Recent field studies reveal that theft in the workplace is driven, in large part, by employees’ desires to “get even” with companies and managers who they feel mistreat them. Research also suggests that not being straight and disregarding their dignity are two big drivers in their desire to exact revenge.
In other words, they steal to get even. Anyone who’s had a regular job could probably relate to that statement based on some experience in the workplace at one time or another.
Granted, these thefts aren’t often quite so black and white. A multitude of factors can contribute to the ultimate decision to steal from an employer. Personal financial difficulties, true unmet needs, mental illness – these are all circumstances that can stack up. Throw in mistreatment from a boss and it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Whatever the reasons for an alleged theft, there is a general process for how theft accusations should be handled, and the accused employee has rights.
In this post, we’re going to cover what acts qualify as theft in the workplace, your rights, and what to expect if you’ve been accused of stealing from your job.
ACTS CONSIDERED WORKPLACE THEFT
Generally, if you’ve been stealing from your workplace, but seem to be getting away with it, realize this may not be the case. Before an employer can take legal action, they must amass enough evidence to prove their accusations in court.
To gather proof, one strategy is to allow you to continue stealing while recording it.
Depending on the type of theft, evidence can include video footage of the physical act, digital or paper trails reflecting financial changes or false documentation, and witness testimony.
Here are the most common types of theft we see in the workplace:
- Theft of office supplies, furniture, or other physical property
- Theft of merchandise either from the sales floor, warehouses, or from shipping trucks
- Unauthorized friend and family discounting (“sweetheart” theft)
- Embezzlement, which can often include things like fraudulent bookkeeping, falsifying expense reports, and creating fake invoices
- Payroll theft, claiming payment for hours not worked via fraudulent time sheets, failing to deduct breaks, or arranging for another employee to clock in and out for you
- Information theft, or knowingly taking information from your employer to benefit yourself or your employer’s competitors, can include copying customer lists, sensitive data, and office memorandums
If your boss says you stole something that doesn’t easily fall under one of these categories, seek guidance from an experienced Texas theft lawyer about your circumstances.
Consequences Of Being Convicted Of Workplace Theft
If you have been arrested for workplace theft in Texas, it may be tempting to think that it may not be that big of a deal. Unfortunately, theft is a very serious crime that carries with it dire consequences in Texas.
For example, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office takes a strict stance on workplace theft. In the past, their office has been known to negotiate plea offers that are more punitive if the alleged victim was an employer and the accused was an employee.
Theft is categorized as a crime of moral turpitude. A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that involves dishonesty. Why does this matter? If you do not resolve your workplace theft charge in a favorable manner, you may find it difficult to find a job in the future. Most employers view the crime of theft and workplace theft as a crime that is as serious as many felony crimes.
What Determines Whether My Workplace Theft Charge Is a Felony Or Misdemeanor? The answer to this question will depend upon the value of the times alleged to have been stolen. If the total value of the items allegedly taken equals more than $2,500 in value, the theft case will be charged as a felony theft. If the value of the items is less than $2,500, the charge will be a misdemeanor theft case. However, taking a plea deal or resolving your workplace theft charge as a conviction will result in your arrest and criminal case being on your permanent criminal record. This emphasizes the importance of working with a theft lawyer that has a proven track record of resolving theft cases in a manner that protects your freedom, your criminal record, and your future job security.
YOUR RIGHTS & WHAT TO EXPECT
Most employers have specific theft protocols in place, and as previously mentioned, by the time you’re accused, actions have likely already been initiated in the way of gathering evidence.
In this section, we’ll look both at what your rights are and what you should expect to happen if you are accused.
WHAT TO EXPECT: You will probably be asked to sit down with at least two employees to discuss the matter. One of the parties will likely be a supervisor you know, and the other an employee you are not personally acquainted with. Most employers use this approach to prevent a hostile or biased investigation. They will want to have a witness to the meeting and document what you say and the exchange of information. Your employer will offer you an opportunity to tell your side. Additionally, your employer may ask you and any other witnesses to handwrite a personal account of the theft in your/their own words.
YOUR RIGHTS: You have the right to remain quiet and not answer questions, the right to refuse a body search by any employee, and the right to refuse a polygraph. As mentioned above, your employer will want you to speak and/or give a written statement and give your side of the story and try to persuade them of your position. Understand that neither of these things are meant for your benefit. Choose your words and actions carefully to avoid incriminating yourself.
