Theft in the workplace is a rather interesting area for discussion as it often raises many questions when we speak with clients, so over the next few months we will look at theft and fraud in the workplace and how to effectively deal with it and the consequences that it can have on your business or organisation.

Some of the questions raised concern the level of evidence required:

  • Is it lawful to gather that evidence?
  • How will you catch the offender(s)?
  • The lack of Police interest to investigate or arrest offender(s)
  • How costly such thefts can be

So before taking these questions individually let's look at an overview of commercial and corporate theft.

Thefts will be tangible or intangible. Tangible means that someone will actually physically remove an item from your organisation; intangible thefts may be theft of intellectual property or the electronic transfer of monies from one account to another or an identity theft.

Thefts are committed from all sections of the employees. White collar, blue collar, male and female staff, religious and non religious alike.

There are many different motivating factors but at the present time as per previous articles which I have written, the current economic climate will be a major factor.

In over 20 years of investigating we have seen all manner of items stolen. We have investigated theft of precision ball bearings, co 2 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 re-sellable value.

Is it lawful to gather evidence?
It is totally lawful to conduct covert investigations in the workplace, including the installation of covert cameras without employees' knowledge. There is legislation in place to conduct investigations whether a private organisation or a public body.

Two well quoted areas of legislation which are often perceived as a bar to investigating are ‘The Human Rights Act' and ‘RIPA The Regulatory Investigation of Persons at Work Act'. When offenders are caught they will try and use these legislations in their defence but if all policies and procedures are adhered to then this legislation actually assists the client and the investigator. In essence if what you are doing is deemed reasonable for the circumstances then you may investigate. 

In all my time investigating in the commercial sector this legislation has never proved a defence or been contested in court or tribunal.

How will you catch an offender?
There is a multitude of methods available. Each case is totally different and may require a different approach. Our methods may often be very detailed and a client may believe they are extreme for their case, but the issue is that we gather the evidence and that opportunity will lie in our skill base.

Recently we inserted two officers into wooded undergrowth to observe some thefts taking place and the items being taken to a ‘lock up' container. The only available opportunity to view was from ‘digging' into the undergrowth. As we have a military team this is a simple task and proved very effective. The client was just delighted to have caught his thief and it was an irrelevance as to how this was operationally achieved.

You will be able to see the live footage of this case when we appear in our BBC documentary in the first few weeks of May.

There may be a simple requirement for a covert camera to be fitted into an office to observe thefts of cash from employees' drawers. A recent case saw us fitting smoke alarms into an office. These smoke alarms contained tiny covert cameras which were not visible to the eye and recorded the evidence of a staff member stealing money from the drawers.

Often there is a need to have a surveillance team follow a subject in order to gather and preserve the evidence of thefts. We had a very successful case recently whereby we inserted an observations team in a builder's van to observe the yard of metal manufacturers. The team observed staff members loading their own vehicles with metal and then a surveillance team followed the offenders to another location where the stolen metal was delivered. All of this was video recorded and presented to the client.

In all of these cases, which unfortunately for society are a daily occurrence the combination of the right equipment, used by the right team with the correct preparation resulted in successful operations.

The lack of Police interest to investigate or arrest offender(s)
This leads to point 3 that clients raise, concerning the lack of Police interest in investigations. We have to accept that to most people commercial crime is perceived as victimless. As employers we know it is not as the next point indicates. The Police have a finite amount of resources and budgets and unfortunately, despite what they say, commercial or business crime is not a priority as those resources and budgets are drawn to other operational requirements. This is a fact that will not change so organisations have to work within those boundaries.

Two things are apparent with Police involvement:

  1. The first is that if you have successfully gathered evidence and it is preserved and presented to them in a correct manner where there is less requirement on them to do investigating then they are more willing to make arrests. It is simple for a Police Officer to take one of our cases as the investigations are almost complete for them when we hand over the file.
  2. The second point is more important to consider from a cost perspective. If an offender / employee is arrested by the Police and does not admit the offences, even with the weight of overwhelming evidence then your employee will be suspended from work on full pay pending the outcome of a court case. It can take easily in some cases 12 months before the case is completed in court. This will cause financial loss to your organisation. Offenders will take this route and plead guilty at the last moment just in order to cause financial costs to the employer who has investigated and caught them.

A preferred route is that the issue of the theft is dealt with under employment legislation thereby being investigated and then the discipline process followed. This will allow the case to be dealt with very quickly and therefore limited financial costs.

Also be aware that the burden of proof in criminal law is 'beyond reasonable doubt', whereas in civil law it is ‘the balance of probability'.

The cost of theft
To conclude the points raised we will finish with the issue of cost. There is more cost to a theft than the actual removal of that item, or transfer of monies. There is the cost of:

  • Yours and any other staff members time
  • The cost of the utilities used and that will be required again
  • The cost of the raw materials
  • The cost of employees time to remake, reorder or re-serve

The other unforeseen cost is that of the morale of an organisation if staff are aware that there is a thief in their midst. Remember that as employer, our employees have a right to dignity in the workplace and we have a duty of care to them.

Finally, a recent survey shows that 1 in 4 employees steal from their employers, from companies the size of Enron or Guinness to the small business manufacturing a bespoke product. The cost to a company or organisation can be catastrophic or negligible, but the percentage loss usually mounts up to be significant, especially in current times when we are all trying to maintain the highest profit in often adverse conditions.

In the next issue we will look at other areas of theft and fraud but if you have any questions or queries then please call in confidence to discuss them 0800 169 4368 or email Expert Investigations.