Posted on September 27, 2016 in Consulting
I learned valuable lessons through personal experience in dealing with employee theft. The story involved my father and the men’s clothing store he owned in a small South Texas town. (I can share the story without concern of the attorney-client privilege because the store closed in 2005 when my father passed.) Many years ago, my dad sought advice from me about an employee who was regularly stealing merchandise. My father was so concerned about potential repercussions over firing a long-term employee in a small community that he chose to ignore my advice to immediately terminate the employee. He thought the theft may have been small. Eventually, he did fire the employee after concluding the theft was much more substantial but only told the employee he had “lost confidence in him.” My dad would not press charges and the thief was never confronted with his crime.
I want to share some wisdom from this experience and many others I have experienced with clients. My message is simple: prosecute thieves.
- Always Press Charges
In my experience, most companies have little interest in pressing charges and prosecuting an employee for theft. They focus on getting some of their money back through private settlement agreements that provide for a portion or repayment on long-term payment plans. Businesses simply have too little trust in the criminal justice system.
I understand the financial motivation, but criminal prosecution often includes reparations too. Additionally, not pressing charges sends a terrible message in your workforce, and often scandals of this type become the subject of gossip. Thieves win and business suffers.
I suggest employers break the trend of leniency and press charges when the evidence exists to prosecute. In recent years, we have helped clients coordinate with local district attorneys to prosecute workplace thieves. The police and the district attorney take these cases seriously and will pursue charges.
- Advertise Your Policy of Prosecution
So much is included in a typical handbook that does not need to be there. But how many employers tell employees that all theft will be subject to prosecution without exception. Perhaps very few do.
I suggest employers adopt and publish a policy that states: “The Company will immediately terminate and press charges against any employee caught stealing from the Company. No exceptions will be considered.”
- Don’t Let Sympathy Change your Mind
Employers should not judge who and who should not be prosecuted. Our rule of law places that responsibility in the criminal justice system, not with company management. The justice system is riddled with attacks on the discriminatory treatment of minorities. Employers should not add to the problem by exercising their discretion to the mix.
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter and will share it with colleagues and friends. Please join me on October 20, 2016, at my next Employment Matters Lunch & Learn Series.