Workplace theft is something which affects companies of all sizes – you could be anything from a multimillion pound organisation to a small retailer or petrol station.
While it is impossible to know the true extent of workplace theft, recent research has suggested that as many as 1 in 4 employees steal at some point. Although much of this is often dismissed as petty pilfering or even ‘perks’, the effects on a business can be devastating.
Workplace thefts also cost a lot more than the value of the money or items removed. If you look at the damages incurred by any business affected by workplace theft you will typically see:
the time of owners, managers and any other staff involved in dealing with the problem;
the cost of the raw materials and utilities used; and
the cost of employees’ time to remake, reorder or re-serve
Just as costly can be the unseen damage to the morale of a workplace if organisation if staff are aware that there is a thief in their midst.
In two decades of investigating we have seen all manner of items stolen, such as precision ball bearings, CO2 gas canisters, pension monies and vending machine foodstuffs. There are open markets for any product and we are yet to find an item which does not have a resale value. And one of the most important things to remember is that these thefts can be committed by anyone in your organisation.
To be sure that you have successfully detected, disrupted and prevented instances of workplace theft, you need to take initiative. While most people’s instinct on discovering (or suspecting) workplace theft is to call the police, it is almost always the case that calling in specialist investigatory support will guarantee you the timeliest and cost-effective resolution.
As we have seen, the police are usually reluctant or slow to respond to issues of workplace theft. But the simple fact is that if you have successfully gathered evidence and then preserved and presented it in a correct manner then the police are much more willing to make arrests. It is simple for a police officer to take a case from a specialist commercial investigator because the investigations are almost complete at the point of handing over the file.
Even if a suspected employee is arrested by the police, they may very well not admit the offences. They will then most likely be suspended from work on full pay pending the outcome of a court case. It can easily take 12 months before a case is completed in court, resulting is large financial loss to your business. In fact, offenders often take this route and plead guilty at the last moment specifically to cause financial distress to an employer who is taking action against them. By engaging a specialist commercial investigator, you can instead deal with theft under employment legislation, following a disciplinary process to resolve the case quickly and with limited financial costs.
Before engaging specialist commercial investigators, employers are quite rightly concerned to make sure that it is completely lawful to conduct covert investigations in the workplace. Fortunately, there is legislation in place which ensures you can conduct such investigations, whether within a private or public-sector organisation.
As an argument against this you will often hear cited two pieces of legislation – The Human Rights Act and The Regulatory Investigation of Persons at Work Act (RIPA).
Because offenders often try to use these pieces of legislation in their defence, they are commonly seen as a barrier to investigatory activity such as the installation of covert cameras. But the truth is that if proper policies and procedures are adhered to then this legislation actually helps you and your investigator. In essence, you can investigate so long as what you are doing is deemed reasonable for the circumstances.
In all our time investigating in the commercial sector this legislation has never proved a defence or been contested in court or tribunal.
Every case of workplace theft is different, and each requires a bespoke investigatory solution. As the UK’s leading commercial investigation agency, our first job is to help you identify the methods most appropriate to your situation.
Methods may be as simple as fitting a covert camera into an office to observe thefts of cash from employees’ drawers. A recent case saw us fitting smoke alarms into an office, each containing a tiny covert camera invisible to the naked eye. This was all that was required to record the evidence of a member of staff stealing money from colleagues’ drawers.
As we have seen, workplace theft is a common problem which can – and indeed should – be stopped. It is rarely a something which just goes away; on the contrary, it often escalates as offenders become emboldened by years of ‘getting away with it’. Although the lack of police interest can seem daunting and unfair, it certainly doesn’t mean you are helpless to act. We have at our disposal the investigatory expertise, the technology and the legislative framework required to stop the problem dead in its tracks and to prevent it from happening again.