When Doing the Right Thing Gets You Fired

Rules are rules. We must follow rules at all costs. Zero tolerance policies come from a good place–we want everyone to know how serious we are–but they can blow up in a disastrous way.

Dr. Hasan Gokal found this out the hard way, according to The New York Times. Once opened, a bottle of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is good for six hours. Dr. Gokal found himself with a punctured bottle and not enough patients.

So, he did what we all want him to do–found sick people who would have qualified for the vaccine if they had signed up–and vaccinated them. He filled out all the paperwork and then got fired.

It wasn’t that he went out and offered it to 22 year old drunk college students (although, frankly, that would be better than throwing it out). Here’s a sampling of the people who received the vaccine:

The doctor got back in his car — his wife insisted on going with him — and drove to a Sugar Land house with four eligible people: a man in his late 60s with health issues; the man’s bed-bound mother, in her 90s; his mother-in-law, in her mid-80s and with severe dementia; and his wife, her mother’s caregiver.

He then drove to the home of a housebound woman in her late 70s and administered the vaccine. “I didn’t know her at all,” he said.

Here’s how the firing went down.

Several days later, the doctor said, that supervisor and the human resources director summoned him to ask whether he had administered 10 doses outside of the scheduled event on Dec. 29. He said he had, in keeping with guidelines not to waste the vaccine — and was promptly fired.

They questioned his “equity” in administering it to too many people with “Indian” names. Now, the irony of this is that Dr. Gokal is from Pakistan, but this didn’t faze his supervisor or the HR director.

I understand the “rules” which make sense. You don’t want a doctor letting all his friends and family skip the line. But, you also want as many people as possible vaccinated.

This is a time when HR should have stepped in and pointed out that he did the absolute best he could in this situation. There weren’t any more people coming to the vaccine event. The doses would go to waste. He found people who were at high risk (which, admittedly included his wife) and vaccinated them.

Let’s remember the human part of Human Resources. Yes, vaccines should go to high risk people first. But, we shouldn’t waste any vaccines if we can possibly help it. There are literally billions of people who would love to be vaccinated. Not a single dose should ever go to waste.

And your company policies should reflect that.

Image by torstensimon from Pixabay

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19 thoughts on “When Doing the Right Thing Gets You Fired

  1. And this is why people hate HR, myself included – even though I am a CHRO. I have run into too many practitioners unable to
    use descretion outside of the rule book.
    As far as vaccinating his wife goes, that is one more person vaccinated as oppossed to throwing out the precious vaccine.

  2. I don’t think this was a failure of common sense, at least not at the point suggested by the article. Rather, it’s hard to imagine that covid-denier politics was not what drive this decision.

  3. Actually, there’s an argument to be made for vaccinating 22 year old drunk college students. Our plan right now is to vaccinate the most vulnerable, which is very humane. But if we vaccinate those most likely to spread the disease (such as kids who think they’re invincible) we may be able to achieve herd immunity with fewer doses. Kill the nodes of transmission, kill the virus. It’s a non-starter, though; no one wants to be the one to say “We’re going to give Grandma’s shot to Johnny Knocksville over there.”

    Regardless, it sounds like HR really, really dropped the ball on this. If nothing else, they have conflicting rules with no clearly defined method for determining which is applicable. Is following the schedule more important, or is not wasting vaccine? Because in the situation as presented it’s going to be one or the other, and if you leave it to a doctor the good ones will always opt for not wasting the much-needed emergency medicine during a deadly health crisis.

    1. unfortunately, he probably won’t be able to get another job at hospital as long as the prosecutor is continuing down the grand jury path.

  4. From the article, I can not see how he violated the rules at all. He was following the standing policy to not waste doses, he called a supervisor to get approval before he did it, and he properly reported it the next day.

    1. Where did you get that he “called a supervisor to get approval before he did it”? I was thinking that his real “crime” was not getting higher-level approval before proceeding.

      1. “Dr. Gokal said he called a Harris County public health official in charge of operations to report his plans to find 10 people to receive the remaining doses. He said he was told, simply: OK.”

  5. First of all, I want to thank Evil HRlady for posting the full facts of this incident, which our lovely biased “woke” media failed to point out. As a person who by age alone, should get the vaccine before a younger group, I found the process for signing up, too frustrating, but didn’t panic that I couldn’t get an appointment, after realizing that supplies are not enough yet for everyone, because I was keeping myself from exposure properly, by following safety precautions. Being that one of the vaccines available (Phyzer) needs to be maintained in a cold setting, I knew and understood that doses would have to “defrosted” for use within a certain time limit. But what I just only found out recently was that people were not showing up for appointments, because they decided not to get the vaccine and no one was being called in to replace them. Over 1300 vaccines designated for healthcare workers who have first deemed a priority to get vaccinated, were found not used after 30 days later. This doctor, discussed in this article, had that situation during the time when it was just healthcare essential workers who were getting access to the vaccine. That was 10 people who refused to get vaccinated and he vaccinated 10 high-risk people. I guess the main reason he got written up and fired was the fact that he vaccinated people of the wrong ethnic group, which is biased thinking. The situation of the vaccine needed to be used up happened in many sites, not just there. HR should have not let this result in a firing when only an extremely small fraction of the population has been vaccinated. I don’t see that occuring for quite awhile, so why limit who gets vaccinated. Supplies of the vaccine are being limited by the producers of the vaccines to keep the price they receive up.

    1. Where did you get the idea that the vaccine producers are artificially limiting the supply, in order to drive up the price? In the US, the vaccine prices for the foreseeable future are already set, by contract, so limiting the supply would be a disincentive for the producers.

      1. There are also at least two methods being tested for increasing the number of doses without increasing production (low-dead-space needles and using smaller doses). Neither would even be looked at if the goal was to maximize profits.

        The companies that help end the pandemic are going to have a lot of political capital for a long time. That’s worth taking a significant loss when it comes to the vaccines.

        Supply limitations are due to a number of issues. First, some vaccines need to be kept ridiculously cold, and getting storage capacity capable of handling those temperatures is difficult. Finding ways to avoid waste under such conditions is not easy. Second, bureaucratic hurdles are everywhere, from the FDA to local hospitals–this pandemic has demonstrated, in many industries and government agencies, that there are numerous policies that simply don’t make sense. And who gets the vaccine when has become a political football, which doesn’t help, especially in an election year (not saying anything against either party; I’m just saying that when the folks making the rules change confusion inevitably follows). No need to accuse companies of greed; there’s enough other problems to more than adequately explain what we’re seeing.

  6. I volunteered for my organization’s vaccine roll out. At the end of the day, there were approximately 15 doses available. I used one; then called my husband (63) to come. The clinic leaders were calling potential patients and ended up taking my 17 year old daughter and her friend. If it’s a choice between wasting doses and vaccinating someone who isn’t technically eligible, I’m certainly pro vaccination.

  7. I feel bad for the people staffing the vaccination clinics. On one hand you are not to waste vaccine. On the other you have to process people through as efficiently as possible. This means if you open a vial or draw up syringes, and people do not show for appointments, they go to waste. You would also have to schedule in groups of 6. The alternative is to not open any vials until all the recipients are present. Hopefully you are not in a group where someone over-slept.

    1. It’s my understanding that once the vials are defrosted — whether or not actually opened — they have to be used within a certain window of time and cannot be refrozen.

  8. No good deed goes unpunished, does it. Health care administrators are so dumb that if a policy says to punch yourself in the face, that’s what they would do until another policy told them to stop.

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