Is it ever OK to condone theft? A reader sent us in this doozy recently…

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“I recently had an employee come and see me because he was struggling financially. A not so good lawyer had not only seen him lose custody of his 3 kids in the family court, but also during the divorce settlement gave his wife almost everything.

“She’s now a single mum with 3 kids and can barley support herself so his payments to her, set by the court, leave him with little to no money of his own. He has since found a new lady friend who has two kids of her own and they have moved in together. Although done for love, this does ease the financial burden caused by rent, utilities, etc.

“However, now with two extra kids to support they are literally skint, struggling each week to get food on the table and keep the kids in fresh clean clothes.

“Being the responsible employer I put him in touch with a counsellor and a financial planner (both free of charge at the company’s expense), and he has since got a few things on track. However, this week I caught him red handed on camera stealing washing powder, soap, and other cleaning products.

“When I asked why he explained to me that one of his children wanted to go on a school camp, and because he wanted his kids to have a good education and life building experiences he couldn’t deny a simple request. So to pay for it they had to give up on some of the shopping and forgo some basic goods to pay for it.

“And when they ran out and had no money left to purchase anything else he chose to steal the products from work.

“Should I have sympathy for him and turn a blind eye knowing that these losses to the company don’t even make up 0.01% of our daily turnover, or should I sack him for stealing? (NB: I still haven’t decided and am dragging it out claiming its under investigation.)”

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58 comments

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    • Tim says:

      12:39pm | 03/06/11

      Give the poor bum some overtime.

    • Mootchikaka says:

      12:40pm | 03/06/11

      You have to keep him employed, you got yourself involved and now your just seeing the otherside of the situation. This is the problem with helping people these days, you end up in a position where the weight can be easily transferred onto your shoulders. its not worth it, but your in the thick of it now.

    • reason says:

      12:00am | 04/06/11

      its not worth it? - to you perhaps.

    • fairsfair says:

      12:43pm | 03/06/11

      I would not sack him. He wasn’t stealing ciggies or chocolate or luxury items. You sound like a fantastic boss already by the way, but I would give this man another chance. Tell him it can not happen again and if it does you will be forced to formalise action against him.

      I don’t think stealing is right, but I have to say if faced with that situation I have no idea what I would do. This just re-ignites the whole family courts issue really. It is not right that a father has to lose everything to support his ex wife and kids. His kids yes, but far to often monies have to be surrendered to their ex.

      Kanye (as always) kind or puts it into perspective - “win the superbowl and drive of in a hyundai”. On an average joe scale perhaps the hyundai is now becoming theft of toilet paper.

    • Ros says:

      12:49pm | 03/06/11

      This is reminiscent of our ancestors being sent to Auastralia for 7 years for stealing a loaf of bread!! I say him him another chance. But only one!! Tell him that dishonesty is not tolerated in your firm and that if he is caught stealing again, it will be instant dismissal. Perhaps set up a fund/hamper, that your employees may like to contribute to, to be used in these kind of cases. It would be a kind and thougtful thing for your business to do and will reap its own rewards. Good luck with whatever you decide!!

    • Robert Smissen of country SA says:

      12:31am | 04/06/11

      Transported to Oz for stealing a loaf of bread is a MYTH! ! ! Cut purses rapists frauds prostitutes, vionlence etc got people transported. Obviously he is a loser & no matter what you do will end up in the same spot

    • Mahhrat says:

      12:52pm | 03/06/11

      Yup, he’s seriously breached your trust, but the intent was not to thief but provide for his family.

      Is it wrong?  Yes.  Should he be punished? That’s up to you.

      I’d offer him an opportunity to re-earn said trust.  Certainly, he should be on first and final warning.  But I like Tim’s idea, give him some overtime and some other projects, see if he steps up.

      If he really is a drongo, he’ll abuse the privilege and then you’ll have the opportunity to fire his lame ass.

      Besides, if you keep him on staff he will owe you a massive favour.  You never know, you might need his help one day.

    • Kevin says:

      12:58pm | 03/06/11

      Sack the thief and report him to the police.

    • AdamC says:

      01:00pm | 03/06/11

      I am sure the bible has some guidance on this sort of thing.

      But, if that doesn’t work, here goes. Assuming that this fellow is a reasonably decent sort, and has been suitably mortified by being caught nicking work stuff, I reckon a stern rebuke and a written warning will probably set him back on the straight and narrow.

