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How to Address Workplace Theft

Toby Graham

How to Address Workplace Theft

Not all thieves wear masks. Regardless of the size of a company, how stringent the hiring process is, or how many employees signed a Code of Conduct, employee theft is an expensive reality employers face. Workplace theft can range from taking home a notepad or stapler to falsifying time records or taking cash directly from a register.

Executives, managers, and employees who have been caught stealing often state they understood and believed the act was unethical yet did it anyway. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) identified most thieves were motivated by overwhelming temptation based on easy access to time records, merchandise, cash, supplies, etc. Very few confessions were based on personal financial hardship and the majority had no criminal record related to theft or fraud.

Some ways to reduce overwhelming temptation include the following:

  • Store merchandise and/or supplies in a secure and monitored location
  • Consider new timecard technology, such as biometric time clocks requiring a fingerprint to clock in and out
  • Require a signed log when accessing inventory, cash registers/lock boxes, and other secured locations
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for theft and fraud
  • Implement Code of Ethics, Anti-Fraud, and/or Conflict of Interest policies
  • Train employees to recognize theft and fraud
  • Investigate all complaints promptly and follow Legal and HR Best Practices
  • Set up a theft/fraud hotline
  • Conduct regular internal audits of time cards, inventory, and receipts
  • Hire an external agency to perform audits

Reducing temptation is one step in the right direction. Investigating a claim or allegation of theft should be done promptly, and properly, using established procedures. Working closely with an HR expert or legal counsel will create an effective process to address, investigate, and handle claims.

Here are some helpful things to remember during an investigation:

  • Get the facts–just the facts
  • Document, document, document
  • Assign investigators (who are generally HR or leadership not involved in the claim)
  • Establish and share confidentiality guidelines for investigators and employees
  • Keep investigation notes, interviews, findings, etc. in a folder separate from the employee file
  • If it is necessary to the employee(s) during the investigation, define in writing, the expected timeframe and whether they are eligible for pay during this absence
  • Follow state and federal rules and guidelines
  • When in doubt – call in an expert like KPA’s HR Experts or legal counsel

Consistency is key when making a determination based on the investigation findings. Follow established (and lawful) company policies related to discipline and termination. If the situation doesn’t fit any policies or has never happened before, keep in mind you’re setting a precedent on how the company will handle any future similar situations. When in doubt, get an expert to weigh in and offer guidance.

For more information, KPA clients can email

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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