Thou Shalt Not Steal

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A sage business owner from Illinois called me the other day to talk about a recent event at his company in which, after a construction job had been completed, the well-seasoned job site Foreman felt it appropriate to transport all the unused materials to his residence for his personal use instead of back to the yard, since the Foreman did not think the surplus materials would be used by the company.

As a capitalist, I engaged the business owner in a lengthy, fruitful discussion about how to address this personal and economic situation.  We naturally agreed that an investigation commence to collect relevant documentation necessary to make a prudent decision.  Said investigation yielded the information shared in the above paragraph.  Always do the investigation before making a decision.  Always!

The facts of the case, in conjunction with the Foreman’s lack of remorse, underscored by more than a tinge of entitlement, led the business owner and me to agree the Foreman should be terminated.  To be bureaucratic for a moment, I have been informed by legal counsel that the words “theft” and “steal” should be removed from every employee handbook in that those words have literal legal meaning that make it arduously difficult to prove their legal occurrence.

Accordingly, I strongly recommend that those works be removed and be replaced by the following language:

“Unauthorized possession or removal of materials or property from Company premises or the premises of a client that belongs to or is in the possession of the Company, another employee, a client, a supplier, or a visitor, is strictly prohibited.”

Staying within that topic, the extremely difficult economic times overwhelming the country at the present time, have led to a spate of similar, bold, and unrepentant employee actions, including the following:

  • California: A Safety Officer was terminated for keeping several months of Safety Raffle money for himself, instead of distributing it to field employees as a bonus for positive on-the-job safety behaviors.
  • Kentucky: The Office Manager was terminated for using the Company credit card to purchase items from Amazon (e.g., salt shakers, rugs, household items) and having them delivered to her home address.  Interestingly, as part of the investigation, she alleged other employees set her up by using the company credit card and purposely sending those items to her house in an attempt to get her fired.
  • Texas: A long-time Irrigation Manager was terminated after several weeks of detailed surveillance camera footage that showed him moving multiple irrigation valves, controllers, and irrigation parts from the warehouse into the trunk of his personal vehicle.
  • Colorado: A Foreman was terminated after several weeks of observation and camera surveillance showed him repeatedly filling five-gallon gas cans from the company fuel station and placing them into the bed of his company vehicle just before leaving the yard for the day, only to return the next day with the same gas cans now empty.   The adjoining investigation revealed the Foreman had introduced the same process to other field employees.
  • New York: An office employee was found to possess various domestic products (e.g., toilet paper, cleaning supplies, napkins) in the back seat of her personal vehicle, that were coincidentally found to be in short supply in their normal location in the supply room of the main office.
  • California: During a client walk-through, an Account Manager came across a trove of irrigation materials (e.g., pipe, valves, connections, controllers, glue, heads) hidden under piles of leaves on a slope.  The subsequent investigation revealed the Irrigator was using those resources for side-jobs.

Whether it is “theft,” “stealing,” or “unauthorized possession of company materials,” we know it has always happened, is happening to some degree in your company today, and will continue to happen into the future.  Stated succinctly:  Thieves never stop stealing.  Ultimately, it becomes a game for them; they want to see if they can get away with it, because they know they are more clever than you.  Just ask them.  If someone will steal from you, they will do anything to you, your company, and your organizational culture.

As a business owner once told me: “When you think stealing is not happening, is when it is happening.”

Do you think theft is going on in your company?  Either way, you just proved that business owner’s point.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.