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HR Practitioner’s Diary: Fingers in the till

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This week, Sue Kingston turns sleuth detective when she helps a client uncover a loose fingered accountant who appears to have had their fingers in the till.


W/C 13 June 2005:
13th hey? – lucky for some, unlucky for others! Human Resources or detective – that is the question?

Fingers in the till!
About 18 months ago I received a call from a client who was faced with a difficult situation.

It had come to his attention, that the company accountant who’d been with the firm for five years had transferred an amount just short of £10,500 to a personal account on her last day of work.

Thankfully the business managers, who were not totally au fait with employment law, in particular Grievance and Disciplinary procedures, recognised they needed help and guidance due to the severity of this situation so I was called in.

The accountant was gleefully unaware when I arrived on the scene that her actions had been discovered and I duly went about interviewing the only witness who’d noticed the unauthorised transfer.

I obtained a printout of the transaction which detailed the bank account details where the money went to, which just so happened to match with the personal bank account details of the company accountant.

After a discussion with the Chief Executive, we decided it was time to invite the outgoing accountant to a meeting to openly discuss the matter.

We were prepared to listen to her explanations to see whether there might be an innocent reasoning behind the transaction. We offered her the right to a representative, but she declined.

The accountants defence during the investigation meeting, was that ‘she deserved it!’. She didn’t deny the underhand way of obtaining the money and said that in her position she ‘had the right to transfer anything she liked.’

A big mistake!

The company had security measures in place for transfer of monies but the accountant had manipulated her way around the system.

We adjourned the meeting to allow the Chief Executive and I time to discuss how best to deal with the situation as there was clearly a criminal intent involved.

Our only course of action was to instantly dismiss her and escort her off the premises. A duty that fell to me naturally. Bosses never like the ‘horrible’ bits which is where I come in useful!

I advised her that we had determined a verdict of Gross Misconduct subject to summary dismissal and that we would also be reporting the matter to the local police for criminal investigation.

She accepted the decision saying that she could understand it from our point of view! I escorted her to her office to collect any personal effects, return keys, note any relevant passwords and secure the return of any other company property.

I also confiscated her company vehicle and took possession of the keys. This caused her to ‘grumble’ as she could have retained the use of it for a further two months under her contract.

However, due to the nature of the offence and the total loss of trust and confidence there was absolutely no way that my client was prepared to allow her to use the vehicle as they suspected they would never see it again, which I felt was an understandable reaction to the events.

As a precaution I had a couple of the company vehicles block her car in order to avoid her returning with the spare keys and moonlighting it away. Luckily I found a willing manager who was happy to care take the vehicle until it was reallocated or disposed of – being a Volvo convertible this was a nice temporary perk!

Now here’s where it gets a little more interesting – I spoke to the company’s banker as well as the accountants personal banker to advise both parties of the transaction and they were all duly superb. Once they realised it was ‘hot’ money, they rewound the transaction and by the end of the day my client was delighted to have nearly £10,500 returned to their account – hurrah!

I undertook an audit trail of the last six months with their accounts team and uncovered a further £500 which had been transferred to the accountants personal bank without authorisation. It had been recorded as contractual advice with a local solicitor.

Upon speaking to the solicitor’s accounts department, they confirmed they had no record of a client by the accountants name, had never invoiced my client for £500 and had certainly not received £500 on account. Time to involve the local police.

After speaking with them and providing all the available evidence together with the necessary statements, they went away to take further advice.

The police and Crown Prosecution Services cogitated and ruminated and, in their infinite wisdom, have finally decided some 18 months later, that there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute for either theft or false accounting!

They explained that as I had successfully recovered the larger amount they couldn’t see the point of pursuing the ‘theft’. Lesson 1 – let the offender get away with the goods then you’ve a better case!

As for the £500 and ‘false accounting’, the CPS decided the amount was too small to pursue in terms of cost effectiveness. Lesson 2 – all potential criminals retain their status as long as they circulate in environments that ‘trust’ them!

It’s worrying to think someone, somewhere has an accountant on their payroll who is capable of this sort of unacceptable behaviour. My client won’t even receive reference requests for her as she is gaining references from the original owner of the business, who has since retired, and has no knowledge of her true activities. I only hope my clients solved problem doesn’t become someone’s even bigger one!

Dangerous delegation
My opinion was sought on a potential disciplinary regarding a PA who’d made a hotel reservation for a corporate event in Monaco (for the Grand Prix) and had signed a booking form to confirm the reservation. She hadn’t however, read the small print!

The Chief Executive decided to change the venue and the PA was asked to cancel the original booking and rebook another hotel closer to the racing circuit around Monaco, which she did.

The new hotel was delighted with the booking and the corporate event went ahead very successfully. Everyone was happy!

The day after the event, the ‘cancelled’ hotel sent their invoice for £20,000 for the cancelled booking as per the terms and conditions of the booking agreement. Sufficient notice had not been given for the cancellation.

As the PA had signed the agreement, the Chief Executive felt inclined to discipline her for neglecting the read the T’s and C’s and advise him accordingly of the cancellation restrictions. He was not a happy man.

The PA, however, felt that she had simply carried out the CEO’s instructions and it was not her place to question him. He had not sought her advice regarding the cancellation clause and she was therefore not a happy lady.

The PA was so embarrassed and uncomfortable about the whole episode that she resigned and has now left. The CEO had to get out his cheque book and pay the cancellation fee. Ouch!

It is always best practice to have limits in place regarding expenditure and who signs for what, and most certainly make sure someone at a senior level is responsible for reading the small print on anything that requires a signature. There endeth the lesson!

Vital Stats:
For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 10lbs (loads of water in this lovely hot weather)

  • Chocolate – nil (too hot to handle, don’t fancy chocolate all over my fingers)!

  • Wine – shared a lovely chilled bottle of Pinot with a girlfriend at a health spa day – not very healthy really. Plus she’s a ‘married’ and got the only male masseuse – how unfair is life sometimes! She didn’t even think her ‘single’ friend (me) might appreciate the experience more – huh!

  • Plus shared a bottle of velvety Barolo over a curry (see Date one)

  • Plus a lovely cool glass of cider on a very hot day (see Date two)

  • Boyfriends – two dates. First date: 18 holes of golf with the ‘polar bear’ followed by a take away curry (as if it wasn’t warm enough). He lost a few balls along the way! I stayed on the other side of the fairway out of earshot of the swearing – some men take golf so seriously!
    Second date: Bouncing (driving) around 130 acres of farmland in a Land Rover in the mid-day heat with my veterinary friend. Thank goodness for support bras – it was a tad bumpy! Came across a lovely lake, but he didn’t dive in, shirt and all – shame, I could feel an episode of Pride and Prejudice nearly coming on. Excursion swiftly followed by a cooling glass of cider at a nearby country pub – lovely day and great fun too.

  • Deep thoughts – dates are good as you get to know different people in different ways and no-one gets hurt.

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

*Sue Kingston is a self-employed HR Consultant with 23 years HR experience. Sue can be contacted on T: 07966 216561 or at [email protected]

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