      (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to check that I haven’t ‘accidentally’ brought any work stationery or office supplied back home with me.)

    • hot tub political machine says:

      01:19pm | 03/06/11

      +1. Written warning, should do the trick - if it doesn’t then you have a dilemma.

    • Harquebus says:

      01:00pm | 03/06/11

      We have been stealing from each other since before we came down out of the trees. It is normal human behavior and will never be wiped out. Take responsibility for yourselves, the authorities can only offer minimal protection.

    • Aaron says:

      01:04pm | 03/06/11

      I’m wondering if an option here might be to do a review on his work attitude over his employment with the company, have a look at his wage and possibly offer a payrise on the condition that this doesn’t happen again. He’s been honest despite knowing that he is likely to get the sack, and you will (hopefully) find that he will work harder and remain loyal to the company.

      You just need to make sure that he understands that there are conditions and expectations with the payrise. If you feel uncomfortable increasing just his wage consider doing an across the board increase that will increase the morale and loyalty of all your workers.

    • Mathias says:

      01:38pm | 03/06/11

      “consider doing an across the board increase that will increase the morale and loyalty of all your workers.”

      Lol… can I give you my bosses email address smile

    • marley says:

      02:03pm | 03/06/11

      While I think the boss should give him another chance, I sure don’t think it’s a good idea to reward theft by giving the guy a pay rise. 

      Written warning, offer of overtime (but first he pays for what he stole), and close monitoring until he re-earns trust.

    • joshgtv says:

      03:48pm | 03/06/11

      Aaron would I be correct in assuming that you’ve never been a business owner?

    • Coop says:

      05:14pm | 03/06/11

      Rubbish… you dont reward theft.

      3 options;
      1. Sack him
      2. Demote and reduce pay
      3. Dock his pay to the value of his theft.

      Sounds a bit to me like this guy is one of those in a state of perpetual impending catastrophy. If he can rationalise theft he can probably rationalise lying and as such anything he says is likely to be a crock.

      It’s also unlikely that this is the first time he is stealing.

      You’ve already gone above and beyond and you need to consider the message being sent to other staff, if any.

      If you want to protect your integrity, maintain staff respect,  and conserve the morale of other employees I believe you now have an obligation to cut him loose.

    • The Badger says:

      01:05pm | 03/06/11

      If you are a conservative you sack him and turn the evidence over to the police for prosecution.
      Conservatives have no humanity and delight in seeing others suffer.

    • A says:

      01:37pm | 03/06/11

      Well done Badger!

      I forgot that the Arts faculty at UWA doesnt have many classes on a Friday. Hence your inflammatory remarks.

    • Tim says:

      01:42pm | 03/06/11

      Pffft.
      What are you on about Badger?
      Conservatives would make him CEO of the company. I mean don’t you lefty’s think that all CEO’s are theives anyway? Win Win.

      Progressives would definitely sack him.
      But then they would give him two years free salary to manage the change in his life circumstances and free counselling for life, just to deal with the pain and trauma of getting the sack.
      They would then form a committee to understand the motivation and causes behind one of their employees stealing company property.
      Then they’d rehire him at a higher wage.

    • david says:

      01:52pm | 03/06/11

      This is so true. I am a conservative. I have no humanity and i definitely delight in seeing others suffer.

    • hot tub political machine says:

      02:18pm | 03/06/11

      Ha!, I’m not a conservative myself, but I’ll give credit where its due to david.

    • Craig Mc says:

      07:17pm | 03/06/11

      Considering the employee’s hapless incompetence at running his personal affairs, The ALP would make him Prime Minister.

    • Robert Smissen of country SA says:

      12:35am | 04/06/11

      The lefties would applaude him taking from his fat cat boss who owns way too much & obviously exploits his downtrodden workers. Is Badger another name for Ghoulia? ? ?

    • St. Michael says:

      01:08pm | 03/06/11

      The classic reason given by an embezzler for why he stole from people who trusted him was “Well, your honour, it’s a lot easier than stealing from people who don’t trust you.”

      Sack him.  The law would be entirely behind you to do so - employment law routinely says theft breaks a fundamental duty of trust between the employer and the employee.  You have no real idea whether he is telling you the truth or not, and by definition, he cannot be trusted.  If you feel bad about it, allow him to resign and give him a good reference, but you are allowing someone of proven bad character to remain in your office and you are only encouraging it to happen in the future.

