Stealing in the Workplace Essay

Blu Silberhorn Issue Paper Case Studies in Ethics and Law November, 08 2009 Is stealing becoming more acceptable in the workplace? Generally, when people think of stealing or theft they are referring to the act of physically taking property from someone else. In reality there are many different ways that an employee can steal from an organization, and I have seen three different ways in my short career. The basic definition of theft is the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another, and this is one way in which people can take away from an organization.

The most common way for people to steal from an organization is theft of time, and this includes; taking extra time on breaks and lunches, using work time for personal matters, and simply wasting time while at work. The last type of theft that I have seen in the workplace is fraudulently changing time sheets and expense reports. Many people have been involved in one of the three of these unethical practices and statistics show an increase in theft incidences. A new study says you may be working in a den of thieves.

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An overwhelming 79 percent of workers admit they have or would consider stealing from their employers, according to a survey released last week by forensic accounting firm Michael G. Kessler & Associates. And the loot is far more sophisticated than mere pens and paper clips (Jacoby, 1999). It may not be right but at some point in time some of these actions have become acceptable. Throughout this essay I will tell you why people steal, and I will be giving three different examples of theft that I have encountered in my life.

For each experience I will give you some background information about the unethical behavior, I will tell you whether I think the action(s) where right or wrong, I will explain how the situation was handled and the outcome, and lastly I will show some research that will help me reach a conclusion to the issue. Stealing from the workplace has become very common and the majority of people have been involved in a situation involving theft, so I want to get a better understanding of why stealing has become acceptable practice in today’s business world.

To get a better understanding I first need to know why people steal from the workplace. Knowing why people steal is an important factor in understanding why theft is becoming common in the workplace. There are a few different reasons why people steal from their employer. The number one reason is greed; people want more and they will do anything to get it. The availability to steal large amount of money or products is there and people want to cash in on this opportunity. The second reason is vindictiveness; employees are looking to get even when they feel they have been wronged.

It is easy to say that you were shorted on a pay increase and make up for that with company product. And finally there is need; some employees may be struggling for whatever reason, and stealing company money or products could help them get out of trouble. In fact, only 8 percent of respondents in the Kessler study said they steal because they need to. And 49 percent said they steal out of greed, while 43 percent said they do it to get back at their employer (Jacoby, 1999). After looking at the percentages I got a better understanding of why people are stealing from their employers.

Throughout my work history I have experienced each reason as well as different methods of committing theft. I would like to work chronologically through my work experiences to give you a better understanding of why these people were stealing. My first encounter with theft happed when I was a Night Shift Manager at Econo Foods about seven years ago. I had always heard about people stealing merchandise from the store but I had never witnessed it until this incident. One employee was helping me finish up the “list” of tasks that had to be completed every night when I noticed beer underneath the garbage that was set to go out.

By putting the merchandise underneath the garbage it blocked its view from the security cameras. Normally, we would work through tasks as they appeared on the list which allowed us to have different jobs every night, so this wasn’t routine for this employee. This is completely wrong in many different ways, because not only was the employee stealing the product, he was also not old enough to purchase or drink alcohol. Since, I was the person put in charge of the store that night I had to decide what to do in this particular situation.

There are a few different ways to handle this situation. I could have called the police and let them handle it, but to my knowledge this was the employee’s first time stealing anything from the store. I don’t think the employee needed to be fined or charged for making a small mistake. I think that most people would have told upper management and let them handle the punishment, but this was a good employee and I didn’t want to look like that bad guy. I confronted the employee about the issue and explained that it is not right to stealing from the store.

I explained that he was putting me in a tough position, but I wasn’t going to tell management unless it happens again. I don’t think that he ever tried to steal anything after that night. Being upfront with him and letting him know what the consequences would be got my message across. Theft is a big problem in retail locations; in my case there are only a few people that are working in a large store, so it is impossible to catch everyone. The store has security cameras and policies in place to combat these issues, but people will always find a way around these obstacles.

