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Ethics of husbands and wives working at the same facility.

Q The wife of our medical director (pathologist) is employed in our laboratory. Most technologists are uncomfortable with this arrangement but are afraid of questioning it for fear of retribution or censure. One employee took the issue to the HR director, who responded that the arrangement is acceptable because the pathologist is contracted by the hospital and, therefore, not in charge of employees. Several technologists, however, witnessed him warn a lab employee that she would be terminated if she were caught committing a safety violation again; this leads us to believe that this medical director does influence personnel decisions. I question the ethics of this arrangement and would like an unbiased third-party opinion.

A Larry Crolla points out, "If the issue has been taken to the HR department, it is over. These working conditions are not ideal, but they are the cards you have been dealt. There is no sense dwelling on the issue since it will just cause stress in your life. Get on with your normal duties."

Marti Bailey opines, "The primary intent of HR policy that prohibits spouses or relatives from working together is to avoid having one of the pair either reporting to or conducting performance appraisals of the other. Although some employees perceive this as an uncomfortable situation, unless the arrangement is in direct violation of HR policy, the question of ethics is a moot point.

"In most laboratories, employees do not report to the medical director, but this does not mean he is totally lacking authority over staff members. Situations certainly will arise where a supervisor or lab manager must confer with the medical director regarding employee issues. Since the medical director's name is probably on the lab's CLIA license, he has a stake in issues that might jeopardize licensure, quality, safety, and other areas. His remark to the employee who committed a safety violation was appropriate; the words, 'If I ever catch you doing that again, you will no longer be employed,' are not the same as 'You are fired.' I applaud him for taking immediate action with an appropriate warning."

Alton Sturtevant advises, "This is indeed an uncomfortable situation for all concerned, including the pathologist and his wife. The HR director has spoken on the facility's policies, but I am sure she realizes the inherent problems with this situation. Unless a specific incident can be addressed by HR, however, I would not expect her to become involved in the situation. If definable cases of retribution or favoritism can be well documented, then HR should be notified immediately. Regardless of whether he is an employee or contractor, the pathologist as medical director has legal responsibility for the laboratory; he must make recommendations to the administration regarding the hiring and firing of personnel."

Dr. Sturtevant adds, "Approach this situation with your eyes wide open, and try not to put the husband or the wife into a situation that could create conflict. You must decide whether to be more than cordial and professional with the wife at the workplace. Laboratory staff members should feel comfortable in their workplace, but this situation will probably continue to be difficult for all involved."

Bottom line. You just have to get over this. The medical director is not supervising his wife, nor is he conducting her performance appraisal, and HR has no policy restricting the two of them from working in the same department. I think the real benefit of this situation is that the staff members are aware that workplace gossip might reach the pathologist and are probably less likely to discuss the affairs of co-workers.

Christopher S. Frings, PhD, is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

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Title Annotation:Addressing management issues
Author:Frings, Christopher S.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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