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Stealing in the Workplace

Here’s a post that I pulled out of the Easy Small Business HR Archives from over a year ago.  It still proves to be a popular topic– stealing in the workplace.

An employee puts a pen and notepad in his bag on the way out of the office because he’ll need something to write with so that he can make a “things to do list”  on the way home.

Another employee needs to make copies of her bank loan paperwork and uses the office copy machine along with the office copy paper to make copies of a 12 page document in triplicate.  The pen, notepad and copy paper were purchased by the company for company business, yet these items are being used for personal use.  Are these employees stealing from the company?

Workplace theft is an issue that can’t be ignored.  Businesses lose untold amounts of money each year through employee theft; from laptops, computer monitors and company cell phones, theft is a real issue for many businesses.

I can say with some certainty that your employees who are using office supplies for personal use do not believe that they are stealing.  For most employees, taking office supplies is really just a matter of convenience and not given a second thought.

But should you consider this behavior stealing? Does the taking of office supplies that don’t belong to you fall under the same net as the taking of more costly workplace items?  It depends on your definition of stealing, how rigid or loosely applied your definition of stealing is, and how you would like to apply your definition to the workplace.

According to the  “Merriam Webster” dictionary, to “steal” means:

~To take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice

~To take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of

~To take surreptitiously or without permission

~To appropriate to oneself or beyond one’s proper share

Using the literal interpretation of what constitutes stealing, taking anything that doesn’t belong to you is stealing, period.  I would argue that when it comes to removing items from the workplace, that there should be a less rigid definition of what theft means.  Employers have the responsibility of defining what actions in the workplace constitutes stealing; especially if an employer’s position is that taking even a small office supply such as a pen is stealing.

Yes, taking property that is not yours can technically be considered stealing, but do you really want to label an employee who removes a pen from company property, or who uses copy paper for personal use as a thief?

Replacing office supplies is costly for an organization, especially if the supplies are not being used to further advance the work of your company.  You can minimize these types of losses by making it clear to your employees both verbally and in writing what your expectations are regarding company property.

Let your staff know that in order to curtail expenses, employees should be mindful not to use office supplies for personal use at any time, or minimally without prior permission.

It’s a best management practice to have a general policy that addresses what the consequences are if an employee is caught stealing, but use common sense when determining which actions should be used as a teaching moment versus actions that should be addressed swiftly given the severity of the infraction.

What do you think?  I welcome your general comments or your experiences with workplace theft.

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Dianne Shaddock

President and Founder at Easy Small Business HR
Get more tips on interviewing, hiring, managing and engaging your employees. Dianne Shaddock is the President of Easy Small Business HR, Employee Hiring and Managing Tips and the author of the eGuides, "How To Supervise:  What Your Boss Never Told You Before You Took the Job", A Step-By-Step Guide For New and Seasoned Managers and How To Find and Hire the Best Employees.

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