Unfortunately employee theft is not an uncommon occurrence. Often the “theft” can be as innocuous as an employee taking home some stationary, but more serious theft, running into the millions of dollars, also occurs. In between these two extremes are many examples of employee theft in the workplace that business owners need to deal with on a regular basis. This article sets out some strategies to deal with employee workplace theft.

Less Significant Employee Theft

If your employee has been involved in a less significant form of theft, such as taking some stationary home, or drinking the bosses’ stash of single malt scotch, you will usually not be in a position to immediately terminate their employment. The best approach to take is to provide either a verbal or a written warning. Obviously you will want to review the employee’s employment contract, which may set out specific rules around the types of reprimand you can agree on. The businesses’ employee handbook (if one exists) can also be a good point of reference.

It’s important to know that you may be in a position to automatically terminate the employment of the employee if there’s a clause built into the contract allowing this. Generally these types of clauses only refer to crimes which are indictable offences or carry a custodial sentence. So stealing some stationary doesn’t qualify!

More Serious Employee Theft

The National Employment Standards allow an employee to be terminated without notice if that employee has committed serious misconduct. In such a situation the employee will not be entitled to receive payment in lieu of notice. The employer will also not have to pay any sort of redundancy package. You will, however, still be required to pay out any annual leave which has been accrued.

The big question is whether the theft in question is deemed serious enough to be serious misconduct. Some of the issues to look at are (i) whether the conduct occurred inside or outside the workplace, (ii) how serious the actual theft was ($5 or $50,000?), (iii) the level of seniority of the employee and (iv) the impact the theft has had on the business.

How to Investigate Employee Stealing

Even if you bring the police in to investigate a theft within your company (and this will of course only happen if the theft is substantial enough to warrant it), it’s a great idea to complete your own investigation. Generally you will want to proceed in the manner of a detective; interviewing witnesses, searching for evidence, and reviewing any surveillance footage. Ensure you have an operational Surveillance Policy in place. Make sure you keep an open mind, and ensure the employee is thoroughly interviewed and asked to provide an explanation for the alleged occurrence.

Conclusion

Employee theft is obviously a crime, but as an employer you need to deal with the issue in a calm, rational and structured manner. Remember, being accused of stealing at work is very tough (especially if it’s an incorrect accusation!). It’s very important that you get legal advice on the best approach if you can.

Lachlan McKnight
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