Theft in the workplace


While most businesses will find the vast majority of their employees are trustworthy, there’s still a chance there may still be stealing from work. Theft from employers is a serious issue. If you come across any sort of suspicious activity, or you know your employee is taking work items from your business without permission, then you should act decisively. In this guide we explain how you can go about the process. But remember, as this can be a contentious issue, you can refer to our employment law services for immediate assistance if your situation is urgent.

What is employee theft?

It’s when a member of staff steals, uses, or misuses your company property (assets) without your express permission. An “asset” indicates theft, yet it actually involves more than an employee taking money from your business. This is because there are different types of theft in the workplace. Examples include:

  • Cash: This can be a concern for retailers, such as a cashier stealing money, due to the constant handling of customer money.
  • Supplies: Such as paper, ink cartridges, pens, or computers from an office environment. Theft is also a regular occurrence in restaurants and may include cutlery, food, or alcohol.
  • Company property: An employee may steal products you intend to sell.
  • Personal data: Customers or employee records, or business information, is valuable—trade secrets or product designs could have a negative effect if taken from your business. Some staff members can attempt to pass this onto competitors for financial gain.
  • Time: If an employee changes timekeeping records to receive pay on hours they didn’t work.

What this list highlights is not everything an employee can steal is physical property. For example, employees can take business data and share it online—as such, it’s important you protect your various assets through various techniques.

How to handle theft in the workplace

Staff stealing from your business can have a major impact on your profits—it can affect your very future. So, employee theft is a major concern. And you can handle it by establishing preventative measures. However, it’s important to remember that doesn’t mean you should setup 24/7 CCTV surveillance and security guards. An excessive amount of employee monitoring is bad for morale and will make your staff unhappy. Yet you can still have a series of effective checks to provide limited opportunities to steal any of your company assets. For this, you may want to consider:

  • Understanding your staff: The better you know your employees, the more chance you have of being aware of the potential for theft. Warning signs can include a drop in performance or insubordinate behaviour.
  • Close supervision: Micromanaging is generally unpopular with staff, but during essential activities such as till checks you may want to have direct observation of activities.
  • Serially pre-numbered sales slips: This can help in monitoring your cash receipts. You can also perform weekly audits to balance your books.
  • Use CCTV: Despite the Orwellian overtones, you’re within your rights to have security systems in place to monitor staff. Your employees, of course, have to be aware of this—you can’t secretly film individuals.
  • Computer security: This can protect your sensitive and important business data. Using software, or more traditional devices such as a safe, you can protect your business from data breaches.
  • Use an inventory: Bookkeeping helps to maintain a record of everything within your business. If an individual steals company property, then your inventories will report that and you can take the appropriate action.
  • Confidential reporting: Offer a way for your workforce to report any misdemeanours directly to you. You should be careful with this approach—conduct a thorough investigation to ensure the accusations are genuine.

So, regarding how to report employee theft, just remember your evidence must be strong. So you may wish to terminate the employee’s contract, and potentially notify the police. Proving theft in the workplace can be reasonably straightforward if you have the right processes in place. To help with handling that, you can also establish a procedure to follow—one that also clearly outlines to your workforce the conduct you expect from them in and around your business premises. This is particularly important as instant dismissal for theft is one potential outcome—stealing is gross misconduct. You should make this clear to your employees as this fact alone can put them off the idea.

Employee theft policy

A policy of this type can be quite lengthy as it has various points to cover. You can follow the basic outline below as a template, but be aware you’ll need to adapt it to suit your business needs.

  • Your policy aims: Here you can explain you wish to create a theft-free environment to preserve business information, as well as promote proper working standards. Ultimately, your business wants to ensure you handle the situation appropriately.
  • Defining your terms: Establish that theft is the unauthorised removal, or misplacement, of information or resources. Indicate that these actions are, such as forgery, stealing data, taking money etc.
  • Company responsibilities: Explain the liability of your business and that it’s your duty to make employees aware of your policies.
  • In the event of theft: Here you can detail what will happen if there is an incident. This includes details of the managers who’ll take responsibility, plus how you’ll conduct the investigation. You can also explain stealing from work consequences in the event a staff member is guilty. This can include disciplinary actions or instant dismissal.
  • Your rights: Explain that you have the right to search employee lockers, bags, or vehicles in the event of an investigation.

For help with structuring your theft policy, you can refer to your HR department—or outsource to a business consultant to ensure your regulations are clear cut.

Want further assistance?

We can help you to establish an anti-theft policy for your workplace, or discuss the implications of ongoing stealing at your business. Contact us for help: 0800 028 2420.

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