To Catch a Thief

thief imageThe question no retailer ever wants to ask is what to do when someone is stealing from the company internally. The first issue may be tracking down the suspect, because if it’s an organized group operating, as opposed to one or two employees, it is important not to alienate the majority of the staff by accusing them all of theft. Narrow down the list of suspects and begin by moving employees around your business. Take a suspect off of the register and move him or her to the warehouse and see if the state of affairs shows any signs of change.

If a business owner suspects an employee is stealing from the register, one option is to use a lookout. Having an extra set of eyes that can be trusted may not result in catching the thief red-handed, but it will at least confirm any suspicions. Staff should be searched regularly and routinely, rather than only after a problem arises. This practice is already in place among many retail and food stores, and is an additional deterrent for would-be internal thieves.

Employers can also consider putting a section in their corporate terms and conditions to make it clear that employees or their lockers may be searched. Approach this subject delicately but firmly, as searching employees against their will is a bad idea. A fairly standard practice at many retail stores is to have bag checks as employees leave after a shift. Employees who have previously worked in retail may have already encountered this practice, and it doesn’t come as a surprise. If this method is put into effect at your store and an employee refuses to submit to a bag check, the choices are to either detain them and call the police or simply let them go.
Once an employer is absolutely convinced which worker is stealing from the business, it’s time to confront them. The most straightforward approach is to take them aside in private, then clarify what has been done to catch them and why. Include the details of your findings in this explanation. Don’t be surprised if tension in the air builds, and be prepared with a decision regardless of any excuse the thief offers. Whether the next step is to terminate or give the employee a second chance, the situation must be addressed directly and without delay. Many thieves will deny their guilt with a straight face or grow angry and insist that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but if employers enter the situation with a decision prepared, no amount of rebuttal can sway their confidence.

Remember that it is always within the rights of the employer to call the police if the situation seems to be getting out of hand. Never lay a hand on a suspect, even if they try to run, and always prepare for the worst. If a business owner is lucky, he or she will never have to encounter an internal theft situation, but in the event that the worst does happen, it is important to have a plan of action that doesn’t involve violence.