Employees Suspected of Pilfering the ‘Sunshine Fund’
Employees Suspected of Pilfering the ‘Sunshine Fund’
Q: The health information management (HIM) department at Sunnyville Hospital consists of 20 employees. Each pay day, the employees contribute a few dollars to the department “sunshine fund,” which goes toward celebrations, gifts, flowers for ill or hospitalized staff members, etc. It has been a long-standing tradition in the department and has always boosted morale.
Each year, two staff members volunteer to be in charge of the sunshine fund–collecting money, buying gifts, etc. Olivia, the department director, feels this is a fair way to share the responsibility of this task. This year, Alana and Katrina are responsible for the sunshine fund. Unfortunately, some of the other employees suspect that one or both of the women are pilfering some of the funds.
Olivia has been made aware of the situation, but the employees didn’t have any specific proof. She’s not sure how to handle this delicate issue. The sunshine fund has been very important to the staff members and she doesn’t want to banish it, yet she doesn’t want to wrongly accuse Alana and Katrina of stealing either. What should Olivia do to investigate this situation further?
A: Although the “sunshine fund” has traditionally boosted the morale of the employees in the HIM department, the perceived mishandling of the fund will most likely have the exact opposite effect on staff morale. Whether or not it is appropriate, Olivia has become involved with this non-hospital sponsored employee activity in her official capacity as director of the department.
Her first step should be to consult with both the director of human resources and the hospital risk manager to ensure the “sunshine fund” does not directly violate any hospital policies. Assuming the fund is not prohibited by hospital policy, Olivia should call a department meeting and announce that if the employees wish to continue supporting the “sunshine fund” during department business hours, they must establish a procedure that results in an auditable accounting of the fund contributions and expenditures so that all participating employees have a means of ensuring their contributions are being handled in a fair and consistent manner.
If Alana and Katrina are pilfering funds, they will stop as soon as they realize that there is obviously some suspicion among the employees of how the fund is being managed. If neither woman is guilty, they should reach the conclusion that the new procedure was requested for reasons unrelated to their management of the funds. Furthermore, this solution puts the onus of the fund back on the employees where it belongs, which should result in a win-win situation.
–Brandy Ziesemer, MA, RHIA
A: This is a very delicate situation and is not an uncommon practice in a small department. Many times employees suspect or will speculate on the behavior of other employees for a variety of reasons that are unfounded. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to investigate or lay these accusations to rest for the good of the entire team, and to clear any doubts about the reputation of the employee(s) involved.
As a rule of thumb for this type of fund, usually a balance is the only record that is kept or published. Olivia should meet with Katrina and Alana and ask if they have the deposits and withdrawals for this past period. I would suspect that they would not be able to give her any concrete figures. By no means is this an indication of their guilt or innocence, but merely a sign that this fund has been maintained in a very loose manner. As a goodwill gesture of this department, Olivia should strive to keep this as a way to make the “sunshine fund” easier to maintain, and also to give accountability whenever the need arises.
Monetary funds are always an issue that will either need clarification now or at a later date when transactions are made for various reasons. This should prompt Olivia to begin a new policy and procedure for the “sunshine fund.” The deposits and withdrawals, with descriptions, need to be recorded in checkbook fashion with a running balance. Any withdrawals should be substantiated with receipts and dates of the celebrations, gifts or flowers with the recipient’s name. This detailed deposit and withdrawal information can be kept in a simple balance sheet that should be maintained by the responsible employees, but be available in the department at any time for those who would like to know the state of the fund.
Olivia should then have a short departmental meeting to indicate the new manner in which the “sunshine fund” will be maintained. The rotation of employees each year is a good way to share the responsibility of this project. The departmental meeting should include the rationale for the change in the maintenance of the fund and the importance of accountability for the money involved. Olivia should indicate that this would make the funds more accountable and also shield any of the employees who are responsible for distribution of the “sunshine fund.”
–Cheryl Bowling, RHIT, CCS
This Week’s Panel:
Brandy Ziesemer, MA, RHIA, is the program manager of HIM at Lake-Sumter Community College in Leesburg, FL.
Cheryl Bowling, RHIT, CCS, is the coding and data manager at McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint, MI.