What should employers do when they suspect an employee of theft in the workplace?

Home ARTICLES What should employers do when they suspect an employee of theft in the workplace?
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. Theft in the workplace can occur in all tiers of your business, and it’s important to remember that an employee stealing comes in different forms, not just ‘skimming the till’ when closing up at the end of a shift.

Other types of employee theft to consider: –

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

You may already be aware of how employee theft in the workplace can affect your business, but it is important to reflect on how your actions following this realisation could impact 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 it can set for other staff; you need to act quickly and even-handed. Don’t accuse everyone of theft in the workplace; gather hard evidence and then take the appropriate disciplinary action if required against the employee stealing from company resources.

You don’t want to demonstrate any tolerance when dealing with theft in the workplace. Furthermore, suppose you have one employee stealing the belongings of other workers. In that case, your employees will look to you for assistance and resolution to the matter to make other employees feel valued. Staff retention will be difficult when you haven’t been shown to provide a safe and secure space for staff to keep their belongings whilst at work if you have employees stealing from work.

Begin your investigation into staff stealing from work

Before making any accusations about employee dishonesty and staff stealing from work, we advise you to launch a fair investigation into the alleged theft to gather evidence. Depending on what got stolen, there are various ways in which you can keep an eye out for employees stealing from workplace situations. Try not to announce your investigations as it may cause the culprit to try and damage your findings and cause unrest within the workforce.

Investigative measures you can put in place include help in proving theft in the workplace:

  • Restricting access to company data, putting administrator passwords on client list documents, or 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 when employee theft occurs.
  • Increase checks on stock and equipment daily if you don’t already.

Whatever your approach to dealing with theft in the workplace, it is crucial 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. It, in turn, could lead to discrimination and constructive dismissal claims.

Can I use CCTV to catch staff theft in the workplace?

Potentially yes, although be very careful as you cannot secretly film individuals. 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 in the workplace. Furthermore, you should have written policies and procedures in place regarding monitoring at work. You will need to clearly inform your staff that you are introducing CCTV and its reasons, which can potentially damage your investigation. However, under the Data Protection Act, it is unlawful to use CCTV footage for reasons not already disclosed to your staff members.

While you may feel that you have a legitimate business reason for wanting to monitor your employees, like proving theft in the workplace, You must consider the above key points in order to do this compliantly. You should read more 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 want to have this explained further.

Disciplinary proceedings and dealing with employee theft

Dealing with employee theft and starting disciplinary proceedings largely depends on what you have written within your documentation, how you have dealt with disciplinary matters in the past, and the precedent you have set. Most companies will have detailed disciplinary procedures in place, but what is essential is ensuring that you deal with disciplinary matters fairly and consistently when it comes to theft in the workplace.In cases where there has been a considerable loss to the company with an employee caught stealing, for example, customer data theft, office supplies, time theft,  employees giving sensitive information to your competitors or any company assets, you may be justified in taking the appropriate action and summarily dismissing an employee for gross misconduct offences. If you feel that this is the case, get some advice beforehand. What may seem like clear, gross misconduct allegations to you of employee theft could result in a claim for unfair dismissal should the correct internal disciplinary actions procedures not get followed.

author avatar
Elena Boura