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Tips for Dealing with Petty Theft in Your Small Business

— February 19, 2021

At the end of the day, a business is a business, and all businesses thrive on strong leadership, consistent policies, and trust.

One of the biggest worries that are often on the mind of any small business owner is the theft of their business’s products, services, or other assets by employees. Cash is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you picture a petty theft, but employees can also steal property, client’s personal information, and time by performing personal tasks while on company time.

There are several things to watch out for to help you deal with petty theft in your small business. The first of which is, of course, to determine what was stolen, and how much. Did an employee take confidential client files? Did an employee take a product without paying for it? Did an employee steal a small amount of cash from the till? In some instances, security cameras can assist in this investigation but they will not always be useful in all cases of petty theft. Therefore, other steps that can be taken to get to the root of a case of theft include reviewing company accounts, bills, statements, and files which can help you find any inconsistencies that would suggest that some petty theft was occurring.

Things to Consider in (Suspected) Cases of Petty Theft

Be Vigilant

If you believe that an employee is engaging in theft but you are unsure, or if you are sure of it but you don’t know which employee it is, watch out for certain indicators like any irregularity that often occurs like an employee that suddenly likes to take work home or work after-hours without supervision. Or inexplicable expenses in your statement, or any other such audit. Once you have determined for a fact that something untoward is going on then you should move on to the next phase of trying to determine who exactly is doing this, if it is not immediately apparent. This might include things like conducting employee interviews, reviewing security footage, performing a forensic or financial audit, etc.

Woman counting cash; image by Sharon McCutcheon, via
Woman counting cash; image by Sharon McCutcheon, via

Be Neutral

Throughout this process, it is important to remain neutral. Do not allow biases for certain employees to sway your suspicions. Once you have determined who committed the theft, either by gathered evidence or by admission, you must then determine how to discipline the employee in question. This is an imperative step in the process of dealing with petty theft, as it gives you an opportunity to show your power and control as the boss. As such, it is vital to discipline appropriately.

Stay Calm, Collected & be Fair

Consider the severity of the crime. What was stolen? Make sure to give the offender every chance to admit to his/her crime, as well as to offer to do whatever he or she might to repair the

relationship. You want to appear calm, collected, and above all, fair to your other employees.

Any shouting or other blatant signs of anger, bias, or unfair treatment will look unprofessional and will degrade the relationship you have with your other employees.

Be Firm
The clearest decision here is to fire the employee in question. No number of apologies, tears, etc. will change the fact that you put your trust in that person and that trust was violated. In keeping them on your team, you will be constantly paranoid that they may steal from you again. And for good reason. Your only move is to terminate. 

It might also be a good idea to speak to a business attorney to make sure that your firing of such an employee is within the ambit of the law. The last thing you want to do is to fire an employee for whatever reason, only to later discover that you were in the wrong and you get sued by the aggrieved fired employee.

This accomplishes two things; it properly disciplines the offender, and, it also demonstrates to your other employees that there are consequences to wrong-doing, that you are the boss, you have the power, and are not afraid to use it when necessary.

Your employees are not necessarily your friends. The first and most important thing that must always be considered is the health of your small business. Anyone that would hinder, damage, or simply not help improve your business is simply a roadblock, and as an obstruction, must be removed.

Once this situation is properly dealt with, it is important to enact measures to try and prevent such a situation from arising again. To accomplish this, conduct regular (weekly or bi-weekly) audits, examining income and expenditure statements, bills, as well as checking for strange employee behavior (mentioned earlier.) Make sure to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards stealing, and make sure that this policy is understood by every employee. 

Furthermore, to dissuade or discourage such petty theft in the first place, be the kind of boss that your employees feel comfortable being around and make them feel like are stakeholders of the business and any harm to the business is harmful to themselves. If you exercise too much power and you build too large a separation between boss and employee, they may be more inclined to do you wrong, while if you establish relationships based on trust and kindness, chances are that they will be more inclined to do their utmost to help the business.

All the above information is relevant irrespective of the type of business that you run. Whether you have created an LLC to make your mom and pop shop a legal entity and to give yourself some legal protection, or you run a small or mid-sized corporation that employs scores of people. All the advice given above is applicable to all types of businesses, regardless of size, product or service type, location or industry they operate in. At the end of the day, a business is a business, and all businesses thrive on strong leadership, consistent policies, and trust.

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