I do think that physically stealing is wrong, but the amount of punishment depends on the circumstance. In my case it was the employee’s first incident and there was very little product involved. He deserved a chance to prove to me that he is a good employee that made a mistake. I believe some people would have handled this situation differently, but I wanted to sustain a good working relationship with the person into the future. Knowing that my decision wouldn’t compromise my job also played a role in my decision. Had I thought my job would be in jeopardy I probably would have told upper management about the incident.

Although we may have been reprimanded, I knew that we would not have lost our jobs, and it was easier for us to handle the situation. The fact that the employee didn’t actually get the product outside was important in my decision as well. The employee was planning on stealing the product but I caught him before he committed the act. Should this make a difference in my decision? I think so because if the employee drinks the alcohol while driving and kills someone in an accident, the company could be held responsible. Since he never actually “stole” the product the potential accident was avoided.

The policies in place at many retail store leave them vulnerable to theft. Generally, stores in this situation will label stolen items as shrinkage, which is the loss of an item between the manufacturer and the point of sale. According to Jacoby (1999), “Workplace theft is prevalent, some experts say, because many employers overlook the symptoms of theft and fail to put in place adequate checks and balances. ” They simply write it off and never get to the root of the problem. There has also been research that shows that many business fail due to theft of property.

Many chain stores have chosen not to prosecute violations of less than a certain amount. The policies in place may invite people to steal since they won’t be prosecuted. This is an excerpt about Wal-Mart from the San Diego Union-Tribune. According to internal documents, the company, the nation’s largest retailer and leading destination for shoplifting, will no longer prosecute first-time thieves unless they are between 18 and 65 and steal merchandise worth at least $25, putting the chain in line with the policies of many other retailers (Barbaro, 2006).

I believe that theft would decrease if companies would prosecute violators no matter what the value of the merchandise. Having strict guidelines makes people think about what they are doing. If they know there is harsh punishment they would be less likely to steal from the store. So, in a way the companies themselves are allowing theft to happen because of their leniency. It is also difficult to catch violators when there are only a few employees working a large store. I think another factor is stores operating as lean as possible.

If there were more people working to combat theft issues the companies would have less merchandise stolen. In my case there are only 4-5 people working in the entire store, and it is impossible for us to watch over everything. It would be nice to think that employees wouldn’t steal but they have an advantage in knowing where the cameras are located, and no one expects them to be stealing things. In reality most of the theft that occurred in the store was from employees, and it was overlooked by management. Is it more cost effective to let people steal or pay for more store coverage?

Stores being able to write of product that has been stolen leads me to believe that it makes financial sense to allow people to steal. Obviously, companies want to minimize theft, but paying extra people to work every day may cost more than stolen merchandise. Physically stealing merchandise is one way people take from their organization, but altering timesheets is another problem that companies and employees have to deal with. While in college I had my second encounter with theft, but in a completely different way than my first experience.

As a college sophomore I started working as a field marketing coordinator for a fortune 500 company. It is important to note that many of the events worked were done without supervision; many times it would be a couple people all in the same position with no manager on site. I found out quite early in my employment that it was common practice to change the hours worked as well as mileage to receive a bigger paycheck. Because the company is so big it is nearly impossible to keep track of all the part-time employees, and people took advantage of the situation.

It is a type of situation where everyone working had to have the same hours worked for the event, and similar mileage, depending on where they drove from. As a new employee when superiors told me to alter my timesheet, I did what they said because I wanted to fit in with the crowd. Looking back I would think this is practice is unacceptable, but what I found out later from my supervisor changed my mind. My supervisor would tell me to change my timesheet at times to make up for being underpaid. At times he would treat it as a bonus for doing a good job or going above and beyond.

It does not make it right just because my supervisor told me to, but what where my options? If I hadn’t changed my timesheet I would have missed out on the extra money; as a college student money was scarce. And there is really no consequence to changing them because corporate never addressed any of these issues. If one person would have lost their job because of fraudulent timesheets many people would have stopped altering them. My thoughts on this subject changed when I was promoted within the same company and in charge of part-time employees.

