Employee theft is a very real problem for businesses. Theft takes many forms. It can include disappearing stock, missing laptops or other expensive equipment, chronically short cash registers, supply closets that seem to empty of pens, paper and other office supplies as fast as they are stocked, padded expense accounts or even a trusted bookkeeper who gradually embezzles thousands of dollars over time. Sometimes, when a business has a merchant account to process credit cards from customers, an employee will steal by creating fraudulent transactions and double billing charge cards.
The discovery that a trusted employee steals can shock and devastate a business owner. Nevertheless, employee theft affects virtually every type of business, including restaurants, retail stores, banks and credit card processing firms. Some employers say they have seen an increase in employee theft since the 2008 recession. Perhaps because the economy has left more people struggling financially it has increased the number of employees who are willing to steal.
Employers cannot afford to suffer losses from employee theft and must take steps to protect themselves. However, even if an employer suspects theft it is not a good idea to accuse an employee without proof. Doing so can result in legal claims against the employer if they are unable to prove their allegations.
Experts recommend that employers conduct an investigation to prove suspicions. In addition, they advise employers not to announce they are investigating because that can enable a thief to cover his or her tracks.
Once an employer has evidence, they should contact the police. They should also consider consulting with an attorney to make sure they follow procedures to protect from the possibility of a defamation suit. When it is time to confront an employee suspected of stealing, an employer should remain calm and keep their emotions in check.
It is a good idea to put measures in place to prevent employees from stealing in the future. For retail stores that can include a better system to keep track of inventory, or a mandatory check of all employee’s pockets, purses and bags when they leave work. To stem embezzlement, companies can have a second person sign all checks. Businesses with merchant accounts can have someone check for fraudulent charges each day to prevent employees from overcharging credit cards, or turn to their credit card processing company for help.