In fact, you may want to refrain from offering your side at the initial discussion altogether. Also, in both cases you have the right to speak with an attorney and have an attorney present before answering questions or offering statements. Know that your employer does not have the right to detain you if you choose not to speak to them.
TIP: Ask your employer for the entire file of information they are claiming supports their allegation of workplace theft. Tell them you would be happy to answer all their questions after you have had an opportunity to review this information and run it by your criminal lawyer. By going through this process with a criminal lawyer, you can protect yourself while also appearing to be cooperating with the police officer.
WHAT YOUR EMPLOYER WILL DO: The information you provide to your employer explaining your position will be added to an investigative file on the incident(s) in which you are involved. Although these procedures may seem low key and harmless, they could pack a punch should theft charges ultimately be brought against you.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? You have the legal right to review your full human resources file, including any investigative work done in this matter. Also, you cannot be discriminated against. Employees may not face discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or other factors. If you can point to verbal or written statements that seem to show discrimination, it can help your case.
WHAT YOUR EMPLOYER CAN DO THAT THE POLICE CAN’T DO!
It is so tempting to want to meet with your employer and “explain yourself” to avoid being fired or a criminal investigation. The problem is that if your employer has already approached you making a claim that you have committed workplace theft, there is a good chance that your employer has been gathering information that they have reviewed and already formed an opinion that you are guilty of theft.
If a police officer reaches out to you and tries to meet with you and interrogate you regarding a theft crime, he must inform you of your Miranda rights and give you the opportunity to waive those rights. If the detective fails to do so, your answers to the detective’s questions will be inadmissible as evidence in your theft trial.
However, if your employer requests a meeting and you openly provide answers to their questions, they have no responsibility to inform you of your rights because those rights only exist as it relates to interactions with law enforcement, not an employer. What if you answer their questions? What if you explain yourself but your employer records it inaccurately? What if your employer misinterprets what you said? What if they twist it to mean something you did not mean at all? What if they misunderstood you? ALL this information will be admissible against you in a theft trial as an admission under Texas criminal law.
What is the lesson? BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY!! If it comes down to your word over your employer’s word, the police will believe your employer’s word EVERY TIME!
DEFENSES TO WORKPLACE THEFT CHARGES
What are some effective defenses to workplace theft charges in Texas? Let’s examine 3 possible defenses to your workplace theft charge:
Consent To Possess The Item – what if your employer claims you have stolen items from them, but you have evidence to establish you had been given permission or consent to possess those items. For example, what if you have been accused of workplace theft for possessing an iPad and a computer? What if you had consent to have these items because they had been assigned to you for work purposes? What if you have a consent form or proof that you had consent and there has been a mistake? Proof of consent to have the items in question could create reasonable doubt regarding your intent to permanently deprive the employer of the property. Reasonable doubt regarding your criminal intent could provide an opportunity for criminal defense attorney to get your workplace theft case dismissed.
No Criminal Intent To Permanently Deprive The Employer Of The Property – there is a big difference between using or borrowing property and taking property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner. What if it is your word against your employer’s word? Can you prove that you had been entrusted with the property and had been using it for employer purposes and not personal purposes? If so, you may be able to provide your criminal attorney evidence that could be used to create reasonable doubt regarding your intent when you had the property.
The Entire Incident Was A Misunderstanding – what if the employer admits that they did not have a written policy regarding the property in question? What if they will admit that it is possible there could have been ambiguity or a possible miscommunication? What if the employer was confused? What if the employee was confused? An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to go in and use the confusion that surrounds the facts of your case and negotiate a dismissal of your workplace theft case.
Felony Workplace Theft Case? If you are being charged with a workplace theft case where the value of the items is alleged to be over $2,500, it is critical that you retain an experienced and aggressive criminal attorney to prepare supporting evidence that shows your innocence and make a presentation to the grand jury. At a grand jury presentation, your criminal lawyer can provide the other side of the story so that a fair picture of what took place is represented. The grand jury could then potentially lower the charge to a lesser misdemeanor charge or reject the charge through a no bill. A no bill is the equivalent of being exonerated of all wrongdoing. After having your case no billed, you are eligible to have your arrest and charge expunged from your criminal record.
Because Texas theft laws, the charges associated with them, and subsequent punitive measures vary so widely, consider hiring an attorney to develop your best theft defense strategy.
Remember, skilled theft lawyers can rationalize motives and intent. They can often gain access to information you can’t. They understand how to craft a narrative that paints you in the best possible light. Additionally, they are aware of legal loopholes to help you avoid imprisonment, higher fines, and/or additional charges.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.