Few employers will relish dealing with an employee they believe to have been stealing. Regardless of the circumstances, sacking somebody is an unpleasant task and one that might leave companies facing pressure from trade unions and even legal action if the member of staff maintains their innocence. Theft can be widespread in some businesses where low paid staff are handling cash, and proving the offence is not always a straightforward task. Employers do have the right to dismiss staff for stealing, however, but should do so through appropriate misconduct procedures.
Finding hard evidence of theft is essential before taking any disciplinary action. Employers might notice stock vanishing or tills not reconciling but it is important not to jump to conclusions, and certainly not to immediately point the finger at one individual. Investigations should be done thoroughly using methods such as monitoring tills, using marked notes or completing spot searches. One of the problems during this type of investigation is that it might offend staff that are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Confronting a member of staff about theft should be done in an even-handed manner and only when there no is doubt that the individual is the culprit. False accusations might lead to discrimination claims or at least unhappy members of staff. An employer should arrange a meeting with the employee and present the evidence of theft to them calmly, offering them an opportunity to explain. The company’s disciplinary procedures should then be followed. This might involve a misconduct hearing and offering a right to appeal, although employers can consider immediate dismissal for gross misconduct.
An employer should consider the length of service and contractual terms of an employee it wishes to dismiss for theft. If an employee has less than 12 months service and does not have a contract which includes a disciplinary procedure, immediate dismissal can be considered without notice or pay in lieu of notice. Employees with longer service may be contractually entitled to go through a disciplinary procedure and attend a hearing. They can be suspended on pay while this is arranged. Appeal rights should be offered and employers should always take legal advice before carrying out a dismissal.
Improving workplace security can help avoid theft and the need for time-consuming disciplinary processes. Regular stock-takes and till reconciliation every night reduce the opportunity for theft. Maintaining a well-rewarded and motivated workforce is a further way to lessen the temptation for employees to steal.