Once upon a time, if an employee was caught stealing in the workplace, instant dismissal would follow. Staff members caught red handed were found to have breached their duty of good faith to the employer; termination of service was an expected outcome. But these days, industrial legislation can protect even dishonest employees. Employers must, therefore, tread carefully when dealing with such staff members…

Management Skills

1. Stay alert.

Staff dishonesty is difficult to eliminate from the workplace; it is certainly difficult to detect. The natural loyalty of employers towards their staff often permits such crimes to go undetected. In most cases this loyalty is justified; however, when it is not, the resulting loss can be high for the simple reason that employees have easy access to cash, goods, or valuables. Stay alert.

2. Be scrupulously fair in any investigation.

Even if you believe that theft can be proven beyond doubt, a court could find the dismissal to be harsh, unreasonable, or unjust unless you have treated the employee with ‘procedural fairness’. To ignore this just process could mean that you may have to suffer dearly in terms of time, aggravation, back pay, damages and compensation, even continued employment, if the terminated staff member seeks court judgement on unfair dismissal.

3. Gather clear evidence of any dishonest behaviour.

Remember that, for dismissal, you will need to show:

  • that the theft was so serious that the employee should be no longer bound by the contract of employment
  • that the employee’s behaviour was not subject to any mitigating circumstances or alternative explanations.

4. Be aware of any mitigating circumstances.

Consider any underlying causes for an employee’s dishonest actions. Were there any personal problems? Or major concerns with family? Or stress factors which may have affected the staff member’s conduct?

Courts have even favoured employees who actually showed no sense of guilt – who ‘didn’t realise that I wasn’t supposed to take the item from the site’. So check out any underlying causes for the dishonest behaviour.

5. Put your allegations to the employee clearly.

State in clear terms your findings to the employee; provide the staff member with an opportunity to respond to your statement and to explain his or her own side of the story. It is important that you encourage the employee to respond and for you to listen sympathetically to that explanation. If the employee admits to a serious offence and shows little remorse, there may well be a case for dismissal on the grounds of seriousness and a breach of duty of good faith to the employer. Remember, ‘procedural fairness’ is an essential consideration in this process.

6. Provide the contrite employee with a second chance.

On the other hand, if the employee admits to an indiscretion, expresses genuine remorse, and can provide a sincere explanation for the dishonesty, then this should be noted and the employee given a second chance. Courts have been very sympathetic to employees who express genuine contrition and legal actions have gone against employers who have ignored such pleas.

7. Ensure the employee receives a written warning.

A written warning that an instance of employee dishonesty has been identified and that the employee’s future behaviour will be carefully monitored should be provided to the employee. This will ensure that a further breach will make the employer’s case for dismissal so much stronger.

8. Become familiar with legislatory provisions.

Forewarned is forearmed. Industrial relations legislation is ever-changing. It is important for employers to become familiar with the latest laws and requirements on dismissal. By knowing your local provisions, you will be prepared to act promptly and legally in cases of employee dishonesty.

9. Eliminate the opportunity; eliminate the crime.

If you want to reduce the discomfort of having to deal with dishonest staff members, then take steps to eliminate, or at least reduce, theft by employees. Consider this advice:

  • Acknowledge the problem. Dishonest staff could be costing you money. US government studies show that employee theft from manufacturing plants alone amounts to $8 million a day nationwide!
  • Conduct regular pilferage vulnerability assessments in your business operations.
  • Recognise the many techniques dishonest employees use to pilfer your assets; devise effective counter measures.
  • Create an effective inventory system that will alert you to a potential problem.
  • Include your employees in the inventory control program – participation increases awareness and responsibility.

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