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Dealing with Employee Misconduct in Senior Communities

Every senior care community is vulnerable to the potential of employee misconduct. Besides the harm employee misconduct causes to the senior being served and the care center’s reputation, these incidents can cost an organization millions.


Employee Misconduct Leads to a $64 Million Judgment in Georgia

A Georgia court found a residential care facility’s staff and several other defendants liable for breach of contract, negligent conduct, and invasion of privacy. The complaint filed by the mother/guardian of a resident alleged that a Georgia facility responsible for providing services to persons with mental disabilities did not supervise its employees, which led to the neglect and abuse of the residents.

In her complaint, the mother/guardian alleged that the employees at the facility beat her son on numerous occasions, forced him to vote for a particular candidate in a local election (despite the fact that he lacked the mental capacity to make such a decision on his own) and neglected to adequately meet his needs. Furthermore, the plaintiff stated that the defendants were aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it. The plaintiff was awarded $64.6 million.


What Actions Are Considered Negligence?

Care center negligence has numerous definitions.

For example, the failure to provide adequate/required care to the residents is a form of negligence, which can include neglecting to:

  • provide the residents with medication;
  • report/treat injuries;
  • reposition residents to prevent bed sores; and
  • provide a safe, clean environment.

Neglecting to properly care for residents can lead to serious injuries, including dehydration, broken bones, head injuries and bed sores as well as life-threatening infections.


6 Types of Negligence that an Organization Can Address

Preventing employee misconduct requires supervision and providing employees with the resources they need to perform their jobs effectively.

1. Neglect Due to Staffing Issues

The management of a senior care community must consider that even if a staff member unintentionally causes harm to a resident, the center is still responsible. On many occasions, a lack of sufficiently trained staff members and/or under staffing leads to personnel inadvertently neglecting residents. Therefore, maintaining an adequately trained, full staff is essential to keeping residents safe and providing them with the high-quality care they need.

2. Disregarding Criminal Acts

If staff members are aware of crimes being committed against a care center resident, they must take action; otherwise, the staff members are neglecting the resident who is being targeted. Even when a staff member suspects some kind of abuse or criminal act, personnel need to notify the resident’s family and/or the local authorities.

3. Overlooking Sexual Abuse

It is not unheard of for a staff member to commit unwanted sexual acts on a resident, including on those residents who are incapable of consenting to participating in such an act. Moreover, a senior care center may be held liable if one senior sexually abuses another senior that is living within the community. Personnel need to report sexual abuse and/or suspicions of sexual abuse.

4. Ignoring Physical Abuse

If a staff member is aware that one of his or her co-workers is physically abusing a resident, or that one senior care center resident is abusing another senior care center resident, these acts must be reported: Otherwise, the care center may be found liable. Furthermore, even if a staff member just suspects physical abuse he or she must file a report outlining the reasons abuse is suspected.

5. Medical Malpractice Accusations

Frequently, those living within a senior community need some kind of medical care. Whether the medical care a senior requires is minimal or substantial, staff members must provide each resident with a reasonable standard of medical care that is based on his or her specific needs. Should a staff member neglect to provide a resident with any medical care, whatsoever, or if a staff member chooses to provide medical care to a resident, but the care provided is considered sub-standard, the resident affected may file a lawsuit against the senior community claiming medical malpractice. Adequate supervision of employees and maintaining a full staff can help reduce the likelihood of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

6. Causing the Wrongful Death of a Resident

There are occasions when the harm done to a senior care center resident leads to his or her death. Situations frequently associated with this outcome include a failure to provide the resident with adequate medication, medical care and/or food. In addition, neglecting to refer the resident to an appropriate physician/specialist or overlooking the fact that a resident is in distress can be lead to the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by the deceased resident’s family members: This lawsuit may allege that the staff and/or management team at the senior care community did not provide adequate care for the decedent. Again, adequate supervision of employees and maintaining a full staff can help reduce the likelihood of a wrongful death lawsuit.


Dealing with Employee Misconduct

Besides being a huge liability, employee misconduct places additional stress on human resources personnel and any other staff members who have knowledge of the alleged misconduct. However, by implementing a procedure to follow, handling and responding to a claim of employee misconduct can be less stressful, and possibly help avoid additional problems.


6 Steps to Effectively Deal with Employee Misconduct

1. Get the Facts

Gathering the facts requires taking time to interview all of those involved in or aware of the employee’s alleged misconduct. Interviews should not be conducted alone: At least two individuals need to be present during an interview (i.e., the interviewer and an employee to witness the conversation).

2. Consider the Employee’s Overall Employment Record

When determining the disciplinary measure to be taken, the offense needs to be weighed against the employee’s history with the senior care community. Taking this into consideration will typically lead to a fairer disciplinary action. Obviously, an employee who has a previous incident of misconduct should suffer harsher consequences than a staff member who does not.

3. Determine Disciplinary Action

Whenever determining a disciplinary action, the goal of the action must be recognized. The ultimate goal should not be to punish the employee, but, instead, to correct the misconduct and modify the employee’s behavior to ensure the incident is not repeated.

4. Keep All the Evidence/Documentation Related to the Incident

Maintaining all the evidence and documentation related to an incident is essential. By having all of the pertinent information readily available, should questions related to the disciplinary action taken by management arise, validating the reason for the disciplinary action is possible.

5. Respond to Employee Misconduct in a Timely Manner

Waiting to respond to disciplinary concerns may cause staff members to question management’s motive. Furthermore, when discipline is severe, delaying to respond promptly questions the motive behind the disciplinary action. Also, disciplinary actions taken must be consistent.

6. Employee Termination Decisions Should Never Be Made by a Single Staff Member

When considering the termination of an employee due to misconduct, several senior management and/or human resources personnel should make the decision together. By conducting this internal review, discipline will remain consistent and the risk of an employee filing a discrimination claim is decreased.

Supervising staff members, ensuring all personnel are adequately trained through the implementation of caregiver training courses and maintaining a full staff can be extremely beneficial in preventing employee misconduct.

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