Require disclosure to avoid misunderstandings

HHA employees should never accept cash

Home health nurses, aides, and therapists do a wonderful job caring for their patients, so it is natural that the patients and families want to thank them with gifts. Unfortunately, the size and type of gift can put the employee and agency in the uncomfortable position of being accused of theft if strict guidelines are not developed and followed.

"I believe that the best policy is that no employee can accept a gift worth more than $25," says Elizabeth E. Hogue, Esq., a Burtonsville, MD-based attorney who specializes in the home health industry. Even with the dollar limit, make sure that employees immediately report the gift to their supervisor and document when it was given, she suggests. By insisting on full disclosure by the employee and placing limits on the value of the gift, both the agency and the employee are protected, she says.

There are times when a patient may give away an item that another family member believes should stay in the family, because it is an heirloom or part of the family history. Other times, family members just don't realize the patient gave the item away, says Hogue. In either case, once a family member contacts the agency about the "missing" item, offer to return it, she says. "You can say that you knew the gift had been given and that the employee reported the gift immediately, but you understand that the patient may have given away something the family wanted to keep," she says. In most cases, once the family realizes that the item was given as a gift, they no longer ask for its return, she adds.

Cash is also not appropriate, says Hogue. "Policies need to state that employees can never accept cash," she says. Although grateful families may want to give cash bonuses at holidays or at the end of service, employees should make it clear that they appreciate the gesture, but agency policy does not allow them to accept it, she says.

To make sure that all employees are familiar with the policy, be sure that you have them sign a document that they've received and understand the agency gifts policy, says Hogue. "This ensures that employees do know the policy and cannot claim otherwise."