Theft in the Workplace

There are several types of theft in the workplace. Restaurant employees who eat food while on the job are stealing if food is off limits or they are told to pay for it before eating. Someone who puts a box of staples in his briefcase is just as guilty as someone who steals a laptop computer. Placing an order for office supplies and having a box of computer paper shipped home is theft, too. The definition of stealing is to take possession of property without permission. Theft should always be grounds for immediate employment termination, but suspend the employee first if you still need to gather facts. Avoiding a wrongful termination should always be a priority, along with protecting company property.

If an employee comes forward and reports that he witnessed someone steal, ask him for a written statement with his signature. When you confront the employee suspected of taking property, tell her that you have a witness, but you do not have to reveal the name of the person.

A company can conduct an inspection of lockers, purses, briefcases, and backpacks if company property is missing. However, you must have a written policy in place first. The policy should be included in the employee handbook and there should be proof in the personnel files that everyone has received a copy. If personal property such as purses, briefcases, and backpacks are checked, this is generally done when employees exit the building. All inspections should be conducted by two managers, working side by side.

Don't be surprised if you start a search and the missing item suddenly shows up stashed in an odd place. The employee may have realized that he would not be able to leave the building with the item and didn't want to be found with it. If you have your suspicions about who may have done it, there isn't much that you can do without evidence or a witness. Taking an item with the intent to steal is a valid reason to terminate employment.

If you notice that something is missing and you see an employee leaving the building with a bag or something hidden inside their coat, for example, you have the right to stop them and ask what they are carrying. If they refuse, you should not force the item out of their hands.

You may receive an anonymous tip from someone who knows about a theft but is afraid to come forward. This may be in the form of a letter, e-mail, or voicemail message from an unknown voice. Keep the tip and investigate accordingly. Employees have been caught with stolen property at home due to anonymous tips.

Whether or not stolen property is recovered, file a police report. It will set the precedent that theft will be dealt with aggressively. If employees are questioned, it may deter the thief from doing it again and may result in finding out who did it.

Your employee handbook should state that theft is grounds for immediate termination. There is no second chance, and the company should press criminal charges as well to back up the decision to terminate. If there is enough evidence to end employment, there should be enough evidence for a conviction.

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