A survey conducted by a University of Cincinnati criminal researcher found that 64 percent of small business owners reported experiencing employee theft. The theft of cash was the most common and the amount varied from $5 to $2 million. Eighteen percent was theft of product, 8 percent was theft of tools, 6 percent was theft of equipment and the rest was theft of office supplies or time-card management. With these statistics, it is important to have an anti-theft policy and culture.
1) Don’t skip the pre-employment background check. Your first line of defense to prevent employee theft is a qualified employment screening service. This may be the only way to reveal such issues, if the employee has a past. Make sure you enlist the help of a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) that will verify your applicants’ education, credentials and past employment as well as conduct a thorough criminal history and reference check.
2) Develop a company-wide anti-theft policy and make it very clear. Employees need to know exactly what you do and do not allow at your workplace. Be specific. For example, if an employee uses the copier to print invitations to a birthday party, is that a theft of resources? If one of your staff borrows a tool to use over the weekend on a non-work related project, is that the same as stealing? If the receptionist runs to the nearest fast-food joint to grab lunch for the rest of her team without clocking out, is that a theft of time?
3) Encourage reporting of dishonesty. Also, cross train workers so they can alternate duties. If one person is always responsible for the same thing, they may be able to hide their thefts. When others handle the same tasks it becomes a type of checks and balances—and makes it more difficult to hide fraudulence.
4) Consider internal surveillance. Video surveillance and computer monitoring can be very helpful for catching employees who are breaking the rules. However, you must inform your workers that you plan to observe them if you want to avoid potential lawsuits. You should have a workplace policy pertaining to monitoring; you should also word it clearly and communicate it regularly.
5) Enforce the consequences. According to the survey mentioned earlier, only 16 percent of the small business owners who experienced employee theft bothered to report it to the authorities. Even if you choose not to report a worker’s theft to the police, you must still enforce the consequences outlined in your anti-theft policy. If you do not, you send the rest of your staff the message that you’re willing to tolerate rule breakers.