Understanding Employee Theft and How to Combat It

Close up image of a man tightening his suit tie to support how businesses can best understand employee theft and how to combat it


You might not believe that employees steal or you might be thinking “yes, but my employees would never steal,” but it happens much more often than you’d think and it can happen to anyone.

Learning that a trusted employee is stealing from you and your company can be very shocking. It may even result in feelings of betrayal, upset and anger, but it is important to handle it right. For example, if you are afraid of confrontation, you may feel the need to look the other way and hope it was a one-time thing. Or, if you don’t take the time to reflect and act on your immediate anger, you could result in some serious legal trouble. Either reaction is not a good one.

To prevent and manage employee theft, you need to first understand it. Only then can you learn the best ways to prevent it from happening altogether.


Close up of a man tightening his suit tie


Employee Theft: Why Do They Steal?

As you can guess, employee theft is all about money. Whether it is stealing money physically, selling assets and pocketing the money, or stealing physical objects that they can’t afford to buy themselves, money is often the reason that people steal.

Like all crime, theft tends to occur when there are three elements present:

  1. Motive
  2. Desire
  3. Opportunity

Everyone needs a reason to do something and when it comes to employee theft, it is usually a negative reason that gives them the motive to steal. For example, a resentful employee who may feel underpaid or a vengeful employee who has been overlooked for a promotion. Both employees feel they deserve these things, therefore, not getting them gives them the motivation to take something for themselves.

Desire is then the emotion that builds on motive. For example, letting those negative emotions about that missed promotion build and imagining the satisfaction of getting one over on the company, strongly reinforce them to do just that.

Lastly, theft only occurs when an opportunity opens up. In the workplace, inadequate policies, lack of attention from managers and the absence of barriers all open up potential opportunities that a disgruntled employee won’t hesitate to take advantage.


a man behind the desk in a coffee shop


How to Combat Employee Theft

By simply being aware of why employees steal, you can now start to prepare yourself for potential theft and prevent it from happening altogether.


First, you need to identify “high-risk” employees.

If you are able to identify employees that may be more likely to steal, you can prevent theft indirectly by not hiring them in the first place or restricting what jobs that they can do (e.g not anything that involves money, merchandise etc). Potential high-risk employees may include those who are:

  • Rule Breakers – they are more likely to violate policies and may not be trustworthy
  • Controlling – if someone refuses to take a vacation, continually works overtime and is possessive of their things, they most likely have something to hide
  • Immature or Troubled – they are more likely to indulge in anti-social behaviours
  • Feeling Wronged – they may be more likely to steal as a way of getting back at you
  • Chronic Liars – stealing and lying tend to go hand in hand
  • Substance Abusers – they may be more likely to steal due to financial pressures or to satisfy a craving
  • Living Above Their Means – this may be due to stealing from the company


Second, you need to put sufficient measures in place.

To prevent employee theft, you need to remove the opportunities by upping your security. This can be done in simple ways:

  • Use the Buddy System – try not to leave an employee alone in the store or at the register. By always having two people on shift, and rotating everyone, this will reduce the likelihood of stealing.
  • CCTV – for most people, knowing that they are being watched is enough to deter them from bad behaviour. However, you do get employees who don’t believe that they are actually being monitored, so make sure to make a point of checking the footage weekly and make them aware of it.
  • Monitor Trash Removal – employees can steal merchandise by concealing it in the rubbish, so make sure to use clear bags, monitor who and how often the trash is taken out, and insist on the locking of all dumpsters.
  • Employee Tip Line – there may be instances where an employee has seen another steal or suspects a person on shift if merchandise or money goes missing. By setting up an employee tip line, you are giving employees an anonymous way of communicating with you and they’ll be more likely to use it.


A security guard going down an escalator


Third, terminate any employees who are stealing.

If you have serious information that an employee has been stealing, you need to prove it before you can terminate them. To do this, you first have to build a case by:

  • Gathering Evidence – video and digital evidence are strong, just make sure you review the footage with another witness.
  • Auditing Records – check all your computer files and financial records for evidence of all activities.
  • Preserving Hard Copies – make sure to make copies of all computer files, emails, documents, or anything that you consider to be evidence.
  • Maintaining a Chain of Custody – to prove that you didn’t tamper with the evidence.


When trying to tackle employee theft, always consider the 10-10-80 rule. This rule theorises that 10% of employees won’t steal even when presented with the opportunity, 10% will, but 80% could go either way. With such a high amount of potential risk, you need to make sure that you remove the opportunities to steal through the measures above and enforce how serious you take employee theft with regular meetings and the termination of employees where you have proof of them stealing. By removing the opportunity, you’ve greatly cut the odds of being a victim!


There are a variety of workplace threats…

If you’re interested in knowing more about threat awareness training for your staff, RGM are offering training courses developed by Counter Terrorism and Threat Specialists. If you need training or just advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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