Here comes the phone call you get every so often: “Yes, this is Mrs. Smith and I would like to report that your ambulance people were shopping at Wal-Mart while on duty. They even parked in front of the building instead of parking in one of the spots. I can’t believe how brazen they are to be shopping while they’re getting paid, and then to park right out front like they’re something special. I can’t stand to see my tax dollars wasted this way. Mr. EMS manager, what’re you going to do about it?”
Many EMS employees don’t realize that thousands of dollars from their agency’s assets pass through their hands every day. This includes the ambulance, the monitor, defibrillators, computers, protective gear, copy machines and much more. They may not realize the ethical dilemma they’re putting themselves into if they abuse the resources they’ve been entrusted with.
To respond to a caller who registers a complaint of resource abuse, such as using the ambulance to get easy parking at a store to run errands, you must know what’s allowed of your staff. Is it permissible for your personnel to shop while on duty, either for personal use or for job-related items? If they’re allowed to purchase food for their shift, are they also allowed to pick up school supplies for their children?
Resources at the Station
Before you allow your employees to print invites to their son’s graduation party or fax some signed papers to their realtor, you should have clear and concise policies that establish the ground rules for using resources at the station—especially those that can be used during downtime between calls.
There are many situations to consider regarding resource use and the policies about it. Are employees allowed to use agency computers to visit websites such as Amazon or Facebook, or to send personal emails? Can your employees use the copy machine in the office to print off flyers advertising their garage sale or a lost pet?
What about the employee who logs onto the agency’s computer and responds to personal emails? Is there a difference between answering emails from a classified ad and writing back and forth with a sibling who’s caring for an aging parent in another part of the country?
One study examined 304 various United States companies, and showed that 50% had fired employees for inappropriate computer use (searching for pornography or other inappropriate content) or excessive online browsing.1 If you allow employees to use an agency computer, make sure there are clear definitions of what is appropriate and inappropriate use so you can take disciplinary action later.
Throughout my travels, I’ve seen a wide variety of policies governing the use of resources, from no policy to highly restrictive policies. Most agencies, however, are somewhat liberal with letting their staff use resources. They permit it as long as it’s not excessive (although this is hard to define), the user doesn’t make a profit, it’s not illegal, or it’s not offensive, insulting, derogatory or harassing.
Usually it comes down to good judgment. An employee who makes one copy is less of a problem than the employee who prints 500 color flyers announcing their car is for sale. Administration may not even blink at the employee who made one copy, but they may suspend or fire the other one. Both used the copy machine, but the employee who only made one copy used better judgment.
If you’re worried about your employees properly using resources paid for by the tax dollar, you need to include your expectations in a written code of conduct.
No matter your beliefs, it’s going to happen—an employee is going to make a personal copy on the copy machine, check their private email on the agency’s computer or buy something while on the clock.
The key is determining where the line is and clearly articulating it in a written policy to your employees. By getting ahead of your employees and clearly spelling out expectations, you may avoid some headaches and nagging phone calls in the future.
1. American Management Association, the ePolicy Institute. (Feb. 28, 2008.) Electronic monitoring and surveillance 2007 survey. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from www.amanet.org/training/articles/2007-Electronic-Monitoring-and-Surveillance-Survey-41.aspx#top.