Employee theft is a very common crime that is not even regarded as a crime by most people who commit it. The taking of the odd pen or few sheets of paper home is regarded as many as being a right rather than as a crime and it is something that even the most senior of managers are guilty of.
Although it is said that 95% of companies suffer from employee theft, it is probably closer to 100%. Serious theft, however, is a different thing entirely. There is a world of difference between the theft of a few pens and the steady depletion of stock through organized crime within a large organization. This sort of employee theft is estimated as causing over 30% of all company bankruptcies and many companies are in desperate need of a means of controlling it.
The first action a company must take is to clarify to employees the penalty for employee theft. At the very least, immediate suspension pending investigation must be stated as the initial step. The matter should then put into the hands of your lawyers and the law processes should be allowed to proceed. You should not dismiss anyone until the case has been proven legally or you could find that you are the one answering charges. These procedures should be clearly stated on company notice boards and should have union support where relevant.
There are some forms of employee theft that are almost impossible to control. Intellectual theft of company secrets can be controlled theoretically by the introduction of tight contracts with key personnel, such as senior managers and scientists, but if they decide to move to another company such contracts are almost impossible to enforce. Though a contract may state that a senior scientist cannot legally work for another company in the same line of business for a set period of time after employment is terminated, how do you stop them working for a competitor from home or from an overseas facility?
How do you stop customer theft, another form of employee theft that frequently involves an employee either providing a new employer with a customer list, or taking customers that they personally deal with along with them? This is very difficult if not impossible, since you cannot control your customers allegiances.
Proper control starts at the employment stage. Employee theft can be reduced by the use of a rigid employee screening procedure that is designed to detect potential thieves prior to employment. Criminal record and credit rating searches can detect anyone with potential problems that either indicate a previous record of theft or someone who could be tempted and psychological profiling can achieve the same thing at the interview stage.
For best results, both of these functions are best carried out by professionals. Either company employees trained in these functions or a professional agency will be able to provide the level of service required to reduce the chances of you employing someone who will be tempted to become involved in employee theft.
This action does not resolve your existing problem, but it does help to stop it growing. It reduces the chances of new thieves joining the company. There is another benefit of introducing a strong employment screening procedure. If theft from your company continues and causes harm to shareholders through loss of their capital, they could sue you for negligent hiring. You have to be able to demonstrate that you took all reasonable steps to ensure that you did not employ people who already had convictions for theft and have tried to prevent employee theft at the hiring stage.
Part of the problem in normal companies is that it is neither fully understood, nor clearly stated, where the line is drawn between theft and what is allowed to be taken. Many companies allow substandard or rejected products to be taken home by employees and others do not. An employee moving from one company to another may misunderstand that these policies are specific to individual companies, rather than general throughout industry. Employees should not be criminalized through ignorance and your failure to clearly state your policy. If you do not allow employees to use rejects, you should clearly state that fact with prominently placed notices. Do not assume that all employers have the same policy.
Your policy with regard to what constitutes employee theft should be clearly stated in the employees handbook if there is one or along with the acceptance of their application for employment. If you have an induction scheme it can be introduced to them then.
The mistake that many employers make is to try to control serious employee theft themselves when there are many professional companies available that could help them to save a lot more money than it would cost to have the problem controlled.