We have been working with a independent retailer colleague this week – helping them navigate an employee theft situation. No matter how many times we get involved in such a case the feelings are the same. The business owner feels violated and that they, somehow, are to blame for the theft. Some are so upset that they shutdown and need time off from the business. Others want to strike out and inflict harm in some way. Rational thought is hard to find for those directly involved.
While this case involved less than $1,000 in the last week, it is what was taken prior to that which drives the emotion. The owner knows they are missing around $60,000 and an employee admitting $650 in a week gets close to matching that amount allowing for their understating of what they have stolen.
The difficult aspect of employee theft here in Australia is how you navigate dealing with it in the context of unfair dismissal laws. Even though there is new legislation the employer groups are cautioning small business to be careful.
Beyond the money, the cost of theft in this and other situations is owner energy and confidence it steals. I have seen situations where a business owner sells up as a result of the theft. In the situation this week it was a family member who stepped in and demonstrated impressive strength which allowed the owner to step back and regroup. These are the personal costs of employee theft.
Months later I see employers looking back in frustration at the justice system – the time and money it costs to bring an employee to justice means that many instances go unreported. Most small businesses do not have the resources necessary to follow a case through.
Our role in all this is to help small businesses discover employee theft sooner and to have easy access to police grade evidence to enable swift and safe action. We’ve seen that achieving that can reduce the stress – the key is getting small business owners engaged in using the tools they have access to. Too often people don’t want to know the extent of a theft problem.