veterinary HR Systems in Appleton, Wis. (If your direct supervisor is involved, then go up the chain of command one step.) If dating isn't prohibited, then determine whether any other policy is being broken, such as fair and consistent treatment or appropriate professional behavior, Dobbs says. If no policies are being broken, "then you're simply dealing with your own personal opinions and reactions, and you don't have anything to tell," Dobbs says.

If you're the one in the relationship, Miller recommends telling your boss about it. If you're involved with a veterinarian or manager, consider requesting a transfer to another practice location or requesting schedule changes to avoid working together, if possible. And keep your behavior professional and your performance up to par. "Understand that, by dating a co-worker, you're giving people a pretty good excuse to look closely at your work," Dobbs says.

HAIRY SITUATION 2: A client brings in an illegal—or intoxicated—pet

For veterinarians, treating an illegal pet "may be one of the areas where the legal obligation and ethical obligation are at cross purposes," says Douglas C. Jack, LL.B., a veterinary-focused lawyer in Toronto and a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association. Legally, a veterinarian is under no obligation to treat every pet presented to the practice, Jack says, although the doctor is obligated to treat a pet once a veterinarian-client-patient relationship has been established.

If a pet's illness is the result of ingesting illegal drugs, a veterinarian's first responsibility is to stabilize and treat the pet, says Dr. Charlotte Lacroix, JD, owner of Veterinary Business Advisors Inc. in Flemington, N.J. Then, he or she must decide whether animal cruelty might be involved. If it is, the ethical responsibility is to take action. On the other hand, if the poisoning seems accidental, the next move is teaching the client about the health risks to pets. "If someone is just insensitive and careless, when they're educated, they understand the gravity of what they're engaged in," Dr. Lacroix says. "And maybe they'll educate their friends too."

As a team member, those decisions to treat (or not) and report (or not) aren't yours to make. "While you may be the one to discover these types of activities, it's not the job of a front office team member to move to action," Dobbs says. Rather, you should alert the practice owner, manager, or the attending veterinarian to the situation.