After college graduation I received a promotion to sales representative with the same company, and with the promotion I inherited two part-time employees with bad habits. Since, altering timesheets had become common practice for most part-time employees I had to re-teach my new employees about fraudulent timesheets and the consequences. The first meeting with my part-timers, I explained that it would be in their best interest to be honest when filling out company documents and that includes timesheets. Working is sales in much different than marketing because they would be working more hours and getting considerably more mileage.

Through close examination of their timesheets I noticed that one employee was still making small changes to his timesheet. Since, I set their schedule it was very easy to catch “mistakes. ” I told the employee that mistakes on his timesheet will only hurt him in the long run. If this continued to be a problem he would have received poor reviews, or I would have to let him go. As a person who was looking to stay with the company after college I believe possibly losing his job was enough incentive for him to changes his ways.

I could have allowed these practices to continue, but I felt it was important for them to understand that things don’t come free. They would have to work for bonuses and incentives instead of altering their timesheets. In my research I found some cases where it wasn’t the employee changing their timesheet but bosses looking to cut down on expenses. In my experiences I have always thought that my bosses wanted the best for me. In my findings I found situations where bosses were changing the amount of time worked for their employees, and it seems like this is becoming more of an issue.

As far as I know my timesheets have never been altered by a superior, but it is a possibility. I have received my checks through direct deposit, and at time never looked at the hardcopy. Just as it became habit for part-timers to alter their timesheets it seems that this becomes common practice for managers as well. I found a story in the New York Times explain this growing issue. Experts on compensation say that the illegal doctoring of hourly employees’ time records is far more prevalent than most Americans believe. The practice, commonly called shaving time, is easily done and hard to detect? simple matter of computer keystrokes ? and has spurred a growing number of lawsuits and settlements against a wide range of businesses (Greenhouse, 2004). As I read through this story I was concerned, but after some thought I have a better understanding of the situation. In many cases managers have a budget to abide by and in today’s business world they are asked to do more with less. As stated by Greenhouse (2004), “Compensation experts say that many managers, whether at discount stores or fast-food restaurants, fear losing their jobs if they fail to keep costs down. Most of the time it is not feasible, but an easy fix is to alter their employee’s timesheets. This in not only illegal, it creates trust issues. If your boss is willing to change your timesheet to fulfill their obligations, what else are they willing to do? I can see this becoming more of an issue with the nation’s economic downturn. Managers are being asked to do more and more with less resources and unethical practices will continue to happen. Altering timesheets is unethical whether employees or management is at fault. It is becoming common practice on both sides.

In my situation it seemed to be accepted and at times managers would have their employees alter the timesheets as a bonus. It was an easy way for managers to give back to their employees when upper management wouldn’t allow merit increases. I think that people are willing to do whatever it takes to better their situation. If an employee alters their timesheet, they want to get paid more. If a manager is cutting hours from their workers, they are trying to stay within their limits. Is altering timesheets worth losing the trust of the organization or employees? Absolutely not!

Many of these cases end up as lawsuits or terminations. Many stores have implemented a zero tolerance policy, meaning if someone is caught altering timesheets they will be dismissed. A person caught altering timesheets can hurt an organizations image as well as financially. So, as more cases come out I think will see companies being more proactive by warning employees of the consequences. There is a possibility that people may not have been involved in these last two situations involving theft, but everyone has stolen some company time. The last way that employees steal from companies is wasting time.

We have all done it or know someone at the office who is using company time to make personal phone calls, run errands, make personal copies, or send person faxes. It may not seem like it but when people are at work they have a responsibility to be completing their assigned tasks. With the leniency that companies are giving employees we are now able to use our work time to do personal things. I worked from a home office for the past year and a half, and I used my company time for personal use all of the time. I think this has become more accepted because workers are generally asked to work more than forty hours a week.

