THEFT IN THE WORKPLACE: What to do if an employee is stealing

When an employee takes something that is owned by the employer, or another employee, without permission and uses it for their personal benefit, this is stealing from the workplace. Examples include taking practice supplies and using them for personal use at home, or refunding patient transactions and pocketing the refund. All forms of stealing have a negative impact on the practice. To minimise the risk to your practice, take measures to prevent workplace theft, and be aware of the procedures to follow when there is an allegation or suspicion of theft in your practice.

If you suspect an employee, you must investigate

If you suspect that an employee has been stealing from your practice, you may want to act fast to limit the damage to your business. While it is important to act quickly, the employee must still be afforded due process. If you take disciplinary action against an employee before gathering evidence or allowing the employee to respond to the allegations, you may face an unfair dismissal or adverse action claim with the Fair Work Commission.

As an employer, you are required to conduct an unbiased investigation to determine whether the allegations or suspicion of theft can be backed up by evidence. Gather evidence from documents, witness reports, transaction and stock records from your practice. An assessment of the evidence is based on whether or not, on the balance of probabilities, the employee has been stealing from the workplace. The suspected employee should also be provided an opportunity to respond to any accusations.

What to do if evidence shows that the employee has been stealing from your practice

Theft is considered by Fair Work to be serious misconduct which may result in disciplinary action taken against the employee, including summary dismissal. However the disciplinary action taken should be balanced with the severity of the actions of the employee. Stealing band aids from the practice supplies may not warrant termination of an employee’s contract, but rather a warning and discussion about what is or is not acceptable behaviour. However stealing the day’s taking would justify summary dismissal.

If an employee has stolen money or goods from the practice, it may be tempting to deduct this from his or her salary or other employee entitlements to recover the costs. However it is unlawful for an employer to do so unless they have received authorisation from the employee.

Theft is also illegal and you may wish to report the theft to the police. Not all workplace theft is reported, and you may wish to consider the seriousness of the theft in comparison to the implications to your business and the employee should you report the criminal offence. If you choose to notify the police, ensure that your allegations are based on evidence. Where possible, conduct an internal investigation first, unless the allegations are so serious as to warrant immediate police intervention. If a police investigation finds that the employee is guilty of theft, you may be able to seek a civil remedy in court for losses to the business.

What you can do: Prevention is key

There is no one reason why an employee may steal from their workplace. While it may not always be possible to predict such actions, there are things that you can do to limit the chances that an employee will steal from your practice:

  • Encourage a no tolerance workplace culture in regards to criminal conduct, including theft. Ensure that you have clear workplace policies and a code of conduct that explains that theft is serious misconduct and will result in disciplinary action which may include summary dismissal.
  • Staff should receive training and further education on the seriousness of workplace theft and understand what is or is not acceptable in terms of the use of practice supplies, information and materials. For example, if you allow staff to take toothpaste when needed, your lack of action may signify your consent.
  • Your practice should also have an anonymous reporting system to allow employees to report actions that amount to serious misconduct, including theft.
  • The operations of the practice can be utilised to limit the access of computer, information, and finances to designated persons within the practice. This can help limit the risk of abuse of practice information and finances By Rebecca Hyde, Workplace Compliance Advisor at ClinLegal. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice (Hons) and a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology).
  • Pre-employment practices such as background reference checks can also help to inform the employer of any employment history that may indicate a risk in the practice.

For further information or advice, contact us or visit www.clinlegal.com.au and see our Code of Conduct ow to conduct an investigation.

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