No matter the size of your business, theft in the workplace is an issue that all employers want to avoid. So what do you do if you suspect an employee has stolen from the business? Be it embezzlement, fraud, theft or even intellectual property, most business will have to deal with some form of employee theft at some point.
The most important thing the employer needs to do is ensure that a thorough procedure is followed. This note scratches the surface on what is a complex and sensitive area. The last thing an employer would want to do is wrongly accuse or dismiss someone and this resulting in litigation which is harmful to any business.
As with most areas of law, preparation and documentation are key. An employer should ensure they have watertight policies within their employee handbook and that every employee is given a copy of this or access to this at the outset of their employment.
The policy should contain a disciplinary procedure that is clear that theft in the workplace will not be tolerated and could result in a summary dismissal. The policy should state the procedure that will be followed in the event an employee is suspected of theft or any other wrongdoing.
It is also useful these days to have an internet policy which mentions that theft of intellectual property and cybercrime will not be tolerated. Monitoring of employees (eg CCTV, vehicle trackers) is a contentious area and it is advisable you take specific advice about this. Any form of surveillance of employees should be consented to from the outset and the employee should be given specific details as to what you are using this information for and how long it will be stored for.
If you suspect an employee has committed theft in the workplace then the first step is to hold an informal ‘fact-finding’ meeting with them. They do not have the right to be accompanied to this meeting. During this meeting; the employee should be made aware of the allegations against them and given a chance to respond. If you are still not satisfied with their answers then you can proceed to a disciplinary hearing provided you have good grounds to do so.
It is also at that stage that you should start to gather evidence for example statements from other staff that were present at the relevant time or review CCTV footage or till takings etc. It is advisable to have conclusive evidence if you were to ultimately go down the dismissal route as an employer would have to show that they held a reasonable and honest belief that the employee had committed theft.
The next stage would be to invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing and this would also have to be procedurally correct for example the employee would have the right to be accompanied to this hearing and it is advisable that a different person chairs this hearing than the person who conducted the investigation. Prior to or at the hearing, the employee should be given copies of all the evidence collected for example statements or CCTV footage.
If the policy allows for it then the outcome of the hearing could be a dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct, however, this will have to be determined on the individual circumstances and factors such as length of service, previous disciplinary records and mitigating factors should be taken in to account. For example, there is a difference between stealing minor office supplies when compared to something much more substantial. If dismissal did end up being the preferred option then any appeals procedure should also be followed in line with the disciplinary procedure and again if possible a different person should chair this hearing to ensure fairness.
It is clear that this area is complex and employers need to get it right to avoid wrongly accusing an employee or leaving themselves at the risk of an employment tribunal claim. Here at Pannone Corporate, our employment team can help guide you through the above issues, be it from reviewing/updating policies or advising on a disciplinary procedure. Call today on (0) 800 131 3355 or use our online form for a confidential discussion regarding your exact circumstances.