It only makes sense that an outside sales person would run their errands while they are out of the house. This is a situation where I believe it is okay for someone to “steal” from the company as long as they aren’t abusing it. We should be allowed to use some of our company time for person use since more is being asked of us in today’s business world. I found an article explaining the extra burden being put on today’s workforce that illustrates my point. In addition, these individuals are having more demands placed on them at work, according to Gayer.

As a result of downsizings, for example, surviving employees are often expected to do more work than they did before, which they resent. As such, they look for ways to take breaks from this work. “Companies are also expecting employees to be available around the clock by providing them with cell phones, laptops, Internet connections and Blackberrys,” she says (Atkinson, 2006). As long as there is a balance where the time you are stealing equals the extra you are working everything should be fine. Although, this has become common practice, these companies are spending an extreme amount of money for employees to conduct personal business.

This may be a situation where it is best to ask your employer, because many companies do allow people to use company time for personal use. When I started my job in outside sales I asked my manager what type of policy was in place. I was able to use the middle of the day for personal use as long as I was working eight or more hours a day. Our schedule was very flexible and as long as our tasks were completed there would be no repercussions. I loved that if I needed some time to go to the doctor or had an appointment I was able to make up my time in the future.

It is nice that we have blackberries now that keep us connected, but I also think they are part of the problem. People are able to search the internet, email, and instant messaging all day long and that cuts down on their production. If have found some numbers that show how wasting time can effect an employer and I was quite shocked. How much does this cost you? If you operate a company with 100 employees who earn $15 an hour, and each employee wastes an average of only 30 minutes a day ($7. 50), your daily bill is $750. Your annual bill (250 workdays) is $187,500.

Is that any less of a problem than if the employees raided the petty cash box (or an on-premise cash register) each year to the tune of $187,500 (Atkinson, 2006)? These numbers may actually be on the low side, but do they add up to the additional amount of time worked. At my job I was being paid salary for a forty hour work week, when in actuality I was working about fifty-five hours a week. So, even if people are “wasting” two and a half hours a week is it being made up with additional hours at the office? In many cases I’m sure that people who using their company time are working extra, because traditional weeks are changing.

This is another reason why stealing from companies is becoming more acceptable. People are trying to make up for the additional, unpaid hours they are working. I think organizations are to blame for stealing becoming acceptable in the workplace. As I look back through my experiences no was every punished for theft. Many of the articles I read show how corporations are reducing their guidelines on stealing. There are many reasons why companies wouldn’t prosecute violators, but they need to know they are part of the problem.

By relaxing their policies companies are giving more freedom to employees. In Wal-Mart’s case, they aren’t charging offenders if the value of the merchandise isn’t enough. I believe this will entice more people to steal from their stores. When people know that the consequences are stern they will be less likely to commit unethical acts. Companies do have a big role in theft, but there are ways to stop people from stealing. There would be fewer incidents if companies would limit the opportunities for employees to steal. Companies with theft issues often times have a lack of inventory control.

Less availability means less opportunity; companies should limit the access to company property to prevent major loss. It is also important to for people to feel like a part of the organization. If they have a sense of ownership they will be less like to steal. If employees are given bonuses based off of profits they don’t want to take away by stealing company property. People are also more like to steal when they are upset, so giving them some time to unwind may be beneficial. It may cut down on productivity for the day but it is a trade off for potentially lost merchandise.

In my experiences people would alter timesheets and expense reports, so it is important for companies to monitor these reports for accuracy. In the past couple of years we have seen companies fail due to large amount of money being stolen. When people are given the power to make decisions greed often times takes over. If companies don’t have proper checks and balances they are susceptible to these fraudulent acts. The more that we see theft happen the more people think they can get away with something. In the future if companies don’t address these issues it could spiral out of control.

I have found a couple of companies that are taking precaution. In another case, I recall going to a hair salon for an appointment to have my hair permed. I was the first customer of the day and was inconvenienced by having to wait for the manager to arrive to unlock the cabinet containing the perm solution so that the hair stylist could proceed with my hair. I suppose this system was to keep theft of the perm solutions down (Edmunds, 2006). In my research I have found some tips for managers to use to cut back on theft. Companies are starting to lock up products and office supplies that are easy to steal.

