Should You Fire An Employee For Stealing?
To fire someone because of the stealing is something you hope you never need to deal with. An answer is actually not as easy as it seems like. Should you fire an employee for stealing?
If you have a proven case of an employee stealing from your company valuable products, you should definitely fire that employee. For the cases of stealing disposable office supplies in small amounts, you should consider warning and firing as the next step.
What is considered stealing?
There are different types of theft and what you will do depends on how serious the case is.
Stealing of disposable office supplies
This is one of the smallest cases of stealing I can think of, and I personally do not call this stealing. If an employee takes some papers, pens or post-it-notes from the office never really bothered me.
It is definitely different for bigger businesses and corporations. When you have hundreds of employees, these little stolen things add up. You can see an increase in your expenses for office supplies and that is why many big corporations have prohibited taking any office supplies in their internal policies.
If someone is stealing from your office, I would recommend you to first talk to the employee. Give them a warning – if this is against your company policies, a written warning is suitable (get advice from the company lawyer in this case).
Invest your time into writing good internal policies for your business, it will help you in a long run!
If you have a small business, it is usually enough to just talk about it with an employee and clarify your company policies.
If the stealing of the supplies continues even after a warning and after you made sure the employee is aware of the consequences, you should follow through and fire an employee. It might be difficult if the employee is otherwise a good worker, but if he/she does not listen to you and goes directly against your wishes, a future cooperation would be very problematic.
Stealing of supplies (higher value), merchandize and company property or money
Taking a pen from the office is different than taking boxes of office supplies. Stealing of computers and other supplies of a high value definitely requires a different approach than just an employee – employer chat.
Consider an amount of stolen supplies and value.
Get legal advice before you continue with other steps.
If you are about to fire an employee for stealing, you need to find out if you have proof of stealing strong enough that it could hold up in front of the court. You have to make sure the evidence is collected in a legal way. Company internal policies are a good starting point.
You cannot force or coerce your employee to admit guilt. You cannot breach your employee privacy. An employee needs to be allowed to explain themselves for the record. In some countries, recording your employee on the phone or voice monitor is a breach of privacy and cannot be submitted as a proof.
The issue is very sensitive and it is important that you handle it right. The investigation and collecting evidence is a process that is going to be different case to case. The only universal advice is the one thing I will repeat a lot – contact your lawyer before you do anything.
Stealing of company time
It is often difficult to prove that an employee is not working while being on a job. For most cases there are better ways to solve this issue than firing an employee.
Find ways to prevent this behaviour rather than enforce strong punishment. This will depend on what the case of time theft is.
The most common ways of employees stealing time are:
- Recording wrong work times
- Too long breaks, smoking breaks
- Doing personal tasks at work
- Browsing the internet/using a social media
If your employees are not clocking in properly, find a better software to monitor their work attendance. Require punching in and out for a lunch break if the breaks are way too long. Watch for tasks that are getting too long and notify employees when something takes longer time then it should.
There are of course cases when this is a more serious issue and harder steps are required. For most of the time leadership changes and different approaches are usually enough to solve the issue.
Should you investigate if an employee is stealing?
It might be difficult to acknowledge possible problems you have in the company. If you worked with the person who you suspect of stealing for many years, you see that the suspected employee is bringing you clients and great work results, you might hesitate to face the issue. It would be easy to ignore your suspicion, but think about the reasons why you should not do that.
Imagine what would happen if you would really ignore the problem and do not try to find out the truth. The employee who stole once from you will try to do it again. Maybe this time with a bit more refined way not to be caught.
Even if that is the best employee you ever had, the most productive and bringing the biggest amount of money to your business, do you want to have such a person around? Your employees are representing your company, do you want someone who is stealing to be associated with you?
Think about a message you would send to other employees if they would ever find out. It is now ok to steal from you, because you do not care.
If you are suspicious of someone stealing, this will damage your relationship with that employee anyway. It is much better to find the truth and take the steps necessary to protect your business.
Employee is stealing – should that be an official reason for firing?
That is a difficult question. It is much more difficult for you to collect all the materials and evidence to be able to fire someone on the ground of stealing.
If you know someone is stealing, you can notify the suspected employee that the theft has occurred and the investigation is taking place in order to find out if an employee is involved. This can result in admission of guilt and resignation given by an employee. This is a much easier and cheaper solution for you.
Another possibility is to terminate an employee based on the breach of the company policy. You might not have evidence strong enough to accuse someone of stealing, but you have proof that the employee did not follow the company procedure in how to handle money. Maybe you lost confidence in the employee and need to let him/her go.
If you want to fire someone for theft as an official reason, you need to have a strong evidence.
To fire an employee for a reason of “not following a company procedure” is safer than going through a whole investigation process. For bigger thefts of substantial amounts of money and company products, the police investigation can be necessary. In any case, consult the lawyer to avoid any complications and expensive law-suits.