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Lucie Mitchell

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more about Lucie Mitchell

HR tip: What is theft?

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Question:

An employee was given a final warning for stealing some lengths of timber. However, a few days later he reported one of our team leaders for theft because, he said, she handed out a couple of company pencils to her team at the local pub quiz night. How should we react?
 
Answer:

In criminal law, the prosecution has to prove several points before an accused is found guilty of theft, therefore rather than use the word 'theft' in your rules, I suggest you use 'removing company property without permission'. But this does not address your problem. Technically both incidents represent theft. Indeed if you take a paperclip or a sheet of company notepaper home for your own use you are thieving. So let everyone know your standards.

For example, if they want bits of wood, they should ask the appropriate manager who will either let them have it free if it is of no use, or charge them if it still has value. As for stationery, make it known that you do not mind the odd pencil making its way home but again, if employees want larger quantities, ask permission. You could indicate, as an example, that if anyone is running a pub quiz, you might be prepared to let them have pencils with the company logo for a bit of publicity. The man you disciplined is obviously trying to get his own back, but he does have a point.

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Lucie Mitchell

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Lucie Mitchell
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