Tips for Dealing With Petty Theft in Your Small Business
One of the biggest fears that is often on the mind of any small business owner is the theft of your business’s services or products by your employees. Cash is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you picture a petty theft, but employees can also steal property, personal client information, and your time, by performing personal tasks while working.
There are several things to watch out for to help you deal with petty theft in your small business. The first of which is, of course, to determine what was stolen, and how much. Did an employee take confidential client files? Did an employee take a product without purchasing it? Did an employee steal a small amount of cash from the till? In some instances, cameras can assist in this investigation but it will not always be useful in all circumstances of petty theft. Therefore, other steps that can be taken to get to the root of a case of theft include reviewing company accounts, bills, statements, and files which can help you find any inconsistencies that would suggest that some petty theft was occurring.
If you don’t know which employee is committing a crime, watch for certain indicators, like an employee that often likes to take work home or work after-hours, without supervision. Once you have determined one or more suspects, you should begin conducting interviews. Interview all your employees, even those you do not suspect, as they might have seen something that will help confirm your suspicions.
Throughout this process, it is important to remain neutral. Do not allow biases for certain employees to sway your suspicions. Once you have determined who committed the theft, either by gathered evidence or by admission, you must then determine how to discipline the employee in question. This is an imperative step to the process of dealing with petty theft, as it gives you an opportunity to show your power and control as the boss. As such, it is vital to discipline appropriately.
Consider the severity of the crime. What was stolen? Make sure to give the offender every chance to admit to his/her crime, as well as to offer to do whatever he or she might to repair the relationship. You want to appear calm, collected, and above all, fair to your other employees.
Any shouting or other blatant signs of anger, bias, or unfair treatment will look unprofessional and will degrade the relationship you have with your other employees. At the same time, you must make sure everyone knows who the boss is.
The clearest decision here is to fire the employee in question. No number of apologies, tears, etc. will change the fact that you put your trust in that person, and that trust was violated. In keeping them on your team, you will be constantly paranoid that they will steal from you again. And for good reason. Your only move is to terminate. It might be a good idea to speak to a business attorney to make sure that your firing of such an employee is within the ambit of the law. The last thing you want to do is to fire an employee for whatever reason, only to later discover that you were in the wrong and you get sued by the aggrieved fired employee.
This accomplishes two things; it properly disciplines the offender, and, it also demonstrates to your other employees that you have a spine; you’re the boss, you have the power, and you are not afraid to use it when necessary.
Your employees are not necessarily your friends. The first most important thing that must always be considered is the health of your small business. Anyone that would hinder, damage, or simply not help improve your business is simply a roadblock, and as an obstruction, must be removed.
Once this situation is properly dealt with, it is important to enact measures to prevent such a situation from arising again. To accomplish this, conduct regular (weekly or bi-weekly) audits, examining statements, bills, income and expenses, as well as checking for strange employee behavior (mentioned earlier). Make sure to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards stealing, and make sure that this policy is highly vocalized. Further, to dissuade stealing, be the kind of boss that your employees feel comfortable being around; if you exercise too much power, if you build too large a separation between boss and employee, they will be more inclined to do you wrong, while if you establish relationships based on trust and kindness, they will be more inclined to do their utmost to help you out.
All the above information is relevant irrespective of the type of business that you run. Whether you have formed a New York LLC to give your mom and pop shop some legal protection, or you run a small to mid-sized corporation out of Arizona that employes scores of people. All the advice given above is applicable to all types of businesses, regardless of size, service, or location. At the end of the day, a business is a business, and all businesses operate on strong leadership, consistent policies, and trust.