What Would You Do | How to Manage Inappropriate Work Conduct
Situation 3: Co-workers Communicating in a Foreign Language
By: Karine Wong, Pharm. D.
You are the hospital evening pharmacist and in charge of a pharmacy technician and intern. During the shift, you notice that both employees are speaking together in a different language. You catch some English words, in their conversation, that were related to pharmacy duties. You could not verify exactly what they meant so you ask them. They reply that they were not talking about work. The phone rings and the intern picks up. The intern answers briefly then ends the call. She continues the conversation with the technician in a different language about the "phone call". You ask again what the phone call was about, but she replies that it was nothing. You are frustrated and plan on complaining to the director in the morning.
What is the best way to approach this situation
By: Lois Bui, Pharm. D.
Our world consists of a huge melting pot and the workplace is no different. Often times employees tend to group themselves with others of the same ethnicity because they feel a sense of security or feel they can better express themselves in their own language. For those with a different primary language, this is a wonderful advantage. However, is it appropriate?
Many organizations have a specific rule in their policy and procedures manual which states that foreign languages MAY NOT be used in the work area during work hours. The language may be used if the employee is on break and away from the work area. The rule is to prevent conflicts among employees or violation of any other existing policies. For example, co-workers may feel as though they are being talked about if words spoken are in a different language. The victim may not be to handle the situation properly and the conflict can escalate. It is also difficult to enforce HIPAA regulations, if the offense is committed in a foreign language, which does not make it an exception.
In this case, the technician and the intern speaking in a different language and when questioned by the pharmacist, they denied it had anything to do with work. The behavior continues even after a phone call (by CA State Board of Pharmacy, an intern cannot answer a phone call without the supervision of a pharmacist). Obviously, the pharmacist cannot effectively supervise or authenticate the intern’s response on the phone. If the workplace has a policy about the use of foreign languages, then the pharmacist may take a copy of it, present it to the employees, and have them sign it as an acknowledgement of their awareness to the policy. This may also serve as a warning and be placed in their employee file. If there is no policy in place, the pharmacist may speak with the employees indicating that words were heard involving patient care and to ensure that everyone is working together, English should be the only language spoken in the work area. Emphasis can also be placed on the fact that they may be violating HIPAA regulations.
English is a universal language that everyone can understand. In the healthcare setting, it is crucial that information be transmitted to each other appropriately and accurately. It is also important to maintain a good rapport with everyone in the department so that issues such as these can be addressed amicably. In order to be on the same page, we all need to be speaking the same language.
About the Authors and Series
What Would You Do is a weekly column highlighting real life cases involving pharmacist-related work conflicts. Authors include Karine Wong, Pharm. D. and Lois Bui, Pharm. D. Karine has a 10 year history of working in hospital management, and 2 years as a graveyard hospital pharmacist and outpatient pharmacist. Lois has an extensive history working in HR management prior to her pharmacy career.
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