I have also heard of companies creating a common area for office supplies instead of allowing everyone to have their own. This way there is only a little amount of product that managers have to look over. It makes it much tougher to steal when there is only one stapler. Keeping the inventory down is another way for managers to regulate what is going on in the office. Companies are susceptible to theft when they have extra products or money lying around. As stated earlier, when employees are upset they are more prone to stealing, especially when they are being terminated.

It would be in the company’s best interest to monitor the employee while they pack up their desk or even pack the employee’s things for them. I have found some more ways for companies to prevent theft in an article by Justin A. Walsh, “It is important to establish a “zero-tolerance” program regarding employee theft. Make sure that it is understood, during orientation that the company will take legal action against employees caught stealing. ” In addition to creating a zero-tolerance policy he also discusses how important it is to select the right employees during the hiring process.

Many employers do reference checks and criminal background checks to eliminate certain candidates. Outside of guidelines companies are implementing other ways to catch employees from stealing. Rules and guidelines may deter some people from stealing, but it is important for companies to have additional security just in case. Companies are able to use technology to catch people in the act of stealing. According to Coenen, these are some devices used in prevention of theft. The more commonplace monitoring done by employers includes security guards and strategically located security cameras.

More high-tech methods include keycards that restrict access to certain areas of the company and log employees coming and going from those areas. Even more sophisticated monitoring systems include computer software that can mine data such as emails, instant messages, and computer files for keywords and other suspect activities. Using technology is a good way for companies to cut back on theft, but it isn’t a guarantee. There were camera placed all around the grocery store I worked at, but people were still able to steal merchandise. I like the idea of having limited access for certain employees.

Banks have always limited the access to the vault to protect themselves from theft. I know that many banks use dual control, meaning that there are two people that have combinations to gain access to anything dealing with money. To enter many vaults there is one employee with the combination and another with a key. Employees should only have access to things that are needed to complete their tasks. With the current state of the economy companies will need to be alert since workplace theft is on the rise. There has been an increase in theft occurrences since the economic downturn.

There have been wage freezes due to lack of profits, and employees are trying to make up that money somewhere. Unfortunately for businesses employees are turning to theft to make up for personal losses. In an article by Mary Paulsell, she states, “that we need to realize that theft often occurs when employees are under personal financial stress. Incentives such as bonuses for high productivity or sales can help deter theft. ” When employees are receiving a part of the profits they don’t want to take out of their own pockets by stealing. Everyone in the workplace has witnessed or been a part of theft.

It is becoming more acceptable as time passes. I don’t think that we will see a decreasing trend going forward unless companies start to act when someone is caught stealing. If companies don’t take action will see more people start to think like this. If fellow employees who abide by the law watch such events unfold, but see no prosecution, what sort of message does this send out? That a minor case of theft could go by unnoticed, or that the risk is “worth it” (Waite, 2008)? We will continue to see this type of attitude if companies don’t address theft issues.

All three examples are different types of theft, but the one common theme is companies allowing it to happen. In some instances people may not realize that they are stealing, but wasted time has become more of a problem. With this trend we are seeing companies lose a lot of money due to people taking an extra ten minutes every day or stealing office supplies. So, is stealing right or wrong? Is it becoming more acceptable in today’s business world? There is no question that stealing is unethical in any form. I think that people in today’s society have abused the situation, and are taking too much and too often.

The real problem is small issues continue to grow; someone starts off taking an extra ten minutes at lunch one day and that becomes a habit. Our workforce needs to take a page from the past and understand that hard work is important. Too often people just want to skate by, doing as little as possible for the biggest reward. Employees may be committing the act, but organizations play a role as well. After looking at my experiences and articles about employee theft I have found an answer to my question. So, is theft becoming more acceptable in the workplace?

