Theft in the workplace is a more complex topic than people think. On the one hand just about anyone you ask is going to say it’s a “bad thing” but on the other hand the same people will admit “everyone does it/it’s just one of those things.” To be more specific, every else does it, but not the person being asked the question of course. Note we are talking about petty, isolated theft here and not the high-level, well-organized corporate espionage. We are talking about when Joe in the accounting department needs some sticky notes at home but doesn’t feel like stopping by the store on the way home so he just takes a pack from the supply closet. What do you do after accidentally witnessing an event like this? How do you address workplace theft?
For starters, thieves (one-time or recurring) do not wear nametags that say “thief” or proactively admit that they’re thieves so typically the only way to tie a particular person to a particular instance of theft is by witnessing the event. There is witnessing a workplace theft by another person, typically on accident, and there is witnessing it second-hand thanks to proper monitoring of the workplace via video surveillance. If things are going missing in the workplace, no one is owning up to it, and it’s not going away (or getting worse) after formal communication about the matter from upper management, it’s time to consider installing or upgrading video surveillance in the workplace. This is especially true where large quantities of supplies are kept or where the most expensive of company property is stored.
After having proof of a workplace theft by an employee, the next obvious step is consequences. Business management experts stress the importance of treating each instance on a case by case basis (assuming multiple employees are not working together). The situation with Joe who took a pack of sticky notes should be handled differently than a situation with Tracy who said she lost her company laptop but turns out she sold it on eBay. The important factors to take from those examples are intent and extent of the damage. A pack of sticky notes, taken due to convenience, may cost $1 while a laptop, sold intentionally after the company was told a lie, may cost thousands of dollars. The consequences can range from a reprimand to termination and/or reporting the theft to the police.
As unfortunate as it may be to move forward with the most serious consequences, business management experts agree it must be done because the risk of trusting an employee further who has seriously defrauded a company via theft is much too high. Even with high-performing employees, it would be better to just hire a new employee for the position, maybe even via a staffing agency, to minimize the time the position is left open.