It’s a situation all employers fear – the suggestion that members of staff are committing acts of theft. But what is the legal situation and how should you proceed? Employment law experts Irwin Mitchell have the answers… Items of stock have gone missing, the cash tills don’t add up as you’d expect, and you’re coming to a shocking conclusion – a member of staff might be stealing from the club. It’s a situation that’s fraught with difficulty, both professionally and personally, and handling it in the wrong fashion can make matters much worse. So where do you stand legally if you suspect a staff member of theft, and what are the processes you need to go through? How do you investigate an allegation? Do you confront, and suspend? When is dismissal warranted or needed? Employment lawyers Irwin Mitchell are experts in this field and, Joanne Moseley, senior associate solicitor, outlines the options you have at your disposal and the path you need to take… Establish the facts Even if you strongly suspect a particular member of staff, you must not jump to conclusions about their guilt. Instead, you need to appoint someone to investigate who has a good knowledge of your organisation and how it operates. You must also carry out a reasonable investigation. What is reasonable will depend upon the nature of the allegations and, generally, the more serious these are, the more you will be expected to do. At one extreme, there will be cases where the employee is virtually caught in the act and others where there is only circumstantial evidence of the employee’s guilt. As the scale moves towards the latter end, the amount of enquiry and investigation is likely to increase. You don’t have to leave “no stone unturned” – just act reasonably. For example, a tribunal found that an employer should have watched five hours of CCTV footage to find out whether the employee’s version of events were accurate in circumstances where she was accused and then dismissed for theft. However, it was unnecessary for a different employer investigating an employee’s exaggerated expenses claims over a three-month period to examine and seek an explanation for every journey. It was reasonable for the employer to focus on a handful of expense claims. The investigation must be fair and even-handed. This means that the investigator should look for evidence that points to the employee’s guilt as well as that which points to their innocence. Do you need to suspend the person/people you suspect of stealing? That will depend on the nature of the theft and how much “proof” you have that the individual is likely to be involved (as opposed to another member of staff). As a rule of thumb, you should only suspend an employee if it is necessary to do so. This will usually only arise where you suspect the employee of serious misconduct and you believe that the employee may tamper with evidence, put pressure on witnesses or even continue to steal from...
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