Employee Embezzlement – Don’t Let it Happen to You

The day to day pressure in running a veterinary practice is enormous, especially in today’s economy when every dollar counts. Unfortunately, veterinarians spend most of their day practicing medicine, instead of supervising their staff members who manage their veterinary practice. In this type of atmosphere, embezzlement can thrive. 

According to statistics, approximately thirty-three percent (33%) of veterinary offices have been or will become the victim of employee embezzlement. Recent studies indicate that employee embezzlement in a veterinary office has become rampant.  Every year, veterinarians suffer losses to their practices which total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Listed below are signs employee embezzlement may be taking place:

-You fail to receive financial information in a timely manner

-Employees are resistant to any type of change in the present accounting system

-You have large numbers of unexplained accounting adjustments

-Your collections have slowed

-Your cash deposits have declined

-An employee refuses to take a vacation

-A staff member resents your income or lifestyle

-An employee always works late and/or takes work home                      .

-You have employees who always seem to have cash on hand, and/or appear to live above their means

-An employee treats office procedures as an annoyance                                        .        

Perform an Embezzlement Audit of your Practice

If you suspect that an employee is embezzling funds, there are three ways to initiate a practice audit, and they are: (1) request that your accountant perform a practice audit,  or hire a forensic accountant that specializes in employee embezzlement; (2) ask your accountant to design a brief self-audit process for you to follow; or (3) perform an immediate, cursory, on-the-spot random audit by pulling approximately 15 to 20 charts. 

If you Suspect Embezzlement in your Practice

Anytime you suspect that you are the victim of embezzlement, you should seek legal advice immediately. Your attorney should prepare an investigation strategy, which should include working closely with your practice CPA, or an outside forensic accountant. 

When the owner of a veterinary practice is first confronted with the prospect of employee embezzlement, there are four primary objectives, which are: (1) to determine whether employee embezzlement has actually taken place; (2) to determine the total amount and method(s) of the theft; (3) to remove the dishonest employee from the workplace [and take remedial actions to prevent employee embezzlement in the future]; and (4) to recover the money or property lost.

Conducting the Investigation

It is extremely rare that an employee is actually caught embezzling funds by direct observation.  Most embezzlement cases are detected based upon initial circumstantial evidence, such as an inconsistent practice financial report or through a random audit.

If you suspect that the loss is potentially large, or the theft appears to be complex, you should always seek the advice of legal counsel, a CPA, a computer data retrieval specialist, and other required experts to assist in the investigation.

At the early stages of an employee embezzlement claim, and depending on the extent of the theft, you may wish to contact their insurance agent in order to determine whether you have employee dishonesty coverage. Most insurance policies have strict time requirements for reporting an employee dishonesty claim.

Appropriate Disciplinary Action

Once the investigation has been thoroughly completed, and if you have determined that employee embezzlement has actually occurred, you must decide what action you should take, including termination of the suspected employee.

 In certain ways, investigating suspected embezzlement is similar to investigating other employee misconduct. The scope and manner of the investigation will depend in part on the size and complexity of the theft. Of course, as with any investigation, the employer’s rights and abilities to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident are intertwined with the myriad of rights and protections conferred upon employees by federal and state law.

Recovering the Losses

Depending on whether the loss is covered by your insurance policy, and if so, the amount of the deductible, the owner of a veterinary practice may wish to file a civil action against the dishonest employee in order to recover any type of loss. It is important to note that civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution are matters of public record, and as a result, you must weigh the consequences of any adverse publicity

Summary

In today’s market place, employee embezzlement is rampant. However, with a little precaution, the financial hardship of employee embezzlement can be avoided. Also, with proper employee screening, proper control and oversight, as well as prudent financial control, a devastating financial loss can be avoided.