Workplace theft can be a major problem in any type of business. Well-managed companies should have clear policies in place that outline every aspect of dealing with workplace theft, from prevention mechanisms to investigating to disciplining employees who are caught. In some cases, such a policy is enough to deter employees. If not, the management team should be prepared to put the policy in action.
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The best workplace theft policy starts with prevention. The business should have clear guidelines in place to deter and prevent employee theft. Such policies do not have to be draconian, however. One of the best ways to prevent employee theft is to foster a positive work environment. If employees feel they are being treated fairly by their company, they will be much less likely to take advantage of opportunities to skim from it. The company should also be limiting such opportunities as much as possible by locking up all checks and deposit slips, requiring supporting documentation when signing checks or authorising expenses, limiting the amount of petty cash on hand and regularly scrutinising company accounts. A yearly audit can also catch irregularities in a company's accounting status that could be a sign of theft.
The employee handbook should outline the way the company will respond if an employee is suspected of theft. If there is evidence that points to a specific employee, that employee can be immediately suspended or transferred pending the outcome of an investigation. While proving an employee's wrongdoing can be as simple as tracking his access to accounts and confronting an employee with the evidence, investigations into sophisticated fraud and embezzlement schemes might involve computer network and IT investigations or interviews with other employees. Companies suspecting large-scale theft often hire outside investigators to do this work for them. No matter how thorough the investigation, it is important to take pains to keep it confidential in case the employee seeks a later lawsuit for defamation.
While most employers will immediately consider termination if an employee is caught red-handed, a theft policy should allow managers to weigh the facts of each case before taking any action. Employees with unblemished work histories might have mitigating circumstances that drove them to their misdeeds. If the theft is small, it might be less expensive for the company to monitor and guide that person rather than hire and train someone new. If a company does decide to fire the employee, the employer should review state's employment laws to make sure the company is allowed to terminate an employee without advance notice. Even if the company's state is what is referred to as an employment-at-will state--meaning that an employer can terminate employees as they see fit--employers should be careful that the employee does not have grounds to sue for discrimination and that all claims can be supported with evidence of the theft and investigations in case the employee tries to make a claim for unemployment benefits. Employers may wish to consult with an attorney for clarification on these issues before proceeding with a termination.
A theft policy should make it clear to employees that the company will report theft to the local police department, which should conduct a criminal investigation, and possibly bring civil charges against guilty employees. If a court finds the employee guilty of a crime, the judge may order restitution to cover damages. If an employer sues an employee--generally in cases of embezzlement--your attorney could get the employee's bank accounts and other assets frozen while judgment is pursued, which could eventually require the employee to compensate the company.
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