Guest Column - March 2006
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Employee Theft: The Big and Little of It

Management/Staff Strategies

By Allen F. Weitzel


Management techniques

Conduct as much pre-employment screening of candidates that the law will allow to hire the most trustworthy staff possible. When employees are hired, policies on theft and the misuse of time should be made clear. Employees must understand that every department will aggressively combat dishonesty.

Search for signs of internal theft. Managers should trust their eyes and be suspicious of anything amiss. If something does not seem right, it may not be right. Watch for a sudden rise in a worker's living standards. Pay attention to employees who insist on handling routine clerical tasks or resist inspections. Listen to clients who complain about being overcharged. Pursuing customer grievances can uncover internal dishonesty.

Address employees who have substance-abuse symptoms or problems. The company should have a substance-abuse program in place.

Be fair with employees. If they feel the company is unfair, they will invent ways to steal. Be certain about a worker's misconduct before making accusations.


DON'T IGNORE MOONLIGHTING

Whether or not the company approves of moonlighting, management must understand that it does happen. Employees moonlight because they feel they need extra income for daily living expenses, have an impending large cash outlay, want mad money, need to rebuild their declining retirement portfolio or because their jobs are no longer challenging.

Moonlighting also can be just a spare-time hobby that cuts into regular work hours. Some employees moonlight at side jobs on their free days and balance their workdays between the two jobs.

Employee theft can occur when employees uses company resources to do work for other employers, or pursue their hobbies, on company time. Employees may be using company tools or equipment to perform moonlighting tasks. Employees could be leaving early from work to go to a second job. Employees may moonlight so much that they constantly come in late for work or call in sick because they are rundown. Accuracy and decision-making may suffer when employees moonlight on a regular basis. Often when an employee takes on a second job, that job begins to take precedence.

Property theft can increase due to moonlighting scenarios. Employees innocently borrow tools to use at their other jobs and forget to return them. Often overlooked is employee use of phones, computers, copy machines and fax machines. The wear and tear on frequently used equipment is seldom addressed as theft.

The best countermeasure to address moonlighting is to set up and document clear procedures and train the employees on those procedures. Make sure that policies addressing the use of company equipment are clear and enforced uniformly for workers and management, whether it be the use of a hammer, copy machine or company vehicle. Legally, if an employee were using the company equipment on the property to benefit a moonlighting job, the firm would, most likely, be responsible for an injury if the worker were hurt, even if the employee was on a unpaid break. Review, with legal counsel, the consequences if an employee damages company equipment or is injured while working on a moonlighting project.

Some employees may moonlight because they feel they are not adequately paid for their position. Conduct salary surveys with similar recreational facilities to make sure employees are receiving fair salaries. If an employee feels the need for extra income, offer more hours. Ask if other departments have jobs where they can use the worker. If a moonlighting situation is getting in the way of the work the employee was hired to do, address it as the company would for any other lack-of-performance issue. Explain the concern to the employee and allow the employee to suggest solutions. Document the performance issues as they occur. Only make exceptions as they would be made for any other worker. If the company would rather have employees moonlight on their own company tasks, then employees need to be motivated to do so. Increase their pay, provide more work, make it more fun to be at work or show them how they are valued at the company.


Outside intervention

A proactive relationship should be established with the police. Have meetings during the off-season and establish action plans that both sides can administer when a theft occurs. Ask law enforcement to survey the facility and then implement their suggestions to deter theft. Always let a professional investigate embezzlement. When the company decides to prosecute an employee, the District Attorney will determine if the case is worth pursuing.

The best defense

Create an atmosphere in which employees know that if they steal, they will get caught.

If a worker is caught stealing, do not hide that fact from coworkers. Employees must understand that when others steal from the company, they are stealing from honest employees, causing reductions in profit-sharing contributions or future pay raises.

Offer a source for counseling to workers with financial difficulties. Set an honest example. Remind employees that no one, including management, is above suspicion. If management is seen dipping into petty cash, fudging expense accounts or taking home equipment, dishonest employees will feel justified in doing the same.

Reward employees who report dishonest or suspicious activities. All reports must be taken seriously. Protect these employee sources without exception. Such positive actions will spread throughout the facility. Establish countermeasures and procedures addressing every type of corruption. Quite simply, reward integrity and establish procedures that make it easy for employees to remain honest.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allen F. Weitzel has 40 years of recreation industry experience. In addition to consulting for the industry, he currently holds a management position at a California park, overseeing risk management and training. He can be reached at weitzel@blueneptune.com.