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Employee theft; when to investigate

View profile for Emma Kemp
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According to a poll commissioned by office-furniture supplier Kit Out My Office, more than two-thirds of UK office workers have admitted to stealing from their employers and colleagues at some time during their careers. With the cost of stolen items averaging at £12.50 and an estimated 15 million workers having confessed to employee theft, the cost to UK employers adds up to a staggering £190 million each year.  For employers, dealing with employee theft can be a difficult process; Employment Lawyer, Emma Kemp, explains what steps you should take if you suspect one of your workers is stealing from your business.

Suspicion vs Facts

Theft of any sort is a serious accusation to make.  If, as an employer, you suspect an employee of theft then obtaining evidence is a crucial part of the procedure as this will help to prove your suspicions to be either right or wrong.  Making an accusation of employee theft without substantial proof can result in employees pursuing an Employment Tribunal claim against you. 

In order to obtain sufficient evidence, a proper and fair investigation must take place, even if you catch the employee red-handed.

Conducting an Investigation

Many employers are unaware of the fact that they have a legal obligation to conduct an investigation should they suspect an employee of stealing.  The investigation must be seen to be fair and based on evidence alone.  Should the case reach an Employment Tribunal, in order for an employer to successfully defend an unfair dismissal claim, the presiding judge will need to see a demonstration of fairness and impartiality.

The first step is to appoint an investigator.  This can be someone within the office or, if it is appropriate, an external party.  It is highly recommended that as part of your staff handbook, you have strict policies and procedures that you follow for investigations, disciplinary and grievance procedures.  Only by having these can you be sure that the process will be fair and there is consistency across your business from your employees and your managers conducting the proceedings. 

Once you have chosen the investigator, they will need the following information before proceeding: 

  • Guidelines on their responsibility as an investigator
  • The roles of witnesses in the investigation
  • Their role in informing the employee concerned of the investigation
  • How their evidence should be presented
  • How to minimise the investigation’s impact on employees’ morale
  • How to reduce the investigation’s impact on the day-to-day running of the business.

It is worth remembering that, ultimately, you as the employer bear full responsibility for the manner, fairness and impartiality of the investigation.  CCTV can be an important tool in uncovering the truth of the matter, as can computer records.  The chosen investigator should be given access to both; subject to the rules in your organisation’s policies.

Following Up the Results of the Investigation

Before conducting the investigation, you should be completely open with the employee that an investigation is taking place.  Once the investigation has concluded, in the event that the evidence proves the employer’s suspicions to be unsubstantiated, the employee should be informed and told that no further action will be taken. 

If the investigation provides firm evidence of employee theft, you will then need to decide what to do next.  As an employer, you will need to follow the process outlined in your staff handbook.  Your policy should also set out how the behaviour could be classed, i.e. whether it is misconduct or gross misconduct and warrants either a warning or dismissal.   

If you decide to proceed to a disciplinary hearing, it is important that you conduct this fairly and follow a proper process.  The manager involved in conducting the disciplinary hearing will need to be aware of the correct procedure, and be able to deal with any complications which may arise, such as a grievance being raised by the employee during the process, or if they call in sick before the disciplinary hearing. 

While it might seem a long road to take, ensuring that your investigations follow the appropriate guidelines and procedures is vital even where you think you may have caught the employee re-handed.  It is important that your managers are alert to the types of behaviour that may require further attention, either through an investigation or disciplinary action.  We offer bespoke training to businesses across Hampshire, which helps managers and employees identify the answers to these types of questions, as well as covering other tricky areas such how to conduct a fair investigation and the appeal process.  Getting the process right could mean the difference between an employer winning or losing at the Employment Tribunal, so it is vital you understand the steps to be taken and how to conduct a fair process.

To find out more about how the Employment team can help you with training or ensuring your policies and employment contracts are up to date, you can contact Emma or the team on 023 8071 7717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.