Every employer dreams of a workforce of dedicated employees they can trust. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Employees sometimes steal, whether it’s money, information, time, supplies, or inventory.
While theft is always grounds for dismissal, it can be difficult to terminate an employee for suspected theft if you do not have adequate proof to demonstrate your case. If the case goes to court, you may need a criminal level of proof to ensure certainty in your claims. You’ll likely need to prove intent to steal as well as proof of conduct. You’ll also have to be able to sufficiently disclose the full context and circumstances of the theft to prove your case. If you’re convinced an employee is stealing from your business, you’ll need to prove it.
Here are eight tips you can take for proving employee theft:
1. Look for Signs of Employee Theft
One of the best ways for proving employee theft is to look for signs that it really happened. Maybe you’ve heard a rumor of internal theft or you just have a gut feeling that something isn’t right. The first thing you should do is confirm the feeling by looking for signs of theft.
An unexplained drop in profits, missing inventory, and disappearing office supplies can be telltale signs of theft. Petty cash that is depleted quickly, payroll and expense discrepancies, and cash amount discrepancies at the register are also signs that you might be dealing with internal theft at the workplace.
2. Contact Your Legal Counsel
If you suspect an employee of theft, it’s important to reach out for legal advice before you move forward with an investigation. You’ll want to ensure your rights and the employee’s rights are protected. Charges may be brought against you if you go about the situation all wrong.
For example, you cannot restrain or detain the employee against their will (such as keeping them in your office to answer questions). You also cannot publicly defame the employee without proof, nor can you threaten to prosecute them if you are not sure you’re going to bring charges and you do not yet have proof to do so.
3. Monitor the Employee
While you’ll need to comply with privacy laws, you can monitor an employee’s actions more closely if you suspect them of theft. Dig deeper into the logs from their shifts, including discrepancies in cash amounts, missing merchandise or supplies, unlocked exits, and suspicious vehicles parked near the back exits.
You may also want to note unusual behaviours, such as unusual working hours, poor work performance, defensiveness, particularly close relationships with vendors, colleagues, or customers, and lifestyles that go above and beyond their salary.
4. Hire a Private Investigator
While larger enterprises have virtually unlimited resources to launch anti-theft campaigns, create anti-theft policies, and investigate potential cases of internal theft thoroughly, smaller and mid-sized businesses may not have the same resources.
If this is the case, consider hiring a private investigator to head the investigation. This investigator will have the tools, resources, and experience required to conduct a proper investigation into the matter to get you the proof you need to make an informed decision, whether that’s pressing criminal charges, seeking restitution, disciplining the employee, or terminating them.
Before you jump to conclusions when you suspect theft, take the time to launch an investigation and get the evidence you need to prove your case.
5. Collect Written Evidence
Written evidence can help you back up your claims. If you think an employee is stealing money, bank statements can give you the proof you need. On the other hand, if you think the theft involves inventory, then stock reports may be your best bet.
6. Collect Security Footage
Many businesses, especially retailers, have security cameras on their premises to deter theft, whether internal or external. This security footage may be just what you need to prove your case. If you don’t have cameras up yet, setting them up is a good first step to catching the employee in the act. If you already have security cameras on the premises, go through the footage to determine if any suspicious acts have been caught on tape.
7. Interview Witnesses
Employees often work in pairs or groups. If you suspect an employee of stealing on the job, you can ask around and interview the other employees who were on shift at the same time to ask if they’ve seen anything suspicious. While some may not feel comfortable disclosing this type of information to you about their colleagues, others might be able to give you the additional insight you need to drive your investigation forward.
8. Meet with the Employee You Suspect of Theft
Once you’ve gathered evidence, including written documents, witness statements, and video surveillance footage, request a meeting with the employee in question. The meeting request should be in written form and you should provide 24 hours’ notice. It’s a good idea to have a witness attend, particularly someone from legal or HR.
Getting a confession from the employee can go a long way to proving your case.