One of the most difficult situations to navigate in employee relations is how to appropriately handle an employee whom you suspect has been stealing. Employee thefts run the gamut from nicking office supplies from the storage room and stealing from coworkers’ lockers to falsely filling out time sheets, mishandling company intellectual property, customer identity theft and worse.
Because there’s so much variation in severity of possible workplace theft, there’s almost never a hard and fast rule for how to deal with it when it happens. The following guidelines can help you make wiser and more informed decisions about how to handle employee theft:
1. Catalogue everything
Should you decide to later terminate the offending employee, you’ll need documentation. Catalogue every piece of evidence, including physical evidence, witness testimony, security footage, financial documents, etc. Remember to document every incident along with the date and time.
2. Evaluate the situation at hand
Ask yourself some questions: Was this theft intentional, or even out of malice? What disciplinary options are available according to the company’s policy? Does the person have a history of stealing from previous employers? Is this employee likely to steal again? These questions will help you decide if the employee’s offense is worth a warning or something as extreme as immediate termination.
3. Should you call the police?
Is this theft big enough to get the police involved? It may be very useful to acquire a police report for additional documentation, and it gives you the testimony of the police should complications arise later. However, there are drawbacks—you may erode trust between yourself and your other employees, and you may lose control of the situation by unwittingly putting the police in charge of what happens to your employee.
4. Supervise the employee closely
A common behavioral trend of employees who regularly steal from the workplace is to stop their criminal behavior for up to several months before continuing again, once their employer has relaxed and stopped watching them closely. If your decision was to terminate their employment, it’s especially important to supervise your employee while they leave—allowing the terminated employee to leave with store keys, company ID or sensitive company information invites retribution later. If your company uses keypads, you should consider having the codes changed immediately. However, terminating an employee is not something to take lightly; unless explicitly stated in company policy, it should only be considered if the circumstances are severe or take place over a long period of time.
5. Prevent the next occurrence
Employee theft is a highly demotivating event in the workplace, and ideally your role should be to consider how you might prevent theft. Running background checks to prevent hiring potential thieves is a necessity. It’s also good practice to provide a clear zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace theft, along with a definition in your employee handbook as to what can constitute theft. Restricted access areas should be clearly marked to ensure that there is no confusion. Provide your employees with storage lockers to avoid interpersonal theft. And last but not least, install a professional security system that suits your company’s needs, such as security cameras and an alarm system. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to prevent workplace theft using these methods. But even if theft does happen, you’ll be equipped with evidence and clear information.
As an employer, suspecting or discovering employee theft is highly upsetting. However, it’s best to keep your cool and to remember that the only aspects of the situation that matter are: a) evidence; b) the severity of theft; and c) company policy. And as far as evidence goes: If you’re unable—or lack the means—to catch an employee in the act of stealing, consider hiring a security specialist who may help you detect employee theft.
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