Today we're discussing how to cope with having a thief at work.
There’s a thief in our office who’s stealing money out of purses. Last week a couple of us were eating out and I told the group I was missing cash from my purse. I’d thought my teenage daughter had swiped it, but then learned both coworkers had also lost small amounts of cash. Each had put her worries aside, thinking she might have misremembered how much money she had.
After lunch, we told our boss. He said if we go to the police we’ll be told the situation is too small to investigate. He suggested we lock our purses in the filing cabinets. When we pressed him, he said he’d question everyone. He clearly felt cornered by us and we know he hates conflict. So he 'questioned' everyone, but it was a farce.
Now no one knows what to do or who to trust. The only ones who could have taken the money are our coworkers. I’ve gone back to my boss and he says he doesn’t have an answer for me other than “let it go."
I can’t. It gives me a weird feeling to wonder which of my coworkers stole from me. So I went online and found that my manager can buy a polygraph test for less than a hundred dollars. He says he won’t. How do I convince him to buy it?
Let your boss know that telling you to lock up purses costs you and other team members more than money. It erodes quality of work life. Who wants to work with coworkers you can’t trust to stay out of your purses?
The lie detector may not be your answer or even legal. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) applies to most private employers and generally prohibits employers from using lie detector tests during employment. Although the EPPA contains an exemption for testing employees reasonably suspected of involvement in a workplace theft or embezzlement resulting in economic loss to the employer, only licensed examiners can conduct the test. If your manager lets you use the polygraph informally on work time, he assumes liability for the EPPA violations.
You can, however, do more than let it go. Thieves operate in an environment of opportunity, motive and desire and we have a huge problem in our country with workplace theft. Ask around – how many of your coworkers have seen someone running personal mail through the office postage machine or taking home office supplies?
If you or others consider this different from taking money out of a coworker’s purse, you either believe your coworker’s appropriation of supplies or postage doesn’t cost you or you think those who steal from employer won’t steal from coworkers.
Think again. Employers have a finite amount of money. Employee theft reduces the money available for other workplace expenses, including salaries. In the way that grocery stores pass the cost for customers nibbling grapes without buying them to all shoppers, every employee funds the workers who dishonestly use the office postage machine. Further, any theft desensitizes the thief to other stealing.
The fix? Talking with your coworkers about the world you want to live in. Earnest discussions about how theft hurts everyone. Eliminate the “it’s okay” factor. In other words, make it harder for anyone to rationalize or feel psychic opportunity, and you may be able to get back to a workplace where you don’t have to guard your purses.
© 2016, Lynne Curry. If you have a career questions you’d like Lynne to answer, write her @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Lynne is an executive coach and author of Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM & Solutions. You can follow Lynne through her other posts on sheknows.com, via www.workplacecoachblog.com, www.bullywhisperer.com™ or @lynnecurry10 on Twitter.
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