How to deal with theft in the workplace

  • Disciplinary
Employee theft
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

If you suspect an employee is stealing from you, don’t jump to conclusions or act in haste. Instead, take a step back and consider these important points on how to deal with theft in the workplace.

Theft is often classed as ‘gross misconduct’ which may justify a summary dismissal. This is where an employee is dismissed without any notice and despite not being in receipt of any warnings, because of the seriousness of the misconduct. However, a fair process should still be followed.

A thorough investigation to fact find is key. When done correctly it forms a solid foundation to any further action that may be taken. It could take the form of obtaining witness statements, viewing CCTV, and meeting with the suspected employee. Consideration should be given as to what happens to the employee during the investigation which does not automatically need to mean suspension it could mean moving to another role or other measures.  

If, from this investigation, it appears that there is a case to answer, the employee should be invited to attend a disciplinary hearing in writing. The allegations should be clearly set out and the employee pre-warned of the potential outcome. A copy of the evidence collated from the investigation should also be provided to the employee. The hearing should be held without unreasonable delay, with usually at least 48 hours’ notice, but more time may be needed depending upon the volume of documentation provided to the employee. The disciplinary hearing should be chaired by a manager who was not involved in the investigation, and the employee should be given every opportunity to put their case across. The employee should be allowed to be accompanied by a fellow employee or a trade union representative but be mindful that if an employee has a disability, it could be a reasonable adjustment to allow them to be accompanied by someone else.

After the meeting, don’t rush into giving an outcome there and then. The question to consider is whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances to treat the conduct as a sufficient reason for dismissal. If so, the decision should be confirmed in writing with details of how the employee can lodge an appeal. It does not have to be ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ as is the case in a criminal court, but whether your decision is ‘reasonable’.

The case of Cassidy v Iceland Foods Limited concerned a claimant who was dismissed for taking two chocolate bars. The claimant believed that they belonged to a colleague so argued that she did not believe she had to pay. The Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the investigation was lacking and only a twelve-minute adjournment in the disciplinary hearing before the claimant was dismissed. Had the respondent conducted a reasonable investigation they may have concluded that she was not dishonest since she had not realised that the item was stock; it was common for colleagues to eat each other’s sweets; and that whilst eating at the tills was a practice which might lead to general warnings to staff, it would not necessarily result in dismissal. The ET consequently found that the dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair.

This case is a useful reminder for employers that conducting a thorough investigation and following a fair procedure throughout is imperative for employers whatever the circumstances.  

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