Conducting an Employee Theft Investigation in the Workplace

Employees play a vital role within any organisation as they contribute to the overall advancement of the business. They are entrusted with important resources and critical information about the company’s assets, finances, on-going and potential acquisitions and much more. And so, when an employee begins to prioritise personal gains over what’s best for the company, it inevitably results in the misappropriation of the valuable assets that are owned by the organisation.

The severity of employee theft doesn’t always manifest in substantial amounts. For smaller businesses, even a relatively lower sum can have a significant impact. For instance, a new colour printer goes missing from the office. While this situation may not seem critical enough to conduct an investigation, it does bring up the necessity for preventive measures.

On the other hand, when a substantial sum gets stolen from the company’s account, alarm bells should go off. Such a situation demands immediate and comprehensive attention. More often than not, incidents like these reveal that the theft might have been on-going, however the amounts were insignificant until reaching a tipping point.

Employee thefts are conducted in various forms – ranging from minor offences to major fraud. Listed below are some common types of workplace thefts:

  • Time Theft: When an employee manipulates work hours by engaging in personal activities, taking extended breaks or simply exaggerating their working hours
  • Office Supply Theft: When an employee takes office supplies or access office tools for personal tasks, claiming that it’s a necessity – taking stationary items like pens and pads or printing a personal document
  • Cash Theft: When an employee steals smaller amounts from the company – generally occurs in retail or cash-based businesses. Very often, cash thefts are also seen in the form kickbacks from vendors that the employee deals with directly or through a nexus of employees.
  • Data Theft: When an employee gains unauthorised access to confidential information, trade secrets or client data, with the intention of stealing and selling it
  • Merchandise Theft: When an employee steals products or services sold by the company

Given the threat that employee theft poses, a clear policy outlining the consequences must be laid out by the company. The policy must cover the above mentioned theft types.

In case of a potential theft, it’s important to address the situation strategically:

  • Assessing the incident and protecting confidentiality: Not every situation requires a full-fledged investigation. So, it’s vital to maintain confidentiality wherever possible, safeguarding identities during the evaluation
  • Taking precautions: Shield both the accusers and accused from retaliation or harassment. Taking legal advice before approaching employees can help the situation
  • Notifying the insurer: If applicable, inform the insurer, prior to investigations. This can help navigate potential lawsuits and protect company assets
  • Assigning an investigator: Appoint an impartial investigator, potentially from HR, legal or hire a professional from an external firm
  • Planning and commencing the investigation: Develop an investigation plan, listing interviews and questions for accused and witnesses
  • Conducting interviews and documentation: Schedule interviews during work hours and document the discussions
  • Evaluating the gathered evidence: Examine evidence meticulously, before reaching a conclusion
  • Making a decision and taking actions: Based on the available evidence, decide on employee actions – termination, disciplinary or legal
  • Laying down preventive measures: Reassure employees, emphasise preventive measures, and conduct audits if data theft is involved
  • In conclusion, employee theft investigations can strain both employers and employees. While preventive measures are key, it’s essential to encompass fair treatment, establish anti-theft policies and have insurance coverage in place.

At GDA, we have a team of professionals who specialise in all types of investigations – from employee background checks to employee thefts.

To know more about our services, head over to our website:

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