What To Tell Employee Accused of Theft

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about who stole money:

A large amount of cash went missing at work. A search of everyone was initiated but not completed for all. One individual was found with large amounts of cash; however, he disclosed prior to the search that he had this in his possession. The search was called off as it was determined the money had been left unattended and that even if money was found it could not be determined to be the money in question. The guy who had the large amounts of cash behaved quite erratically and this caused some suspicion amongst co-workers. He now feels he was accused of taking the money- some “loaded” comments were made but no outright accusations were made.Our security department has advised they cannot complete an investigation. He is demanding an apology from all parties and an announcement made declaring his innocence. Obviously people are refusing to do this. How do we encourage him to let his good record speak for itself and move on? It’s causing friction in the workplace.

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering:

I believe you should seek some legal advice about this matter. Just a phone call to make sure you are on the right track could prevent a much more serious problem later. An attorney could tell you what potential there is for civil action by the employee and also could advise your business about what to do about any other kind of theft–and a search subsequent to it.

You may have a legal department or someone who is a regular adviser–use them to ensure you do the right thing in this case.I don’t feel we should advise you more than that right now, because we may not have all the facts. Among the things an attorney will want to know:

*Did you tell people they had to stay in a certain area and they could not leave until the search was concluded?
*How was the search conducted? Did employees empty their pockets and parcels or was it more than that?
*Did you have any way of eliminating some people (video, witnesses, an initial investigation to determine the people who had access, etc.)
*Did you stop immediately after searching the person with the money or was it later?
*What exactly were the “loaded” statements that were made?An attorney will want to know what those were.I don’t know what business you are in, but according to the status of employees (contract, unionized, etc.) you may want to consider not retaining this employee anyway. But you’d want legal advice about how to conduct that dismissal.

The reality is, you think he took the money and he acted strange and now he is creating disruption. (Perhaps justified!) Just because a crime can’t be proven doesn’t mean you can’t dismiss a suspect.However, before you do that you would want to make sure you have good reason: The totality of the situation, the form the money would have been in, whether he could have taken it and if the amount he had was the amount missing, etc.An attorney could give you the guidelines you need to follow to justify your initial actions and your actions now.Further, if the attorney thinks you should apologize for something, he or she could draft a letter that would appease the employee if you decide to keep him but not make problem statements or apologies.

Whatever happens, if the employee stays you are going to have to work hard to keep him as a productive member of your work group. If he didn’t take the money, you can imagine how he feels. If he did take it, he has good reason to get on the offensive and make things difficult.I certainly think it would be wise to have his immediate supervisor go out of his way to provide support, encouragement and one-on-one training. Perhaps he can help develop some guidelines about similar situations in the future! This might also be an area in which an attorney could give assistance, by saying how much special effort you should put into the project. You will feel much better and be on much more solid ground with your actions, if you talk to an attorney before you do anything further. Best wishes with this. It would be helpful for us to know how you end up handling it. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how you handled it.

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.