Employer Liable For Stolen Wallet?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about stolen wallet:

I work at a large company in a secure area. You have to have an access card to reach my area. My wallet was inside my purse in my drawer. My wallet was stolen (my purse was left. I spoke with my employer and they said there have been previous thefts in the building and they are investigating (nothing has come out about this and they never notified employees that thefts occurred in the building) Is my employer responsible to replace my wallet and contents?

Signed, Unwarned and Upset

Dear Unwarned and Upset:

Good question! And the answer varies according to the circumstances. I would suggest you ask an attorney for a free consultation. However, most likely this would be a Small Claims Court issue, and no attorney would be needed to file a claim. Before you get involved with that, I hope you have taken action to protect against identity theft–which is usually why wallets are stolen. There are numerous resources online and with your bank and other places, to help you deal with that. But do get started on it right away.

As for the employer liability aspect, here are the issues surrounding this type of situation: If there had been a number of personal assaults and the employer had not notified employees, an employee who was assaulted would have a strong chance of winning a judgment against the employer–because most employees assume they are safe within the walls of their workplaces.

But, there is a general feeling that valuables are always at risk, and a reasonable employee would be aware of that fact. Identity theft articles and websites abound, and they all talk about not putting purses in easily accessible locations. Desk drawers, especially the larger ones below the small drawers, are the most obvious places for a thief to look. On the other hand, you were taking generally reasonable precautions by putting your purse in a drawer. So, the actions required to get it–walking right up to your desk and opening several drawers to find the one with the purse–might not have been expected by you–especially given the secure status of your work area.

Your employer did, however, know the type of criminal behavior that was going on. Had you been told, you might have taken additional precautions or not had the entire wallet at work. That might make it more likely that you could win a small claims judgment. The problem is proving how much you had in the wallet. Some people could truthfully say they had several hundred dollars. Others would by lying if they said they had twenty dollars. And, there is the issue of do you get reimbursed for the cash only, or for time and effort spent trying to protect yourself against identity theft and related worries? That would have to be decided by the deciding official.You may want to see if your homeowner’s policy would cover the theft. If so, they might negotiate with your employer to cover part of the loss, while they cover the rest. Or, you might want to write a letter to the legal section of your organization and ask what coverage your company’s insurance provides for such thefts.

If you are open and honest about your intent to reclaim most if not all of your losses, you may very well get more assistance than you expect. The people in your organization who are responsible for security may have thought by not saying anything they were more likely to be able to catch the criminal. I think it’s better to warn employees and stop the crimes through extra vigilance, than it is to hope to catch someone in the act! I’m sorry about what happened. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know if you are able to get some sort of restitution.Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.