    • Jordan Rastrick says:

      05:39pm | 03/06/11

      Give him a good reference?

      So your advice is for the poster to dishonestly mislead other employers into hiring a person you have judged too untrustworthy to work in his current position?

    • Mr Speaker says:

      01:13pm | 03/06/11

      Keep him on, and show him where he can receive the help he needs (which you’ve kindly started with the FP, etc).

      There are many organizations out there, like the Salvos who have the basics of life available to those in need for free (or next to free).  He can get the help he needs without having to resort to theft (something i’d wager he didn’t want to do in the first place, but did so out of desperation).

    • AdamC says:

      01:45pm | 03/06/11

      Mr Speaker, that’s excellent advice. It’s like my father always said: “It’s better to seek help from those happy to provide it than risk dismissal for stealing cleaning supplies from your boss.” What a strangely prescient bit of parental wisdom.

    • Redeker Plan says:

      02:55pm | 03/06/11

      I concur Mr Speaker. 
      Losing his job could unfortunately send him right over the edge, given the stress he is already under. 

      I think the best option is to give the poor guy another chance, stressing that this is a one-time opportunity for him to prove himself trustworthy again. It’s not like he had his hand in the till, after all.  Give him the chance to pay the company back for the items he took, even if he pays it off at a couple of dollars a week, or by working a bit of unpaid overtime here or there.  This will help him regain his pride, which has clearly been utterly destroyed by the situation he is in.  And if you’ve got heaps of paid overtime available, offer it to him.

      Not only the Salvos, but many church parishes have food-banks where people can go to get basic day to day necessities.  They do NOT have to be church members to access this, they are not means-tested or anything.  My Mum volunteers at her local parish, and they regularly give out food boxes to people who rock up out of nowhere, no questions asked.

      For you, my compliments on your empathy and compassion for this poor bugger.  You sound like an great boss, and giving this bloke a chance will (I really, really hope) result in good things coming back to you later down the track.  If nothing else, you will get out of it an employee who will stick with you, and hopefully remember that you had his back when things were at their darkest.  That said; if he does it again - instant dismissal.

    • Ben says:

      01:33pm | 03/06/11

      Four (+) journalists and one of you can’t work out that this story has nothing to do with barley? (second para)

    • Jim says:

      01:35pm | 03/06/11

      You’ve already given him a break by helping him out, this is how he has thanked you.

      Put the onus of responsibiity on him now by handing him a written warning. It’s on his record then and you will not have the moral dilemma (I know how gut wrenching it is to sack someone) of making a decision later if he repeat offends.

      If you just let it slide you’ll be made a fool of sooner or later…

    • TracyH says:

      01:35pm | 03/06/11

      A warning and he has to do overtime to pay for the goods. I know many people in these situations and they go to Vinnies or the Salvos for help…these NGOs give people in dire straights vouchers and basic supplies. There was no excuse for him stealing off his employer, but I do think one more chance would be fair, if only so the employer doesn’t have to feel guilty. Then if any thing else happens…yep…out the door! And, by th way, I’d be interested to know if the bloke’s new partner has gone off her single parent benefit…

    • Ben says:

      01:39pm | 03/06/11

      I would sit him down and tell him that you have (at your own cost) looked after him by providing the counselling.  Tell him that you are unhappy that he chose to repay your kindness/generosity by stealing from you.  Keep him on, but give him a written warning and tell him he has a way to go to get back into your good books.  If any more, jettison him.  Respect is a too way thing.

    • NicoleG says:

      01:45pm | 03/06/11

      Give him another chance. I loathe thieves, but in this case he was trying to do something for his kids. Another chance, but only one.

    • Tbowler says:

      01:52pm | 03/06/11

      Heres what you do:

      1) Let him off but with trhe caveat that it ends there and never happens again.

      2) Collect money at work for ‘chairty’: a casual clothes day for an anonymous family fallen on hard times and use that cash to buy the poor bastard some shit for his kids.

      3) Use your in-house counsel to make an application for greater care and less maintenance on his behalf. If you don’t have in-house counsel but lawyers on retainer use your lawyer to fill out a legal-aid application for him. If he takes it back to court and it becomes apparent that he is still paying for the childrens camps etc and is too poor to buy fucking soap then there will most likely be an order granted in his favour.

