By Vaughan Granier

You can’t put a price on trust, it’s invaluable in all areas of life including the workplace. But what happens when you suspect that an employee you trust in your business isn’t being completely honest with you?

Jumping to conclusions and making rash decisions is the last thing you want to do as an employer in this situation. So, here our experts explain the ins and outs of how to handle theft in the workplace, and the process that needs to be followed to ensure the situation is handled properly.

First things first: investigate

While you may have already drawn your own conclusions, it’s important to sit back and look at the situation to determine objectively whether this person has indeed stolen from the business.

This involves undertaking a formal workplace investigation to gather as much evidence as you can to support your allegation that the employee has acted dishonestly. An investigation involves:

  • Gathering all written evidence you have (i.e., cash register reconciliation, stocktake reports, or bank statements);
  • Interviewing potential witnesses;
  • Accessing any CCTV footage that may have caught the employee engaging in this behaviour; and
  • Reviewing internal policies relevant to the situation (i.e., workplace surveillance policy, cash handling processes).

The next step is to invite the concerned employee to a formal investigation meeting to discuss the findings. But there are a few things you must do to ensure procedural fairness requirements are met, and they include:

  • Giving the employee written notice to attend this meeting;
  • Ensuring the employee is provided with all the relevant information (i.e. what is the meeting for, evidence that is being relied on);
  • Providing the employee with reasonable time and opportunity to prepare for the meeting (we recommend at least two business days); and
  • Reminding the employee that they’re entitled to have a support person present for this meeting.

Can I suspend the employee while conducting the investigation?

This question is surprisingly common, and the answer is complicated. To stand down or suspend an employee during an investigation, the employee must pose a serious and genuine risk to the business or the outcome of the investigation if they continue their employment while it’s taking place. This could be the possibility of tampering with evidence, intimidating or influencing witnesses, or even downloading a client list so they can try to compete with you if they do get fired…

If you believe there’s a genuine risk in the employee having workplace access, you can suspend them while the investigation is taking place. This should include blocking site access and IT access. However, you must ensure the employee is suspended with full pay as the allegations are just that, allegations, they haven’t yet been proven.

An investigation has determined theft occurred, but can you terminate the employee?

Theft is serious misconduct, and pending the merits of the individual case there may be an argument for immediate (summary) dismissal.

However, before terminating the employee, you must follow proper disciplinary processes to address serious misconduct. The purpose of the first meeting is to fact-find and investigate, the focus of this hearing however will shift towards addressing disciplinary matters with a real possibility the employee may be terminated without notice.

Recovering stolen property: is it possible?

 It’s probably the most common question an employer asks in this situation; how do I get my stolen property back? This can be an issue as it’s unfortunately not just something you can take from an employee’s pay. Recovering the value of stolen money or property is possible under the Wages Protection Act 1983 however there are strict requirements around consent that must be adhered to.

And while this can be frustrating, the best approach to getting your property back is to first talk with the employee and see whether they’re willing to return what they’ve taken. Given that you also have the option of taking further legal action against the employee, involving the police, or threatening to involve the police, may prompt a quick return of the property to avoid charges.

If this information has raised any questions about how to handle theft in the workplace or you have another workplace matter you need support with, please contact our experts via our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured client? Contact us today to learn more about how HR Assured can help your business.

Vaughan Granier is the National Workplace Relations Manager for HR Assured NZ. He has over 24 years’ experience in international human resources, health and safety, and workplace relations management. With over 10 years working in New Zealand and Australian companies, he provides in-depth support to leadership teams across all areas of HR, Health and Safety, and employee management.