What to Do When You’re Caught Stealing From Work

What to Do When You’re Caught Stealing From Work
Photo: bbernard, Shutterstock

I highly encourage stealing from your workplace within reason. Nabbing pens, taking leftover sodas from the office party — it’s nothing new. But it’s obviously important to keep your petty theft within reason, and to never get caught red-handed by your manager.

We all screw up at work sometimes, but getting caught stealing could lead to serious consequences. Even the tamest of thefts could get you fired, or you might even find yourself facing criminal charges. Maybe your workplace has a zero-tolerance policy, or your boss chooses to make an example out of you to prevent others from stealing, too. Here’s what to do if you’re caught stealing from your job.

Disclaimer: I’m assuming you’re taking staples and pizza, not cash from the register. This is not professional legal advice. This is simply about running damage control until you receive actual professional legal advice.

First, own up to it and explain an honest motive

Workplace theft was already on the rise in the years leading up to the pandemic. But even if you think no one will notice a missing charger, your workplace likely still considers you taking it an act of theft. As such, you could face real consequences.

In the heat of the moment, your first step is damage control. So much depends on your workplace environment and the nature of your crimes, but the common consensus is that you should own up to the thievery. Again, not all bosses are human, but it’s worth a shot to explain your motives and make the most human case you can in the moment.

Check your employee handbook for specific consequences

Review your employee handbook and see if your situation is clearly outlined anywhere. This will help you understand if the risk is worth it. Plus, if it isn’t explicitly written out, you’ll have a better shot at getting off with a warning for a first-time offence. Claim ignorance when you can.

Otherwise, according to CareerAddict, there are three main outcomes from getting caught stealing from your workplace:

  • Gross misconduct: It depends on the scale of your petty theft, but most acts of stealing company property qualify as gross misconduct. You might be dismissed immediately, or perhaps only suspended and given a clear warning.
  • Termination: The more glaring your transgression, the more likely you’ll get fired right away. For instance, if you were caught repeatedly stealing company property via video evidence, there’s a good chance your employer makes an example out of you. Hopefully you can repay the damages and walk away quietly without law enforcement getting involved and tarnishing your record.
  • Criminal charges: If your employer involves law enforcement, you could face jail time on top of losing your job. Obviously, criminal charges is the most daunting outcome you’re risking by stealing from work. Here’s what to do to minimise that risk.

Avoiding criminal charges

Hopefully your employer sits down with you to discuss your wrongdoings before they make the move to notify the authorities. CareerAddict writes that it’s advisable to try to negotiate a deal so that no criminal charges are brought against you. This agreement will probably involve you agreeing to leave the company and perhaps repay what you’ve stolen, but it’s better than expensive legal fees.

Don’t sign anything without professional help first

Speaking of legal fees: Don’t totally disregard the need for a legal advisor. Consult a professional before you sign any sort of civil agreement drawn up by your employer to pay back what you stole. It might seem like you’re resolving the issue in the moment, but if your company later decides to seek criminal charges, they’ll have written proof of your guilt.

Think ahead about your future employers

As you seek future employment, be prepared to address why you left your last position. You could avoid bringing it up at all, but it’s all-too likely that your interviewer will want to speak to your last employer before hiring you. Practice a clear, concise statement. Then practice it again. If you were facing undue stress and made a regrettable one-time mistake, explain that — then move on. Don’t belabor the point.

Besides, not all companies will disclose the reason for someone’s termination — especially if you previously came to a civil agreement for you to quietly resign.

Assess the risk of stealing from your workplace

Ideally, your petty theft doesn’t warrant much more than a slap on the wrist. Then again, it’s no secret the extent to which workplaces can be stringent and cruel. You might understandably view your theft as a small act of resilience, and I’m with you. But as TheInterviewGuys point out, “If you feel you’re underpaid, your boss is rude, or you lack respect from your company, stealing isn’t the answer. Finding a new job is.” Think about what’s driving you to steal from your work and whether the risk is worth it.

 

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