It may seem harsh, but sometimes, common sense really should apply. According to the Norman Transcript, there are no rules in the Oklahoma Veteran Department’s handbook to prevent workers from accepting gifts from the estate of a former resident at the Norman Veterans Center.
Why should paid caregivers be prohibited from accepting gifts (lifetime) or bequests (at death) from residents (in this case, Veterans)? Because they are in a clear position of influence. According to the testimony of a VA attorney in an interesting case, the VA has clear rules against employees accepting gifts from residents, but no rules about accepting bequests (gifts at death by Will).
We don’t know all the facts, and these seven employees apparently tried to find out whether or not they were prohibited from accepting the bequests. Here is the story. Judge for yourself. They got bad advice, and they got it from the VA, but should they have known right from wrong to begin with?
Bill Marshall lived in a Norman, Oklahoma veterans center. In his Will, which he must have prepared while living at the veterans center, left his caregiver / VA employees gifts in his will. He named one of them his executor. Let’s assume the best and assume he was trying to thank them for their kindness and companionship. He didn't leave the bulk of his estate to anyone, so they certainly were not being greedy, and the gifts ranged from $1000 to $6000, leaving 2/3 of the estate to pass to half brothers (who were not even named).
Since the gifts were by Will, the employees had a choice of whether or not to accept the gifts after Bill’s death. They were concerned about it, and didn't want to lose their jobs. They asked the then director of the facility whether taking the gifts was permitted. They were apparently told they could accept without penalty, perhaps under the theory that Bill was no longer a resident and the rule only prohibited gifts from residents, a technical reading at best.
Of course, the Will was written while Bill was a resident, and that is the rub, as the saying goes. Whether the gift is actually given during life, or whether a Will is written during life while the person is in the VA facility, there is the opportunity, perhaps presumption, of coercion and influence. The idea that it doesn’t make any difference if they don’t get the money until after the veteran is dead shouldn’t, in this writer’s view, make any difference.
The employees were fired three years later for accepting the gifts (change in leadership at the VA Center) despite having gotten bad advice from the prior director.
The employees are suing for their jobs back. The general counsel for Oklahoma's Veterans Department testified that he could find no provision in the rules that would prevent the employees from accepting the gifts.
The Norman Transcripthas the full story in "Attorney testifies handbook doesn't prevent veterans center workers from accepting bequests."
This is not an unusual problem at long term care facilities. Nor is it an unusual problem with hired caregivers. And the truth of the matter is, if there is enough money at stake, losing their job means little or nothing.
Residents do grow close to caregivers and often promise to give them something. Maybe it is friendship. Maybe it is an effort to not be alone. Maybe it is a belief that they will get better care. Maybe it is plain old fear, encouraged in part by those caregivers who believe they "deserve" something because they are there everyday and the family is not.
But the lesson here is not to try to find a way around the rules. No single gift to an employee is worth the shadow of doubt that it casts upon all of the caregivers and the institutions for which they work. Rules prohibiting gifts to caregivers are proper. How this should play out with the VA employees who were told it was ok, then fired by the same institution, is a matter for the Court. We look forward to what the Courts do with all of this. But the rule itself is the right rule. Don't undo the rule.
Reference: Norman Transcript (January 10, 2015) "Attorney testifies handbook doesn't prevent veterans center workers from accepting bequests"