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Employment Law – Dealing with Theft in the Workplace

It’s never pleasant to discover that a member of staff has been stealing. Your natural instinct is to confront them immediately; however, it’s important to make sure you always act within the law and respect your employee’s statutory rights.

Here’s a step-by-step guide, detailing what action to take if you suspect an employee is stealing.

Employment Law and Theft – A Guide

  • Gather evidence.

Firstly, it’s imperative to gather hard evidence. Confronting a member of staff without establishing the facts is never a good idea, and may even result in legal claims being filed against you.  Conduct a thorough investigation before you speak to the member of staff concerned.

The exact nature of your investigation will depend on the manner of the crime. Tangible theft (e.g. stealing physical items) may require undertaking spot searches or keeping a closer eye on staff behaviour. Intangible theft (e.g. intellectual property) can be harder to prove – however, as an employer you are legally permitted to carry out covert investigations if you have good reason to do so.  You must make sure that you have a written policy in your company handbook which sets out the level of monitoring that will take place.

  • Conduct investigations fairly.

It’s important to carry out all investigations fairly, objectively and without discrimination. Be warned, if your employee feels that they’ve been discriminated against, they’re within their rights to take legal action against you.

It’s also wise to keep your investigation to yourself (and an HR professional). Announcing your intentions to staff may cause disruption in the workplace, and the employee in question might cover up their crime as a result.

  • Seek legal advice.

Once you’ve gathered enough evidence to support your suspicion, you’ll need to establish your legal rights. An HR professional will be able to assist with this. Proceeding without being aware of your (and your employee’s) legal rights will put you at risk, so it’s important to ensure that you move forward with due caution.

  • Take disciplinary action.

Ideally, you will have already laid out your disciplinary procedures in your company handbook, which you can now refer your employee to once you commence proceedings. Of course, the action you take will depend on the nature of the theft.

For example, in some instances, it may be appropriate to give the employee a set period of time to improve their behaviour. With more serious offences, you might even need to call in the police. If the theft is particularly damaging to your business, it’s likely that you’ll have cause to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct. However, it’s vital to be certain that you’re within your rights to do this, otherwise your employee may take legal action against you.

Knowing Your Employee’s Rights

Be aware that your employee has rights too. For example, they have the right not to be discriminated against in the workplace, and have certain privacy rights too. For example, you’re not allowed to search their desk or locker without having good reason to do so.

Your employee also has the right to a fair termination. If you’re unsure as to whether you’re acting within the law or not, it’s sensible to work with an HR professional, who will be able to guide you through the process.

Preventing Theft in the Workplace

There are several ways to deter employees from theft. Establishing expectations from the start is a good idea – both through your company handbook (which should be given to all new members of staff) and through your workplace ethos. Be open about any monitoring or surveillance that is undertaken as a standard procedure – as this is likely to deter most would-be thieves.

Effective recruitment can also build more honesty in the office; an HR expert can help with this.

HR Services in the South-West

If you’re concerned about theft in the workplace, or need assistance with any other aspect of employment law, talk to Harris Law. To discuss your needs, simply call us on 01803 861086 today.