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. In order 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.
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 will likely be a supervisor you know, and the other an employee you are not personally acquainted with. This is to prevent a hostile or biased investigation.
YOUR RIGHTS: You have the right to privacy, the right to refuse a body search by any employee, and the right to refuse a polygraph.
WHAT TO EXPECT: 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: 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 that 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.
WHAT TO EXPECT: All of this information 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.
YOUR RIGHTS: 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.
Remember, skilled theft lawyers are able to 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.