How do I deal with theft in the workplace?

Often seen as a victimless crime, workplace theft can impact businesses of all sizes and is believed to cost the UK economy more than £193 billion per year.

Workplace theft can affect any kind of business, regardless of industry

Workplace theft can affect any kind of business, regardless of industry

Theft in the workplace is a difficult subject which impacts many businesses. Some may not realise that it’s happening. Others might not know how to effectively handle it in a fair and compliant manner.

Data from the National Fraud Agency estimates that theft and business fraud costs the UK economy as much as £73 billion a year, and this figure has actually risen since the start of 2017. Recorded internal fraud rose by 18 per cent from 2014 to 2015, and 22 per cent from 2013 according to CIFAS, the fraud prevention service.

CIFAS has previously reported that the factors surrounding this increase in dishonest actions to obtain personal benefit include economic and employment challenges facing many in the UK. In other cases, it may simply be because organisations are not properly protecting themselves.

The good news is that you can deal with it and do so without involving the police at all.

In this article, we outline what to do if you think theft may be issue in your workplace as well as how best to deter thieves in the first place. After all, prevention will always be better than the cure.

Common types of theft in the workplace

The two common types of theft are:
Tangible theft which means that physical items are removed from the location without consent such as equipment, merchandise and machinery. This obviously impacts those in retail the most.

Intangible theft which incorporates the theft of intellectual property such as digital documents, copyrighted material and software.

It should be no surprise that the latter can be the most damaging as more and more businesses rely on online documentation, shared folders and cloud services. Add to that the global nature of online transactions and it’s easy to understand why this type of cybercrime is only set to increase.

How can I monitor potential workplace theft

Business owners should familiarise themselves with the laws governing investigations in the workplace. Thankfully, there are a good number of authoritative resources online from leading bodies such as ACAS. Should the need arise to conduct an investigation, it must be carried out correctly and in line with the specified regulations.

To the surprise of some business owners, you are legally entitled to conduct covert investigations in the workplace and can actually go so far as to install cameras wherever need be. However, there are two pieces of legislation to be aware of which can have an impact of their usage and potentially inhibit such techniques:

Human rights act

Regulatory investigation of persons at work act

That said, if the investigation can be deemed reasonable in its circumstances, then these laws can contribute towards your case. Gathering prior evidence and proving strong grounds is the key.

The use of cameras will likely be unnecessary and theft can be investigated through existing systems and easier means. For example, the company should keep detailed records of its stock therefore tracking unexplained lost inventory can be done through the books. If the business is without such systems, there is software which can help.

The best and easiest solution – communication

Often, simply making staff aware of potential thefts will act as a deterrent. It is possible to express that measures are being taken to monitor the situation, be it tangible or intangible. The added bonus of this strategy is that the honest majority will remain alert to internal fraud which is the best kind of deterrent. After all, human eyes and ears can be far better than cameras.

The American National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, has stated that 73 per cent of shoplifting crimes are unplanned and opportunistic. Therefore, preventing the opportunity will ultimately have the strongest positive impact on fraudulent activity and dramatically reduce the likelihood of improvised crime.

Investigations leading to staff dismissal

Should the situation persist and a formal investigation is required, this must be conducted thoroughly and properly. Otherwise, there is the risk of undermining the entire disciplinary process which can then leave employers vulnerable to unfair dismissal claims.

Be mindful of this, but not deterred. There are three key core criteria that must be fulfilled should you decide to dismiss an employee.

These are as follows:

You must genuinely believe that misconduct has occurred

Your beliefs must be founded on reasonable grounds

This belief must be the conclusion of a fair and evidence-based investigation

For a dismissal to be judged fair, the employer must be able to demonstrate that they that they carried out the correct process and a thorough investigation before acting on any beliefs.

Investigations leading to prosecution

The police might seem like the obvious place to start, however the unfortunate reality is that police resources are limited and they may not be able to offer your case the attention that it deserves. Commercial business crime, especially when it’s internally driven, just isn’t high on their list of priorities. This could lead to a slow investigation if one at all, preventing analysis of the situation from going ahead that is required by employment law as stated earlier.

In addition, should the police be involved, the case goes to the Crown Prosecution Service and for the CPS to further a case against a person, if they deem it in the interest of justice. What the CPS believe to be in the interest may not align to the businesses beliefs however.

Also, there must be ample evidence to guarantee a conviction and this is dependent on the quality of the investigation, which has to be pretty air-tight. As mentioned, the police may not have the resources to offer this level of support leaving you without a case.

If the theft is sufficiently sizeable and the business deem it necessary to take strong action for fraudulent practises, it will likely be both quicker and cheaper in the long term, to invest in an experienced private prosecution service.

The bottom line

With the alarming stats surrounding business fraud, it should be high up any businesses agenda to safeguard themselves against dishonest activity. No matter the case, it should be clear to see that preventing such a scenario from occurring is one of your highest priorities as a business owner.

The first place to start is with a robust company policies handbook which outlines the consequences of such actions. Issue standard processes that document the flow of information or merchandise. Communicate with the staff if there is legitimate concern over any discrepancies.

It is the business owner’s responsibility to mitigate the circumstances as best they can to prevent their being an issue in the first place. If business owners can deploy effective measures, employees are far less likely to even consider theft in the workplace.

David specialises in digital content and has worked extensively with recruiters and legal firms as a communications consultant.

Further reading on workplace theft

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