A reader wonders how "big of a stink" she should make about something going on in the assisted living facility where her Mother lives.
The director of the facility told her there is a "very strict policy" against residents giving gifts of any sort to employees. "If offered," she says the director told her, "the employees will refuse the Gift." The problem is that the policy is not being enforced.
While her mother has thrived at the facility compared to how she was doing in her own home, her daughter says her mother likes to give "little gifts" to her aides, such as fruit, soda, candy, and trinkets she buys at the local dollar store. Occasionally, the gifts are more expensive and include earrings or bracelets she buys from visiting vendors. "She also buys many, many baby gifts when one of the employees has a new baby, which seems is often," she says.
While her daughter thinks such gift giving is harmless and it makes her mother happy, "not once has an employee refused a gift even though supposedly it is against policy."
What concerns her daughter the most, however, is that her mother recently has started giving away some personal items that she had when she lived in her own home. Her daughter is worried that her mother's decision to give away personal items could be a warning sign that her judgment is fading, and that employees are taking advantage. When she asks her mother about the items, she tells her daughter that "she alone has the right to give whatever she wants to whoever she wants."
In the past when she has confronted the director of the facility about these gifts, he's been dismissive, saying that her mother "probably lost whatever it was that she gave away, since workers seem to deny receiving gifts."
Now, she believes she needs to bring the issue up with the director again. If he does not adequately address the breach of policy, she asks if she should contact an ombudsman for the company that owns the facility.
"My mom loves living there, and would not want to move," she writes. "Maybe my mom is truly competent and should be allowed to make gift giving decisions for herself. Maybe I should do nothing. What, if anything, is the right thing for me to do?"
My reader's mother is correct in stating that, as long as she is competent, she should be allowed to make her own gift-giving decisions. But it's wrong for the employees to be accepting gifts if there is indeed a strict policy against them receiving gifts of any sort from residents. For this rule to be effective, it must be enforced by the director and observed by all employees. If the director dismisses complaints about gifts that were accepted, then he is sending a message to employees that violating the rule has no consequences.
The right thing is for the daughter to meet with the director again. If he brushes off the daughter's concerns, she should let him know that she plans to report the issue to the company's ombudsman.
The rule should be enforced. Even if residents desire to give gifts to employees now, enforcing the policy helps ensure that residents are not taken advantage of later.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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