When you begin to suspect an employee has been stealing, feelings of betrayal or anger can prompt you to make rash decisions. In the face of a suspected theft, however, it’s important to make sure that any accusations you bring forth have a basis in fact. Failing to do so not only breaks the bond of trust between manager and employee, it can even open your business up to certain types of lawsuits.
If you suspect an employee may be stealing from the business:
1. Gather evidence if you can.
What first made you suspect theft? Write down the date, time, and everything you remember that raised your suspicions. If items like receipts or ledgers raised your suspicions, make copies of these and keep them in a secure location. Video tape or other recordings may also help you investigate the question, according to the Houston Chronicle.
2. Store the evidence in a secure location.
Designate a single file, box, or other place for the evidence and use it for everything you gather. As you gather evidence, keep in mind that you may need it for at least two purposes: to support a decision to fire the employee, and to demonstrate to police what has happened. Keep any evidence that seems useful for either purpose.
3. Consider consequences.
How large was the theft? What is the employee’s position in the company? What does the handbook or other policy documentation say about theft and employee termination? How will other team members react if they realize you retained or terminated an employee who was stealing?
Consider all these factors when deciding what sort of consequences are appropriate. For instance, you may decide to issue a written warning, put the employee on probation, require repayment, or fire the employee. Speaking to supervisors or executives can help ensure everyone is “on the same page” when it comes to consequences.
4. Decide whether or not to alert law enforcement.
If you go to the local police about the theft, the person you accuse of stealing may face arrest, criminal charges, or even conviction. Your business may be required to participate in any criminal case by cooperating with police and prosecutors or even sending someone to testify.
Your decision regarding whether or not to speak to police should be based on a number of factors, including the size of the theft, the evidence you have (or haven’t) gathered, the results of your attempts to address the issue internally, and the effects on other staff if the case is (or is not) brought to court. As with the decision about consequences, the decision whether or not to alert law enforcement should have the support of every necessary decision maker.
5. Consider speaking to your business’s lawyer.
Any questions about the legal rules regarding the theft itself, your attempts to investigate it, or potential consequences for the employee should be discussed with your business’s lawyer. Since an employee theft can involve areas of law including criminal laws, employment, and privacy laws, it’s important to understand what your options are in this specific situation.
6. If you do confront the employee, don’t do it alone.
Have at least one other person in the room whenever you speak to the employee about the theft or consequences for it, including termination. The other person can intervene if the exchange becomes heated and can serve as a witness to the events, helping corroborate what happened and prevent a potential “he said she said” situation from further complicating your attempts to address the theft.
7. Take another look at your business’s security measures.
If one employee can steal, chances are good that another employee could do so as well – or that even members of the public could manage a theft. Examine the process by which this theft occurred to find ways to improve security measures. These may include requiring two people to sign off on paperwork, changing locks or security codes, or taking other security measures.
Employees who have been charged with theft have certain rights, including the right to work with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer of their choice. Employers, in turn, may choose to speak to local law enforcement about the issue if needed.