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When trusted employees steal
May 20, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments
A coaching client just informed us of their discovery that a trusted employee has been stealing from the company by manipulating and creating false transactions in the company’s business software. Luckily, another employee saw something questionable and informed the owners. After hours of examining and comparing transaction logs, it was clear who the culprit was, how it was done, and for how long it’s been happening. Damn…isn’t running a business difficult enough without having your own employees stealing from you – especially one from your trusted inner circle?
The owners were shocked and devastated to discover just how extensive their trust was violated by this key employee. To learn that thousands of dollars had been siphoned out of much needed cash flow is one thing, but to learn that someone you trusted intentionally stole from the company right under your nose is where the real and lasting damage is done.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to help you and the rest of your company through the aftermath of discovering that an employee has been stealing:
- Stealing is stealing: It’s not just taking money that qualifies as stealing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a box of pencils, paperclips, supplies, or products…taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing. Padding an expense account is stealing. Sleeping while on the clock is stealing. Just because it doesn’t “feel” like stealing to the employee doesn’t mean that it isn’t – stealing comes in many forms, and happens when greed and entitlement thinking overtake good judgment, ethics, and values. No compromise.
- Due diligence: It doesn’t matter how indisputable your evidence is, the first call you make should be to your attorney for guidance on how to handle the matter before confronting the individual with accusations of being a thief. Jumping in without proper legal oversight could potentially backfire on you with a defamation lawsuit, so it’s best to play it safe. Your next call should be to the police to report the alleged crime. The police will also guide you on what you should and shouldn’t do. The most important thing to do is document anything and everything related to the case.
- Fire and recovery: Before confronting the offender, you must decide on what you want the outcome to be. Unfortunately, you really don’t have many options. If your proof is questionable, you need to present your evidence and demand explanation. Note: Do not get sucked in by a sob story. If you reject the explanation, the employee must resign or be fired. If the proof is indisputable, the employee needs to resign or be fired. The offer to submit his/her resignation should be attached to the full recovery of what was stolen. Firing means pressing charges and recovery through legal means. Remember, every decision you make sets a precedent for if (or, unfortunately, when) you encounter this type of situation again.
- Confronting the offender: It is extremely important to contain your emotions and filter everything you say to avoid repercussions. This should be a formal meeting with a witness present to monitor what is said. Based on discussions with your attorney and the police, you may consider having one or both present. Nothing communicates the seriousness of the situation than having your attorney and police officers present. In fact, it may be best to turn the conversation over to them. That puts more stress on the offender and less on you. The meeting ends with the employee admitting to the offense by resigning or being fired. Let the police handle it from there.
- Damage control: The ick from these situations doesn’t just get all over you – it gets all over everyone in the company. Word will spread like wildfire; therefore it’s essential that you brief staff as quickly as possible. It’s best to present a sanitized version of what happened. It’s important to take the high road and not demean the offender. Terms like “stealing” should be replaced with terms like “questionable transactions.” Employees are pretty savvy and will figure out what you mean. Prepare talking points to guide employees through conversations with customers, vendors, and others. The important thing is to contain the drama and for the company to move on. The impact should be controlled and the situation rectified properly – you simply had an employee who risked his or her job and reputation by stealing. Now they are suffering the consequences. Case closed.
- Learn from the lesson: There are more ways to steal from a company than you can imagine. Therefore, the best offense is a good defense. Rethink and rebuild your systems and procedures to plug the holes. It’s a shame that tactics like security cameras need to exist in the workplace, but they serve a purpose. They protect the innocent just as much as they prevent temptation.
- Continue to trust: The actions of one individual should never tarnish your belief in others. There are many employees that deeply care about your company and its values. Distrusting everyone will eventually cause distrust to embed itself in your culture. No-compromise leaders nurture cultures of high trust by practicing smart trust that comes from well-designed systems and procedures.
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