The Fear Factor in Healthcare: Employee Information Sharing



D. Malvey; M. D. Fottler;J. Sumner


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Abbreviated Journal Title

J. Healthc. Manag.


REFERENCES; Health Policy & Services


This study looks at employee information sharing among hospitals, a topic that is underresearched, underreported, and under the radar for most healthcare leaders. We initiated the research under the assumption that executives in healthcare are reluctant to share employment reference information about staff beyond the employee's name, dates of employment, and position held. We believed executives take this precaution because they fear being sued by the employee for defamation. However, not obtaining the necessary and critical information to hire a competent employee can open the potential employer up to a negligence lawsuit if it hires someone who jeopardizes the safety of patients or staff. Hence, the hiring organization faces a double-edged sword: On one side, it cannot get the critical information on a potential applicant from the previous employer due to a culture of "fear in sharing" information; on the other side, if it unwittingly hires a poor or dangerous applicant who threatens safety, it runs the risk of a negligence lawsuit for failure to ascertain information before the hire. Prior studies demonstrate that the likelihood of a successful defamation lawsuit is low and information sharing of factual incidents is unlikely to result in successful lawsuits. Why, then, are healthcare executives unwilling to provide comprehensive references when they should be aware that sustaining a culture of silence increases the potential for hiring a bad employee and seriously jeopardizes the security and safety of patients, other staff, and the public? This article's primary contribution to the literature is to offer the first nationwide study to empirically test the current levels of employee information sharing among hospitals. It is also the first study to focus exclusively on healthcare. Furthermore, this research considers factors that might influence executives in their willingness to share employee reference information. The study reveals that a culture of silence is pervasive among hospitals. Although many hospital executives are reluctant to share information, they tend to overestimate the likelihood of being sued (successfully or otherwise) by previous employees for defamation. In addition, this study shows that some hospital executives share negative information about former employees but may do so off the record.

Journal Title

Journal of Healthcare Management





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