What employers should do when they suspect an employee is stealing?

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Workplace Theft

Employee theft can have a devastating effect on a business. It usually brings a psychological detriment as well as a financial one, often unseen initially by employers, but ultimately increasing tension within the workplace. Stealing can occur in all tiers of your business, and its important to remember that it comes in different forms, not just ‘skimming the till’ when closing up at the end of a shift.

Other forms to consider: –

  • Taking company stock home
  • Stealing from colleagues
  • “Mates rates” – giving discount to friends/family without authorisation
  • Using petty cash for personal items
  • Trading company information with competitors
  • Using business facilities and materials for non-work purposes

You may already be aware of how stealing can affect your business, but it is important to reflect on how your actions following this realisation could impact on your staff. For instance, if one of your employees believes that they are ‘owed’ something and takes money from the company, think about the precedent that it can set for other staff; you need to act quickly and even-handed. Don’t accuse everyone, gather hard evidence and then take the appropriate disciplinary action if required.

You don’t want to demonstrate any tolerance when it comes to dealing with theft within the workplace. Furthermore, if the belongings of other workers are being stolen, your employees will look to you for assistance and resolution to the matter. Staff retention will be difficult when you aren’t shown to provide a safe and secure space for staff to keep their belongings whilst at work.

Begin your investigation

Before making any accusations, it is advised to launch a fair investigation into the alleged theft. Depending on what’s been stolen, there are various ways in which you can keep an eye out on employees. Try not to announce your investigations as it may cause the culprit to try and damage your findings, as well as causing unrest within the workforce.

Investigative measures you can put in place include: –

  • Restricting access to company data, putting administrator passwords on client list documents, or similarly removing staff access to areas where you store company/client information that isn’t relevant to their role.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, consider changing staff working patterns and/or seating arrangements. Placing them in separate areas of your workplace or changing their shift could allow you to notice the times in which theft is occurring.
  • Increase checks on stock and equipment to daily if you don’t already.

Whatever your approach, it is important to ensure that the process you follow is fair. Failure in doing so may well result in employees putting in grievances and resigning in haste. This, in turn, could lead to discrimination and constructive dismissal claims.

Can I use CCTV in the workplace?

Potentially yes, although be very careful. While the Data Protection Act doesn’t prevent employers from monitoring workers, there must be legitimate business reasons to justify its usage, such as safeguarding employees and preventing theft. Furthermore, you should have written policies and procedures in place regarding monitoring at work, and you will need to clearly inform your staff that you are introducing CCTV and the reasons for it, which can potentially be damaging to your investigation. However, under the Data Protection Act it is unlawful to use CCTV footage for reasons that have not already been disclosed to your staff members.

While you may feel that you have a legitimate business reasons for wanting to monitor your employees, it is imperative that the above key points are considered in order to do this compliantly. You should read in more detail about using CCTV on the ICO site if you wish to record your employees. Alternatively, feel free to ring our free advice line on 0800 077 3534 if you wish to have this explained further.

Beginning disciplinary proceedings against the culprit(s)

This can largely depend on what you have written within your documentation, but also how you have dealt with disciplinary matters in the past and the precedent that has previously been set. Most companies will have clearly detailed disciplinary procedures in place, but what is really important is ensuring that you deal with disciplinary matters fairly and consistently.

In cases where there has been a considerable loss to the company, for example employees giving client information to your competitors, you may be justified in summarily dismissing an employee for gross misconduct offences. If you feel that this is the case, get some advice before hand. What may seem like clear gross misconduct allegations to you could result in a claim for unfair dismissal should the correct procedures not be followed.

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