Q: Can I get fired/sued for alleged "conflict of interest" and/or "elderly abuse" for leasing resident's vacant home?
I'm a caregiver in an assisted living facility. Back in July 2020, one of the residents (in her 80's) mentioned about her vacant home and asked me if I wanted to lease it. I answered yes but told her my current lease ends November 30, 2020. She said her friend (her trust administrator) will be taking care of everything (paperworks, etc) when that time comes. No paperwork or conversation with resident and her trust administrator has happened since it's still months away. This week (September), my manager and an HR manager called me informing me of potential "conflict of interest" and/or "elderly abuse" after the resident casually mentioned during a conversation that I will be leasing her property comes December 2020. Please advise. Thank you.
A: Because of your position as a caregiver, any transaction that you have with one of your charges will have, at least, an "appearance" of impropriety or overreaching by you. This is whether the transaction is in fact, disadvantageous to the charge or not. On the other hand, if you are leasing it from a third party, the situation appears less subject to undue influence. Point being, it is not the best idea, you should rent elsewhere. Second question, can you get fired? In California most employees are "at will" and can be fired without notice or cause. Your employer could fire you just for having the discussion with the elder, they don't need to have a reason. You have brought suspicion upon yourself by failing to disclose to your management, that you were going to enter into a business transaction with one of the elders; since they found out from the elder and you seem to be keeping it quiet, they are rightfully suspicious. Suggest if you want to keep your job you discuss this further with them and ASK THEIR ADVICE as to what they would like you to do. Then follow their suggestion even if it means you cannot rent the house. You should speak with a local employment law attorney about this.
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James Edward Berge agrees with this answer
A: In short, yes and yes.
Employees in California are considered to be employed at will unless they have an agreement to the contrary with their employer related to that status. The employer of an at will employee can terminate the employee at any time for any reason or even no reason at all. Therefore, you can be terminated by your employer for this conduct, whether or not it is found to be a conflict of interest or elder abuse.
Elder abuse can be found where someone uses their close relationship with the elder and/or dependent adult to achieve some financial advantage. It happens more often than people know that dependent elders are steered toward providing things of value to their care givers out of a feeling of gratefulness or simply by a susceptibility to undue influence by the caregiver. The elder abuse laws protect these individuals from caregivers that receive those benefits through inappropriate undue influence.
So, can you be sued? Yes, if the family believes you used undue influence. Would you lose that lawsuit? No one here can know. Just know that the possibility is there anytime a caregiver receives something of value.
It would be wise for you to seek a confidential consultation if any claim of elder abuse is made.
Good luck to you.
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