      If you do all of that I figure you have discharged your moral obligation to a felllow man fallen on hard times. There is only so much that we can do to help others and should all of that fail, then it is beyond your control and short of giving him your own money there is nothing else you can do.

      Good luck mate!

    • Gregg says:

      01:58pm | 03/06/11

      First of all you need to decide what value you place on this employee and just how far you want to have your trust stretched.
      If deciding he is worth keeping on and given a further chance you need a firm written agreement with him that underlines if he is in any further difficulty, he comes to see you rather than be a thief or it’ll be the way out the gate for him.
      Part of the agreement should also include what plan he is going to formulate with his new partner to budget a life for their extended family to be within their existing income and/or finding additional income.
      There should also be written acknowledgement of the theft.
      Part of the agreement needs to be he doing some additional duties to repay for what has been taken.
      If agreement is not forthcoming on his part, then dismissal steps should be proceeded with.

    • Davi_88 says:

      02:00pm | 03/06/11

      Don’t sack him.
      A stern reprimand definitely -but don’t fire him. He is in a difficult situation and although that does not justify stealing, it does make it understandable.

      I understand that you need to be able to trust your employees but you can find a way to make him earn that trust back. Just make sure you scare him enough so he doesnt break your trust again.
      Sounds like your employees are very lucky to be working for you!

    • Sacha says:

      02:12pm | 03/06/11

      I would seek to verify the children’s camp story. If he cannot provide evidence then he is a thief and a liar. Sack him.

    • Ros says:

      03:12pm | 03/06/11

      Sorry the yarn doesn’t make sense. I think Sascha has nailed it.

      He had a bad lawyer so he had to give almost all to his ex-wife, so he is now broke. This is apparently his excuse for failing to be able to support himself and his kids. She got it all, but she is an incompetent she can’t make ends meet where he could before? Then, oh dear, love comes along, so they move into together because it improves his financial situation, he says. But it doesn’t, still on the bones of his because now he is supporting 5 kids. The new 2 don’t have a Dad? There is no welfare payments for these extra 2. Hmm. Then his boss helps out and he steals from him. And a school camp is an important educational tool, plus is a good life building experience. The mind boggles as to what this character thinks of stealing as a life building experience. And as he says himself, he stole to meet an extra not to put food on the table.

      And then there are those who argue that to punish him for stealing would be unfair. Do they have some kind of measure that allows them to say this theft OK this theft bad. Why I wonder do they think we make stealing a crime at all. Oh well as long as he is not climbing through their window I guess.

      The suggestions that he be rewarded for stealing with a pay rise make me wonder what these people are on.

      He has 3 children. He is obliged, not the rest of us, or his boss, to support them. He wants female company, then he is obliged to finance that company, not the rest of us, or his boss. His personal needs mean he can’t meet his obligations to or wishes for his kids, so he steals from his boss who has helped him out. Don’t see the problem, he is a con man and thief and his boss is a soft touch. Sack him boss because he will do you over again and next time he may well stop you from sacking him with the argument, you tolerated it before, (if some have their way, you rewarded him). How was he to know that you found his behaviour a dismissible offense?

      You will never trust or like him again. He has nothing but contempt for you.

    • LeonT says:

      02:21pm | 03/06/11

      Simple cost benefit analysis.

      Take the cost of firing and hiring a new person (C), the value of the stolen items and expected future stealings (V), the surplus value this guy produces above his wage (S) and the average employee’s surplus above their wage (A)

      If S - V >= A - C then keep the guy, otherwise fire him.

    • mike j says:

      05:54pm | 03/06/11

      LOL ‘expected future stealings’.

      Can probably lift that straight out of his performance review?

    • Marissa says:

      02:25pm | 03/06/11

      So what, a few cleaning products, whatever.

      Tell him you don’t want to see it again and let it go. What’s with all this politically correct shit? Just have a TALK to him.

      You’re a real hardarse

    • Shane says:

      03:22pm | 03/06/11

      @Marissa - interesting point until you trotted out the “politically correct” phrase. Bye bye credibility.
      Stop watching Today/Tonight, ACA, etc and get slightly more creative.

    • Zaf says:

      02:42pm | 03/06/11

      I vote for chopping off his hands.

    • Seano says:

      03:27pm | 03/06/11

      Sounds like you’re a very decent person. Not many bosses would go out of thier way to get someone help with financial advisers etc.

      I’d give him one warning but make it clear that it’s one warning and also make sure that it’s all recorded appropriately.

