Investigating employees for potential theft might seem like a cut and dry task, however, following the wrong procedures may land an employer in hot water. A few simple rules regarding this protocol may prove to cool an employer’s potential liability.
To begin, during the investigation it is wise to follow any written protocol that your company has regarding employee theft. Following the letter of your own law will make your company look consistent in the eyes of a future jury.
Further, it is important to assign two investigators to the task. One must not know the accused in order to prevent any allegations of bias on behalf of your company.
Finally, during the investigation, inquire broadly about the circumstances of any potential theft, do not just ask the accuser.
When trying to catch your employee-thief red-handed, an employer does not have unlimited choices. For example, placing a baby monitor in the break room is against the anti-wire tapping statute. Digging through an employee’s belongings can lead to an invasion of privacy suit. Not allowing an employee to leave an interrogation under their own free will may lead to a claim of false imprisonment.
Perhaps most significantly, it is important for your company to be proactive in order to protect itself. You may have employees sign waivers to relinquish their privacy rights to any items they bring to the work place. You may also have employees consent to being on surveillance while at work. It is equally important to let the employees know that violating any company rules, (such as those regarding protection of company assets,) can lead to their termination.
Finally, during the termination itself, your company should link the termination to a violation of the company’s policies, and not to an impending crime. Using language like “lack of trust” as opposed to “thief” will make it harder for the accused employee to bring a defamation suit in the future. If it is your first interview with the accused, do not discuss an actual termination, set a second interview time, and if the employee skips out, they can be terminated as having abandoned their job.
Photo credit: Microsoft