Employment Law & Theft in The Workplace: How To Take Action
Theft and business fraud is believed to be costing the UK economy more than £73bn each year.
According to the CIFAS, a leading not-for-profit company working to protect businesses, charities, public bodies and individuals from financial crime, employee fraud is on the rise. In 2014, recorded internal fraud rose by 18% year on year, and 2013 saw a 22% increase in dishonest actions by staff. Whilst there is reason to believe that these increases stem from the economic and financial challenges facing many in the UK, it may also be because organisations are not aware, or protecting themselves.
Here, we aim to outline what to do if you suspect that theft in the workplace might be issue, as well as how to deter this behaviour in the first place.
Define: Theft in the Workplace
Theft in the workplace is quite common in retail in part because it can be difficult to deal with. Employers actually have a number of rights and abilities to safeguard their organisation without actually involving the police.
The two common types of workplace theft are:
- Tangible theft – meaning items are physically stolen
- Intangible theft – meaning the theft of intellectual property such as computer files
The increase in intangible “cybercrime” and the markedly global nature of today’s transactions means this is only set to increase.
How can I investigate workplace theft myself?
Firstly, business owners must be made aware of the laws governing investigations in the workplace. ACAS offer a number of resources online and there are many other organisations who offer free information. If problems in the workplace do arise, it is vital that an investigation is correctly performance and evidence must be adequately obtained.
Business owners are permitted, by law, to conduct covert investigations in the workplace. This includes installing cameras. That said, there are two laws to be aware of that may inhibit this practise – these are the Human Rights Act and the Regulatory Investigation of Persons at Work Act. These should not pose an issue so long as the business owner can demonstrate that their investigations are “reasonable in the circumstances”. In fact, these laws actually contribute to your case if correctly handled.
There are actually far easier ways to track and investigate suspected theft. All companies should be keeping detailed records of its inventory making it relatively easy to prove that theft is occurring. There is software available to assist in this.
This is the first step – prevention. Simply making your staff aware of potential thefts will act as a deterrent. In most cases, this is the best outcome and saves on the resources required to investigate further. It also makes loyal staff alert to internal fraud and they can be your eyes and ears.
Staff dismissal and thorough investigations
If prevention doesn’t work and you decide to conduct a formal investigation, it is vital that it is carried out properly. A flawed or incomplete investigation can undermine the entire process and even leave employers vulnerable to claims for unfair dismissal.
There are three key components that an employer must adhere to if they decide that employee dismissal is the only option. The employer must demonstrate the following:
- Genuine belief that misconduct had occurred
- Reasonable grounds for this belief
- Arrival at this belief after a reasonable investigation
Legally, for a fair dismissal case, an employer must show that they carried out a thorough investigation before any action was taken. If an investigation is the only solution and you’re unsure how to best to handle the matter, it is always worth seeking further advice.
Prosecuting the Offending Employee
Depending on the type of theft, the police may be the obvious place to start. However, the fact is that they do not have unlimited resources and those they have will likely be stretched. Business crime, especially when it is internally driven, is not high on their agenda. The police may not be able to allocate resource to a thorough investigation.
Furthermore, if the police are involved, the case will go to the Crown Prosecution Service. For the CPS to conduct a case against a person, they must deem the case “in the interests of justice” and there must be absolute evidence to convict. In reality, what the CPS decide is in the public interest may not align to your views and the loss to your business. Also, whether the evidence is enough to proceed will be reliant upon the police investigation and the resource they dedicate to getting a case together.
As previously mentioned, in most cases, there is no need to involve the police. You may be more likely to achieve an effective result if you utilise a private prosecution service. Doing so may be both cheaper and quicker in the long term when you consider the impact on resources.
No matter your business and circumstances, it is important to take steps to protect your business from employee theft and fraud. If employees have enough opportunity, and think that they will get away with it, there is a chance they may be tempted to steal from a business. Prevention is always better than the cure and if business owners have strong measure in place, theft can be stopped before a problem arises.