    • Jade says:

      03:36pm | 03/06/11

      I would keep him on, but give one warning.  If it happens again he’s out on his ass. You have obviously been very supportive so far, maybe ask him to next time he is in such trouble to let you know and you can sort out something with him.  But he needs to know if he wants your continued support he can’t ever to it again.

      I have seen this happen to so many men, their bitch ex’s take them for all they are worth when the women hasn’t worked for any of it.  Its just disgusting whether there are children or not. The family court system needs to change to stop it happening in the future.

    • Janey says:

      04:49pm | 04/06/11

      Yeah and I wonder if his new partner is a bitch ex too?

    • theodore says:

      05:08pm | 03/06/11

      It seems like the true dilemma is keeping someone on who obviously needs their job, but is willing to risk it for cleaning suplies.
      personally, i have stolen from every single job i have ever worked at, as long as there was little to no risk, which there always is when you know the place back to front.

      just the fact that he got caught means he is a dumbass.
      But a dumbass that is willing to work hard, especially now you have him over a table and he knows he has had his one warning.

      sacking him would be stupid and heartless, he now knows his place more than ever.

      Pride or no pride he should have come to you first.

    • Gladys says:

      05:23pm | 03/06/11

      Good on you for not sacking him. I agree with Fairsfair and Jade.

    • Mitch says:

      05:35pm | 03/06/11

      While living in my perfect bubble life I’d like to think I would never steal myself, but if i were desperate there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my family - advice is, put yourself in their shoes HONESTLY.

    • marley says:

      06:53pm | 03/06/11

      Oh come off it - he supposedly was stealing so his kid could get some good life lessons by going to camp. He wasn’t stealing to put food on the table.  And just how good are the kid’s life lessons going to be when one of them is, when in strife, steal from your employer?

      I say, give the guy one written warning, and fire him if there’s a second time.

    • Jekub says:

      06:29pm | 03/06/11

      Sympath is for the dead, mate. It’s the Living who will screw you.

    • Justice Jeff says:

      09:25pm | 03/06/11

      Written warning first. Then if there are further issues you have the right to perfomance manage him out of the business.

    • Robert Smissen of country SA says:

      12:38am | 04/06/11

      Once a thief, always a thief

    • stephen says:

      10:28am | 04/06/11

      There are no more upper-class thieves in this country any more because Operation Wickenby has thrashed out every white-collar crim and now us bogans can now toe the line cause if they can’t do it, why the hell should we ?
      Right ?
      And who are these guilty and rich, cause I and others under 35 grand a year would like to thank them by name for saving us.

      Seriously, don’t steal, cause the poor go to jail for it but the rich get only anonymity.

    • southernX says:

      10:54am | 04/06/11

      for those suggesting a pay rise - don’t forget that if any male divorcee betters themselves in that way, the ex has a very high chance to grabbing a bigger share of the increased salary, despite having contributed nothing to the advancement.

      Much better to pay him in kind - he works an extra hour or two, you give him $200 worth of basic household goods.

    • Schmavo says:

      02:41pm | 04/06/11

      The fact he hasn’t been sacked yet suggests that aside from this indiscretion he is a good employee. Maybe you should send him on interstate visits so he can pocket hotel shampoos etc.

    • Janey says:

      04:44pm | 04/06/11

      Well, you did say the guy was struggling to provide “fresh, clean clothing” for his kids, so I guess that explains why he stole washing powder.
      Keep in mind people are extremely selective when presenting their problems, does his new partner smoke for example?
      My bleeding heart feels sorry for the poor guy and his hungry campless kids, until I remember that you have already been generous and understanding of his circumstances by providing him with financial counselling services etc…
      A person with integrity and half a brain, who was still struggling after financial counselling, would go back to the counsellor and tell them they need to somehow come up with the camp fees in their budget for the kid. 
      Obviously this guy feels victimised but geez what a scumbag, stealing from you.  He either disrespects you or thinks you are a sucker.
      Either way, he would lose my trust and respect which would compel me to give him a written warning.  If he does it again, he’s gone.
      I reckon you are being taken for a sucker.

    • Robert says:

      03:36am | 19/12/11

      Give him another chance. The crime he has committed is very small and his problems can be solved with a little bit of creativity if he is willing to cooperate. We all fail at times and need another chance to get back up on our feet. Give the man a chance and he could become your greatest asset in the company.

 

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