Caught in the Act!

Ellen Rohr
Contributing Writer
Bare Bones Biz

Oh no!  Your worst fears have been realized.  You walked into the shop and caught your best employee loading a box of inventory…into his personal vehicle.  Caught in the act, stealing!  What do you do?

Often theft goes hand in hand with drug abuse, or addiction of some kind.  Good people do bad things when they are desperate.  Here are a few ideas to help you plan your strategy should you catch someone with his hand in the cookie jar.

My intent is to get you thinking about what you would do in a theft situation, not to give you ironclad legal advice.  Employment terminations litigation is big business.  So, here’s the de rigueur disclaimer:  When faced with a sensitive employment issue, seek the counsel of a suitable attorney.  And, while this is a real story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The case of the missing invoices…
“I thought that our service manager had a drug problem.  He looked bad, and had lost a lot of weight.  He seemed fidgety all the time.  Then, I noticed that there were dispatches on the dispatch log that never resulted in an invoice.  I wondered what was happening on those calls.  The service technicians turned all their paperwork over to the service manager at the end of the day.  I guessed that the manager was pocketing the cash sales and throwing out those invoices.

“First things first, we contacted a drug-screening company and established firm policies on drug use.  We tested everyone, and sure enough, the manager tested positive for cocaine.

“Our drug policy stated that we would provide help and rehabilitation services to employees with drug problems.  The manager willingly entered the program.  I was pretty proud of our decision to help this guy turn his life around. 

“Then, I confronted him about the missing invoices.  He flat out denied any wrongdoing, but the problem of missing invoices disappeared when we put the system in place.  Not long after that, the service manager tested positive on a random drug test and we let him go.  Interestingly, after he left, several other employees told me that they were glad he was gone.  They questioned why I had let him stay on so long in the first place.  But, without any proof, I was afraid to fire him.

“This whole situation was hard on me and the company.  However, we now have policies that will prevent this from happening again.  Frankly, I don’t think we would have gotten around to creating those policies if we hadn’t had been pressed into it.”

When creating your drug and alcohol policies, you can choose a no-tolerance position.  You may want to immediately let go of any person that tests positive.  Or, you may want to adopt a ‘will help rehabilitate’ posture.  Check out your options.

Do you need proof to fire someone?  It depends.  If you operate in an ‘employment at will’ State, you may dismiss an employee for any reason as long as it is not a discriminatory act.

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