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Employment Law Blog

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How should you handle missing office supplies?

I was talking to a friend recently about the issue of petty theft in the workplace.  It’s a growing problem, with 20% of employees admitting to taking office supplies in the past year.  The big question is what to do with an employee who you believe is stealing.

The natural response seems to be to pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes.  That is to say, employers often take it upon themselves to engage in elaborate surveillance techniques when they believe that one of their employees is stealing office supplies.  I’m sure that this is a natural response because it is difficult to take a more direct approach — actually question the employee that you suspect is stealing.

The instinct for surveillance probably also arises from the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  The problem with this approach is that you’re an employer and not the government.  To me, your primary interest is to stop the theft, not ensure that you’ve falsely accused the wrong person (remember that, as a private employer, you cannot violate an employee’s constitutional rights).

Of course, you should collect as much evidence as reasonably possible before you accuse an employee of committing a crime, even a minor crime; but hiring detectives and installing surveillance cameras is surely unnecessary.  It’s a simple question of the return on your investment.  Again, it’s more important to stop the thieving then catch these thieves.

A note of caution if you decide to confront an employee.  Your tone must match the actual evidence you have.  If you have strong evidence, then you can take a strong tone.  If you only have idle suspicion, you need to approach the employee in a more delicate manner.

I would think that the stealing will stop when you raise the issue with the likely suspects.

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 08/16 at 04:16 PM
Human Resources