What to Do If You Get Caught Stealing at Work

Young businessman sitting at a desk and putting money into his jacket

Stealing from work is completely unethical!

According to the US Chamber of Commerce, 75% of US employees have stolen at least once from an employer. With such high rates, it’s not surprising that many employees find themselves in tricky situations with the law.

So, even if you think no one will notice that pen going missing or snacks disappearing from the breakroom, it is still considered as theft, and there are enormous consequences to face for even the smallest crime.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar position (which is probably why you’ve winded up here) or if you’re thinking of pinching something at work, you might want to think twice!

Here we uncover what to do if you get caught stealing at work and the potential consequences you could face.

Damage control

Once you’ve been caught in the act, it’s game over ­– but to ensure you don’t dig yourself a bigger hole, follow the steps listed below.

1. Consult an attorney

Before you sign anything, you should seek legal advice. Consult an employment law attorney who will be able to advise you on the steps you should take. You could also contact a criminal defence attorney if your workplace has already pressed legal charges. They will present the options that you have and will advise on the potential agreements that you can put forward.

2. Review your employee handbook

Make sure you read through your company’s employee handbook, where you will find information on theft, misconduct and the relevant disciplinary procedures. In most cases, this will include immediate suspension and a thorough investigation.

3. Talk to your manager

Regardless of your reasons, stealing is a sackable offence, and once you’ve already done it, you can’t undo it.

Your next course of action is to talk to your manager and explain your motives. Although you won’t be let off the hook entirely, you can lighten the consequences if you have a semi-acceptable reason.

At this point, it’s also advisable to try and negotiate a deal so that no criminal charges are brought against you. You will need to pay back what you’ve stolen, but it’s better than facing jail time and expensive legal fees.

4. Admit to theft

Stealing in the workplace doesn’t always involve expensive items; exaggerating your expenses, using company ink and paper for personal use or even doing other work on company time is considered as theft. And if your boss already has proof on record, you can do nothing else but admit up to your mistakes.

The consequences

Going against company policy comes with consequences. Find out what charges you could face below.

1. Gross misconduct

The starting point for employee theft is gross misconduct, meaning that you can be immediately dismissed without any prior warning. You will not receive severance pay, though you will receive compensation for any paid holiday days that you’ve not yet taken.

Alternatively, you’ll be suspended until an official investigation is carried out. If this is the case, an employment tribunal will consider factors, such as if the offence was severe enough to break the contractual agreement, the number of stolen goods and the process that the HR department followed.

In some cases, alternative solutions might be proposed, including your demotion and your transfer to another department or location.

2. Termination

If you’ve been caught on camera, you’ll be immediately terminated for your actions. At this point, you should just apologise and walk away quietly. Don’t think about objecting the company’s decision because you’ll only make matters worse, and you could end up facing a courtroom, too.

Your employer will most likely want to make an example out of you, so firing you will prove that they don’t tolerate employee fraud in their organisation.

3. Criminal charges

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to repay what you’ve stolen and walk away from the situation altogether, but if the company decides to seek criminal justice, you could be facing jail time. Usually, an employer will notify the authorities when you have been accused of theft. That said, if you weren’t approached by the police when you’re fired, you could still expect a visit later down the line.

Even if your manager doesn’t consult the corporate department, they can still go beyond employee policy and notify the authorities. However, most often than not, if you do whatever your employer suggests, you can avoid criminal charges for petty theft.

The plea

Now you’ve been caught in the act, there’s nothing left but to plead your case. Here is what you can do.

1. Apologise

Firstly, apologise for your wrongdoings – you know it’s wrong, and I know it’s wrong – so, it’s time to admit to your mistakes. You should first do this in person when you’re confronted with theft and then follow up with a formal apology letter. Let them know that you will reimburse them for out-of-pocket loss and that you regret stealing in the first place.

2. Resign

When you’ve been caught stealing, you’ll be called into a private meeting with your manager and a member of the HR department. At this point, it’s probably best to resign and walk away from the situation.

It’s better to resign than to wait to be dismissed by your employer. It’s also wise not to rely on your manager for a reference for a future position. Treat it as a lesson of what not to do in the future.

3. Don’t sign anything

If you’re caught stealing, you’ll most likely be asked to sign a civil agreement to pay back what is due. However, before signing anything, you should consult a legal advisor. If the company decides to seek criminal action later down the line, then they have written proof that you admitted to the offence.

As mentioned above, your best option is to hand in a resignation letter and to move on by finding new employment opportunities.

Stealing even the smallest item is detrimental to your entire career. So, if you’re considering stealing, take a minute to look at the consequence and see if it’s actually worth it.

Have you ever been caught stealing at work? What happened? Let us know in the comments section below.


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 15 December 2015.