EMPLOYEE THEFT PREVENTION AND HANDLING « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Proceed with Good Judgment

The best handling for workplace theft is to prevent it in the first place. Suspected or alleged employee thievery – and an employer’s twin obligations to protect the group against an actual thief and to protect the accused from false charges — is a delicate challenge.  A company’s much more straightforward task is to implement policies and security measures designed to deter the criminally tempted.

Yet, stealing can occur regardless.  A clearly written and regularly updated employee handbook should thus include standards and rules for conduct, reporting, investigation, fair hearing and discipline that discourage as well as address such alleged bad behavior.  Company executives as well as policy must promote the purpose of reporting and investigation: to maintain a safe, just and trusting work environment.  It is leadership’s responsibility to ensure that staff are not altogether intimidated out of raising a theft or other crime problem to management.  Leadership must also assure that employees are not reduced to apathy from unfair procedures that prevent the full airing of accusations and discourage justice.

California and many other states maintain “employment-at-will” as the presumed working relationship between employer and workers. “At will” means that either side may end the relationship at any time, with or without advance notice and with or without any reason for the termination.

However, “at will” employment is not any manager’s or worker’s license to treat fellow employees harshly or unfairly.  While an employer may fire someone for no reason, that company may not terminate for an unlawful reason.  Thus, if management lets someone go for an unsubstantiated accusation of theft, the incident could lead to an action for defamation by the accused against the company as well as the individual accuser.  If management summarily fires an employee for having mistakenly reported an innocent co-worker’s embezzlement, that now-former employee might well have a claim for unlawful retaliation over the incident.

In the face of alleged workplace theft, it is thus a good idea for management to consult with a skilled employment lawyer for guidance on the conduct of an impartial investigation and on any ensuing steps for discipline or termination.