It doesn’t matter what your business is, you
will have experienced employee theft and probably still are. What is stolen is
very much dependent on your business. A company manufacturing DVD recorders,
for example, will experience more product theft than if they constructed
aircraft or manufactured springs for clocks and watches. However, all companies
suffer from theft of stationery and pens, and theft of information and even
customers is not uncommon.
Your problem is controlling it. No amount of employment screening will
detect job applicants who take the odd pen or few sheets of paper home for
their computer printer. Although it is estimated that 95% of all companies
suffer from some degree of employee theft, I would think it to be closer to
100% if items of stationery are included.
Theft of information is impossible to control in terms of employees moving
to other companies with the knowledge they have gained from their previous
employment. Many industrial secrets are stolen in that way. It is not unusual
for scientists, for example, to be stolen through the simple expediency of
making an offer to an employee that he cannot refuse. The same is true of
customer theft. A high-flier in the legal profession can easily be bought, and
these people can take their customers with them. This is another, though
obscure, form of employee theft.
Employee theft can contribute significantly to the failure of some
companies, and it has also been estimated that over 30% of all bankruptcies are
due to employee theft. This seems rather high, though management generally tend
to have a rose-tinted view of their own employees. It is frequently wrongly
believed that theft is something done by the ordinary shop-floor employee, and
that senior managers do not steal. Irrespective of who is doing it, what can
you do to reduce theft in your company?
Firstly, it is essential to have a written policy that employee theft will
result in immediate dismissal. Many people think that theft of company property
is not too serious, and such notices will make it clear that this is a
misconception. You should also make clear what scrap or rejected material can
and cannot be taken by employees. You cannot allow scrap from one product line
to be taken by employees then fire them for doing the same from another line,
unless it is made absolutely clear where the distinction lies. It is easier to
state that all scrap and rejects must be crushed or disposed of, and that
employees can take nothing for themselves.
It is also not uncommon for management or certain employees to be allowed to
take rejected items home. This is a form of discrimination, and it is safer to
apply the same rule to every employee. All forms of employee theft should be
regarded as such, and discrimination should not be made between classes of
However, the one factor that can do most to reduce the possibility of
employee theft of any kind is to apply a strong pre-employment screening
procedure. A proper employment check, including a criminal record search, a
credit reference check and a policy of referring to all references supplied can
do more to reduce theft by screening out those with past records, that any
amount of action taken in the workplace.
If, however, you suspect someone of theft, you must investigate thoroughly.
Personal prejudices should not be allowed to cloud your judgement, and it is
generally wise to seek legal advice prior to firing someone for theft unless it
is either admitted or legally proved. You cannot act as judge and jury if
someone protests innocence, even if witnesses do come forward, and if you do so
you, yourself, could be on the wrong end of a legal case.
It is also of extreme importance that any information provided
confidentially to you in your position as employer not be made public to other
employees as justification for you taking further action against anyone accused
of theft. This could act against you, and again it could be you that ends up in
the dock! Put the matter in the hands of the police or of your solicitor and
let the law take its course. Do not offer to let the theft go without charge if
restitution is made or you could leave yourself open to accusations of
discrimination if you do not offer this solution to all employees.
By far the best way to control theft is to do all that you can you avoid
employing thieves. Employment screening can go a long way towards achieving
this and a combination of employee checks and a clearly stated policy on both
theft and on the disposition of rejected or scrap product should reduce theft
within your company. It is probably impossible, however, to eliminate it
Perhaps a visit to a banknote printer could give you a few clues as to how
theft can be controlled!