I don’t believe that it is accepted, but it is becoming more prevalent for a number of reasons. Company policies are not clear or they fail to act when they catch people stealing. It is more difficult to prosecute violators when rules are unclear. I believe that companies are being too lenient as well; we have reviewed cases from large department stores that won’t charge people unless the amount is over twenty-five dollars. If they were to implement harsher penalties people would be less likely to break the rules. We have also seen an increase in theft because of the economic downturn.

People are trying to make up for lost capital by stealing from their employers. I believe that theft issues will go down when the economy goes up, but it is important to understand that money isn’t the biggest factor involved with company theft. I have also tried to get a better understanding of why people steal from their employers. I found that the three main reasons for theft are greed, retaliation, and need. The majority of people steal because they have a desire to be wealthy. People also steal because they feel betrayed or underpaid.

Employees are able to justify their actions because they feel they aren’t being treated fairly. Finally, some people need to steal to survive. As inflation rates go up and wages go down employees need to make up for lost money and stealing is allows them to make up for financial lows. The most important thing that companies can do is look at the warning signs and use new methods to prevent theft. In my research I found many ways that companies try to stop theft from happening, and it would be wise for new business owners to use some of these methods.

Obviously, companies can use security cameras but they have to place them in proper locations. There are other technologies that can help stop theft as well. Using access passes and codes creates a barrier for employees. To gain access they must be authorized to be in certain areas. Companies need to do a better job of evaluating people they plan to hire to prevent theft from happening. Since employees are able to steal by altering company documents it is important to thoroughly inspect expense reports and timesheets. By putting all of these factors together I have come to a final decision.

Stealing is not acceptable but employees have many motivating factors that contribute to theft. If companies don’t address these issue theft will continue to happen, but there are many ways to prevent employees from stealing. By implementing new methods and actually following through on them there will be a reduction in theft occurrences. In my cases theft may have been accepted on a local level, but it was frowned upon throughout the organization. People will always waste time at work but companies try to limit the amount of personal tasks completed on company time. Addressing heft issues is vital for companies in the future. We have seen a trend where there is no punishment in certain cases for theft and that is why we see more stealing. Theft isn’t acceptable but it is on the rise, so companies need to be proactive in preventing employees from stealing. Works Cited Atkinson, William. “Stealing time. ” Risk Management 53. 11 (2006): 48+. Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. . Barbaro, Michael. “Wal-Mart relaxes its policy on theft. ” San Diego Union-Tribune. 13 July 2006. Web. 03 Nov. 2009. . Coenen, Tracy L. “WLJ – How to catch employees stealing. Wisconsin Law Journal – Home. 12 July 2006. Web. 04 Nov. 2009. . Edmunds, Gladys. “Workplace theft: Where do employees get these ideas? ” USATODAY. com. 20 Sept. 2006. Web. 26 Oct. 2009. . “Employee Workplace Theft: Tips to Stop Workplace Theft | MoreBusiness. com. ” Start a business with our business plans, sample contracts and expert advice | MoreBusiness. com. 16 Oct. 2006. Web. 04 Nov. 2009. . Greenhouse, Steven. “Altering of Worker Time Cards Spurs Growing Number of Suits. ” New York Times. 04 Apr. 2004. Web. 28 Oct. 2009. . Jacoby, Nicole. “Battling workplace theft – Aug. 19, 1999. Business, financial, personal finance news – CNNMoney. com. 19 Aug. 1999. Web. 30 Oct. 2009. . Lashley, Michele. “Fraud, Theft and Corruption in the Workplace. ” Welcome to Business Leader Magazine. July 2004. Web. 01 Nov. 2009. . Paulsell, Mary. “The Problem of Employee Theft. ” MissouriBusiness. net: Missouri Business Development Program. 10 Sept. 2007. Web. 08 Nov. 2009. . Waite, Annie. “Employee theft is rising due to tough economy. ” The Internal Comms Hub. 28 July 2008. Web. 07 Nov. 2009. . Walsh, Justin A. “Employee Theft – IFPO. ” International Foundation for Protection Officers. Aug. 2000. Web. 04 Nov. 2009. .


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