Have you ever been a victim of theft at your business? Many employers — especially small business owners — have revealed being wronged by an employee.
It happens in different forms. Someone may steal cash, write phony checks, meddle with invoices, leak or sell confidential data, or engage in other types of theft.
Since workplace theft can be difficult to handle for managers and business owners, here are some ideas to help you out if you find yourself in this situation.
Make policies and stick to them
As an employer, you should have pre-determined policies and rules against theft at the workplace. These policies should outline a proper investigation process and a set of job-related penalties for the type and extent of theft committed.
If possible, you should also include the legal repercussions for stealing in your policy, so employees are aware of what they could get into if they steal.
Predetermined theft policies would help managers know exactly what they should do if they notice someone stealing from the company.
Moreover, they can use these policies as guidelines to identify who's responsible for settling any loss or damage caused by the theft. That person would also be held liable for negligence.
Following company policies prevents delay in action when theft occurs (and increases the chance that the perpetrator would be caught). Plus, it helps eliminate personal bias during investigation and allows for fair distribution of punishment.
Investigate properly — hire an investigator
With company policies acting as a guide, start an investigation as soon as you notice the theft.
However, things often get complicated and uncomfortable when you start questioning your "own" people. That is why, it would make complete sense to assign an investigator to lead the case.
An outside consultant or third-party vendor would be your best bet for that. They won’t be emotionally connected to your employees, which would help them carry out the investigation without bias.
Conduct employee interviews and audits
While the exact procedure for investigation varies with the type of theft, a typical investigation would include interviewing employees and conducting audits.
Once you have your lead investigator and a team, start interviewing everyone who has access to cash the assets that were stolen. Here are a few communication tips for conducting successful investigation interviews.
Besides that, make arrangements for audits and inspection of the financial records to find discrepancies. Hire an external auditor, who is not related to the theft in any way, to conduct these investigative audits.
Emphasize and respect confidentiality
When you interview employees, make them feel comfortable about sharing everything they might know about the incident.
You (or the investigator you’ve hired) should make it clear to your employees that the process is entirely confidential and any information shared would be kept private.
If you can assure them a confidential inquiry, you'll get more honest answers from your staff.
Also, investigators should not disclose their findings to anyone else during the investigation (or even after the culprit is found in some cases). The decision to disclose investigation findings should be taken by senior management according to the company policies.
Moreover, ensure that your employees understand that they are part of the community. You should try to make them understand the importance of acting responsibly and sharing truthful information with the investigators throughout the process.
Gather strong evidence before accusation
No matter how big or small, theft is a serious crime and nobody likes being accused of it without proof. So you must find strong, clear evidence against an employee before you accuse them of theft.
Also, keep in mind that even if the culprit admits their crime in private, you would need solid proof to get them arrested and punished via a court of law.
So whether you want to get the police involved or not, gather as much solid evidence as you can before you confront an employee. This might eat up your precious work hours, but you can always use effective time management techniques to make up for the loss.
Talking to the police can be a good idea
While this might sound extreme and make you uncomfortable, it's logical to go to the police for a relatively significant theft. Why consider relativity in theft? Well, you wouldn't call cops on someone who has been stealing printing paper or cookies, will you?
Also, you might not be able to claim your loss(es) through business insurance without an official police report. So it might be a good idea to notify police about the theft as soon as you learn about it.
Be a fair judge
Once the investigation is complete and you have enough evidence to convict the thief, make a decision about the penalty. Again, it would be better to have pre-determined disciplinary actions in place.
But if you have to make a decision on the spot, make sure it's a fair one. Don't let anger or disappointment make you hand out a severe punishment to someone who could have been disciplined with a warning letter or temporary suspension.
In extreme cases, you are free to terminate them and take necessary legal action.
Finally, you must find a way to recover your loss. This could be through an internal settlement, a civil suit, or your business insurance.