Employee Theft: What Constitutes Theft in The Workplace?

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Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines theft as, the act of stealing; and the felonious taking and removing of personal property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. Companies lose Millions of dollars every year due to internal theft.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines theft as, the act of stealing; and the felonious taking and removing of personal property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.  Companies lose Millions of dollars every year due to internal theft.  We should keep in mind that employees steal for different reasons. For one, sometimes disgruntle employees feel that they are entitled to take certain things from their jobs because they believe their employers are disloyal, and or because they are underpaid and thus deem their actions are justifiable. Others take things from their jobs without permission but don’t consider it stealing because of the insignificant value of the item. For example, pencils, papers, paper clips, etc.  And yet others are opportunist.  They only steal when the opportunity arises and because it was accessible at the time. In other words, “I can take this and no one will ever know”.  However, whether petty theft or a more serious offense, the bottom-line is “taking personal property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it”.  These things are not only unethical, but also unlawful and there are consequences that one suffers if caught.  Let’s take a look at some theft issues that generally take place in the workplace and how employers can minimize and even prevent theft from occurring in their companies in the future. 

Stealing time -Stealing time is a common theft occurrence that takes place in a company.  Employees steal time when they claim hours they did not work.  For example; if an employee is scheduled to be at work at 9:00 am but strolls in at 9:30 am but purposely writes in 9:00 am on his timesheet, this individual intended to deceive the company.  Or if an employee is running late and calls a co-worker to have them punch the time clock for them so that they don’t lose time, is also fraudulent.  Not only is this dishonest, it’s not fair to the employees who make it a point to arrive to work on time regularly.  

Petty theft  (office supplies, janitorial supplies, etc.) - Petty theft occurs all the time in companies but tends to get over looked because it’s considered a less serious offense or because no one notices. In fact, most don’t view it as stealing. But technically it is stealing.  Employers purchase these items for the purpose of using while at work. You might say, who will miss a pen, or few pencils, a few sheets of copy paper, or some paper towels? Keep in mind that the cost of these items adds up over time. Also, employees should feel morally obligated to do the right thing at work.  Unless an employer gives its employees permission to take damaged items or other supplies home it's considered stealing on the employees’ part.

Stealing costly items- Let's face it, some individuals have a problem with taking things that don’t belong to them.  Some are just plain kleptomaniacs. And some steal because they are in serious financial trouble and steal to pay off their debts.  Some individuals have stolen cash, computers, printers, clocks, paintings and other expensive items from their jobs without getting caught. But some employees did get caught and were terminated and now have a criminal record.  These types of thefts are extremely costly for the employer over time. 

Stealing from co-workers- Unfortunately, some employees steal from their co-workers.  Many employee-victims have complained and reported that personal property was taken from them while on the job.  In some cases these issues are never solved…because, of course, no one will own up to theft.  But in other cases the perpetrators of theft have been caught.  This type of stealing is considered to be of a more serious offense and some individuals have lost their jobs because they were proven guilty of theft in the workplace.  Sadly, some theft victims were unable to retrieve their items that were stolen.

Stealing from clients and customers- Unfortunately, some employees steal from the company’s customers. Sometimes a client or a customer may loose something of value or inadvertently leave something while on the company premises. Employees are required to return all lost items that a client or a customer has left while visiting the company- to the security department or to their manager immediately. If they choose to keep the item(s), it’s theft. Let security contact the rightful owner of the lost item(s).  When an employee steals from the customers it puts the company in an embarrassing position.

Giving friends and family members discounts and freebies at the owner’s expense- When an employee steals from the company to satisfy a friend or family member they are jeopardizing their own jobs. And if they are caught, they could be terminated and could face criminal charges for theft. Why risk your job and tarnish your reputation?  It’s not worth it.

Fraudulently removing items from the vending machines- Vending machines are considered company property when they are on its premises. When an employee tampers with the coin slot or forces items to drop into the receiving box without putting in the correct amount, it’s theft.  This type occurrence not only cost the company but the employer may decide to have the vending machines removed.  This criminal act punishes honest employees who like the convenience of having vending machines in the company.

Companies can minimize and in some cases prevent theft in the work place by:

  • Employers should do a comprehensive background check on job applicants prior to hire.  If the employer learns that the individual has a history of theft in his or her background -they should not hire them. 
  • Have a strong internal control system in place. 
  • Issue code-of-conduct handbooks to its employees upon hire. Emphasize clear policies as to what constitutes theft in the workplace.
  • Appoint supervisors to monitor employees’ scheduled work hours.
  • Invest in a high tech security system with working cameras, lights, and alarms. 
  • Managers should stress the importance of guarding personal possessions to their employees. 
  • Employees will need to take extra precautions as to where they place their personal items and even food items.  Yes…some employees have had their lunches stolen by co-workers. How pathetic.
  • Employees should watch out for one another to help prevent theft in the workplace.
  • Managers should terminate individuals who have been found guilty of theft in the workplace.
  • Have an anonymous hotline where employees can call should they suspect workplace theft.

Other forms of workplace theft include, stealing ideas from co-workers and taking credit, computer hacking, employee identity theft, and stealing confidential information from personal files.


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