Instances of workers stealing from their employer have given rise to questions about the legality and appropriateness of monitoring employees in the workplace.
Workplace relations firm, Employsure, shared some recent examples of theft and fraud in the workplace among its clients as evidence of business concerns about protecting their stock, equipment and money from light-fingered staff members.
“The truth is, employee theft is a reality that all kinds of businesses have to deal with. It may take the form of a cashier ‘forgetting’ to swipe a friend’s purchase or an employee funnelling thousands of dollars into a personal bank account,” said senior employment relations adviser Michael Wilkinson.
“One client was running a small business importing Italian coffee machines. As he spent a lot of time visiting potential clients, he was often out of the warehouse for long periods of time. Over several months, he realised money was being stolen from the safe in his office.”
Mr Wilkinson said it was difficult to identify who was responsible for stealing the money, given that several employees all had access to the safe. So the business owner decided to place a hidden camera in the office over a weekend in a bid to try and identify the culprit.
“The following Monday, he viewed the footage and discovered who had been stealing the money. He then removed the camera from the office, confronted the employee with the evidence and terminated his employment for serious misconduct. The business owner then also provided a copy of the recording to the police,” he said.
In another example, an employee of a building supplies business had stolen as much as $150,000 by processing false refunds into their personal bank account, and forging stock records to cover up the thefts.
“The business owner was first alerted by their business banking service for suspected fraudulent activities. Consequently, the owner checked CCTV footage and caught the employee red-handed, in the act. The employee was confronted with the evidence, terminated for serious misconduct and turned over to police,” said Mr Wilkinson.
A third example involved a not-for-profit being ripped off by a senior staff member who charged personal expenses – including an insurance policy, spa treatments and phone bills, totalling more than $8,000 – onto the organisation’s credit card.
Exactly how much are businesses losing?
Assessing the true cost to businesses of employee theft is difficult to achieve.
Previous media reports have put the losses at around $1.5 billion annually, although this figure could not be confirmed.
The Bureau of Statistics (ABS) told My Business that it does not keep such figures as part of its statistics on crime, while the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said it would be a matter for the relevant state or territory police to investigate.
Yet even if that figure was true, it would only cover reported losses. Many other instances may go unreported to police for various reasons, such as the amount stolen was very small, the money or goods were already recouped, or that the employer wanted to keep the matter quiet for fear of retribution, reputational damage or any number of other reasons.
Is monitoring employees legal?
While many businesses have CCTV footage, these cameras are usually positioned to capture intruders rather than people with legitimate reasons to be on-site.
Mr Wilkinson said that monitoring staff on the business premises is a risk endeavour, with complex surveillance laws differing across the various states and territories.
“Filming employees needs to be approached very carefully. Are you looking to fix a problem or is it just a case of filming for the sake of it,” he said.
“Prevention strategies are established across the business, including payroll, internal relations, recruitment, performance management, workplace health and safety, and workplace conduct.”
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