On The Take: How To Deal With Employee Theft

Employee theft is a common crime that is not even regarded as such by most people who commit it. Taking an odd pen or few sheets of paper home is regarded by many as being a right rather than a crime and something that even the most senior managers can be found guilty of.

It's estimated that 95 percent of all companies suffer from employee theft, but it's probably closer to 100 percent. Serious theft, however, is a different thing entirely. There is a world of difference between the theft of a few pens and the steady depletion of stock through organized crime within a large organization. This sort of employee theft is estimated to cause more than 30 percent of all company bankruptcies, and many companies are in desperate need of a means of controlling it.

The first action should be to clarify to employees the penalty for employee theft. At the very least, immediate suspension pending investigation must be stated as the initial step. The matter should then be put into the hands of lawyers and the legal processes should be allowed to proceed. You should not dismiss anyone until the case has been proven legally or you could find that you are the one answering charges. These procedures should be clearly stated on company notice boards and should have union support where relevant.

There are some forms of employee theft that are almost impossible to control. Intellectual theft of company secrets can be controlled theoretically by the introduction of tight contracts with key personnel, such as senior managers and sales people, but if they decide to move to another company such contracts are almost impossible to enforce.

How do you stop customer theft, another form of employee theft that frequently involves an employee either providing a new employer with a customer list, or taking customers that they personally deal with along with them? This is very difficult if not impossible, since you cannot control your customers' allegiances.

Proper control starts at the employment stage. Employee theft can be reduced by the use of a rigid employee screening procedure that is designed to detect potential thieves prior to employment. Criminal record and credit rating searches can detect anyone with potential problems that either indicate a previous record of theft, or someone who could be tempted, and psychological profiling can achieve the same thing at the interview stage.

For best results, both of these functions are best carried out by professionals. Either company employees trained in these functions or a professional agency will be able to provide the level of service required to reduce the chances of you employing someone who will be tempted to become involved in employee theft.

This action does not resolve your existing problem, but it does help to stop its growth. It reduces the chances of new thieves joining the company. There is another benefit of introducing a strong employment screening procedure.

Part of the problem in normal companies is that it is neither fully understood, nor clearly stated, where the line is drawn between theft and what is allowed to be taken. Many companies allow substandard or rejected products to be taken home by employees and others do not. An employee from one company to another may misunderstand that these policies are specific to individual companies, rather than general throughout the industry. Employees should not be criminalized through ignorance and your failure to clearly state your policy. If you do not allow employees to use rejects, you should clearly state that fact with prominently placed notices. Do not assume that all employers have the same policy.

Your policy with regard to what constitutes employee theft should be clearly stated in the employees' handbook if there is one or along with the acceptance of their application for employment. If you have an induction scheme it can be introduced to them then.

The mistake that many employers make is trying to control serious employee theft themselves when there are many professional companies that could help them eliminate the problem and save money in the long run.

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