Terminating an Employee for Theft

employeescreeningblog, employee screening, pre-employment screeningWe’ve been talking lately about employee theft, and how it affects employers of all kinds. In this third article in our series, we look at what to do when you’re faced with this unfortunate situation.

The most sophisticated video camera systems won’t stop an employee from stealing. And unfortunately, the evidence they contain won’t always protect you from an unlawful termination suit. Even the most blatant thieves may try to protect themselves by bringing a lawsuit—and even if you win, you’ll still have to expend a great deal of time and effort.

You cannot avoid all the unpleasantries of terminating an employee, but if someone is stealing, you cannot let it continue, either. If you fear that employees are stealing from your business, keep the following dos and don’ts in mind:

  • Before you take action, take the time to do a thorough investigation. Accusing an employee is a serious charge, and you’ll need to thoroughly document your case. So don’t fire someone in the heat of the moment.
  • Do have at least two people involved in the investigation to avoid false accusations by the employee of framing for retaliation or bullying.
  • When conducting your investigation, don’t resort to crime-movie tactics. By law, you cannot go through an employee’s personal belongings, or use a baby monitor to listen to their private conversations.
  • Be careful of what you say. Stating a fact, such as “Steven stole $600 worth of merchandise,” can subject you to accusations of slander. Do state things in terms of opinion: “We have reason to believe that Steven may have taken the merchandise.” Even if it’s true that Steven stole the merchandise, you could still be sued.
  • Be sure you can prove the reasons for termination. Do terminate for performance or failing to follow company procedures, instead of for theft that could possibly be explained by the employee—however weak the explanation may be.
  • If an employee admits to theft, don’t terminate until you have obtained a written statement in his or her handwriting. If the employee wishes, do allow this to happen in private, to avoid any accusation of coercion.

Legal disclaimer:

The contents of this article are intended for general information only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice applicable to your situation.

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