Since time immemorial theft has always been an unfortunate, but inevitable fact of life. For businesses of today, theft in the workplace can be detrimental to your business. The loss of property and the potential to instigate a toxic work environment are concerns that employers all carry when considering how to approach theft.
However, with a little bit of preparation, there are a number of things that you as a business owner can do to protect your organization without necessarily involving the police. This article will outline what you need to do if you suspect a theft has been committed, and how to deter workplace thieves in future.
What is Theft in the Workplace?
In recent years, theft in the workplace has been on the rise. 2014 saw a rise of 18% from the previous year. The 2014 rise has been seen as part of a trend of the wider growth of theft as a result of the financial challenges facing many in the UK in the post 2008 financial collapse era. In order for companies to tackle the problem effectively, its important to understand that there are two types of theft in the workplace.
Tangible theft involves items that are physically stolen such as stock or equipment, and Intangible theft involves the theft of intellectual property like software or copyrights.
In many cases, it can be difficult for a company to detect intangible theft due to the lack of physical evidence (in most cases). Intangible theft is often the most financially damaging for businesses. The National Fraud Agency records that theft and business fraud costs the UK economy in excess of £70 Billion each year. As market transactions become increasingly more globalized, the rate of cybercrime is only set to increase.
Investigating Workplace Theft
In order to conduct a successful investigation into workplace theft it is important for business owners to educate themselves on the laws governing investigations in the workplace. Resources like ACAS provide valuable information that will ensure that you are aware of all the restrictions in place on the collection of information. By educating yourself, you will be able to conduct a thorough (and legal!) investigation.
The centerpiece of your investigation will be the evidence that you collect. It may surprise you to know that employers are permitted by law to conduct covert investigations in the workplace, which includes the installation of covert cameras. If you can show that your investigation can de deemed reasonable then you will not fall foul of the Human Rights Act or the Regulatory Investigation of Persons at Work Act. However, in many cases you won’t need to go the extent of covert investigations. If your company keeps detailed records of it’s inventory, then it will be much easier to find a paper trail. If you don’t want to spend the manpower monitoring the inventory then there is software available to track your inventory for you.
If you decide to take the plunge and pursue a formal investigation, it’s vital that you commit to conducting the investigation properly. A poorly conducted investigation is a liability, as not only will you fail to adequately follow up theft, you will also leave yourself vulnerable to claims of unfair dismissal and subsequent penalties. Whilst it’s important to note that this is a possibility, it is unlikely to happen if you can demonstrate that you genuinely believed misconduct had occurred in the workplace, that you have reasonable grounds for this belief, and had come to this decision after a reasonable investigation.
An open and investigative process benefits everyone, and your dismissal is much more likely to be judged fair if you can show that you conducted a proper investigation into the matter before taking action. In addition, such an approach can be beneficial when dealing with employee grievances, as properly defined investigative procedures show that complaints are taking seriously.
Moving Forward and Prosecuting the Employee
If, after conducting a thorough investigation, you find that an employee is guilty of theft, it can be worth investing in a specialist fraud prosecution service. Although the police can be a first port of call in many cases, the brutal fact is that they do not have unlimited resources, and frankly, internal business crimes are not high on their agenda. In addition, if you pursue theft up with the police, the Crown prosecution Service will prosecute the case.
Cases that go through the CPS must satisfy a high standard of evidence in order to secure a conviction and the CPS must be satisfied that the case is in the interests of justice. What makes this more complicated is that you investigation may have been jeopardized by an overstretched police investigation. Even if you have the standard of evidence required to go to court, the CPS may not deem you case to be within the public interest. With the hurdles that surround the CPS and the police, you’re much more likely to achieve an effective result by utilizing a private prosecution service. A private prosecution service will help to save you time, and money that would otherwise be lost through bureaucracy.
Regardless of how you decide to proceed, you need to take steps to safeguard your business from internally driven fraud. Though many employees are loyal and honest, there are a number of employees who won’t hesitate to steal from you if given the opportunity, particularly if they won’t be caught or prosecuted. If you take a preventative and active approach to dealing with crime, you’ll show that you have the knowledge and determination to pursue workplace theft. In doing so, employees will think twice before dipping into the till.
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