Employee theft costs employers more than 34.5 billion annually, and it accounts for approximately 43.5 percent of job losses, according to the National Retail Foundation. When the stakes are this high, it is no wonder that employers are anxious to identify, and terminate, employees who are stealing. In some cases, however, an employer can be wrong when they accuse an employee of theft. Employees who are falsely accused of stealing also have recourse to defend themselves.
Know Company Policies
When you have been accused of stealing, it is important to know the company policies in regard to investigating theft. Document how the investigation proceeded. For example, write down who was involved, how the evidence was collected and any other information you can find. This information is important because if the people involved in the investigation did not follow the proper procedure, you may have grounds to appeal or even file a lawsuit if you are punished or fired as a result of the alleged theft.
Make Your Own Report
Write down your version of events. If your register came up short during a specific day, for example, write down who else used the register, any problems you had with the register that day, who counted down your drawer after your shift and any other relevant information. Explain that you were not involved in the alleged theft. Submit a copy of this report to your supervisor, to the investigative team and to human resources. Keep a copy for your own records as well.
Contact the Authorities
If your employer has not involved the police in the investigation, consider reporting the incident to the police. The police will take a statement from you as well as from the witnesses, the investigative team and your supervisor. Even if the involvement of the police does not salvage your job, you will have the police reports in case you decide to sue the company. The authorities can also be helpful if your company investigated the theft using illegal methods, such as by hiding video cameras or tape recorders without your knowledge. These actions violate federal wiretapping laws.
If your career, work environment or reputation were damaged by the accusations, you may have grounds to file a civil suit against your employer. A litigation lawyer who specializes in workplace issues can help you clear your name and seek damages from the company or from the person who accused you of theft, such as lost wages, or even help to get your job back.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.