Being a little light fingered in the workplace often doesn’t feel like theft. Stealing of pens, pencils and other forms of stationery in the workplace may appear as if it has no impact. It’s easy to forget that it costs the employer money to buy them. Stealing ultimately run employers at a loss. This is cost can add up. A 2016 survey put the cost of employee theft in British business at more than £190m a year.
What many might consider as inconsequential acts, such as stealing stationery, or giving out “mate’s rates” to friends and family without any form of authorization from an employer, inflating expense claims or using office space, work facilities, for non-work related purposes. Examples include using the work WI-FI to download non-work related information such as TV shows, movies, and games. These acts can be considered gross misconduct and as such lead to the dismissal of employees who fail to abide by the rules and guidelines in the workplace.
So the question “Is helping yourself to work stationary classified as theft?” The cold hard answer is ‘Yes’. In a recent survey by Papermate as part of the launch of a new pen, 100 per cent of office workers admitted to have stolen a pen at work while academic researchers have reported that up to 75 per cent of employees admitted to stealing office supplies in the past year.
The sum of these “inconsequential” actions runs into billions in damage to the economy annually. This invariably may be responsible for roughly 35 per cent of an organization’s inventory shrinkage annually, and an average of 1.4 per cent of its total revenues.
This petty theft from an employer, can, and often does, amount to gross misconduct, which can lead to being dismissed immediately and without notice.
For example if your petty theft is just a few envelopes or a stapler, or maybe the odd stamp or stationery whilst it is capable of amounting to gross misconduct, an employment tribunal would look for greater factors such as:
- Was the offence so serious that it destroyed the contractual relationship between you and your employer?
- Was the offence dealt with correct, were the right procedures used, considering the law, resources and the size of the company
- Was the employer’s response reasonable?
- Had the employer looked at alternative sanctions such as demotion or suspension
- Had the employer taken into account the whole picture including your previous history, age, position, time at the company and previous conduct
It could be considered reasonable to instantly dismiss a relatively new employee who steals a few pieces of stationery, however, it may not be as reasonable to instantly dismiss a long-standing employee with a faultless record.
There could be other mitigating evidence (if the employee is guilty of the offence), such as mental health or problems at home. How severe is the offence? Has the employee just taken a few envelopes which is a lesser crime than an employee who helps themselves to a couple of laptops.
If there is no evidence of the employee stealing, but suspicion. It is worth noting that the test for the employer is not the same as a court of law. The employer only requires ‘reasonable belief’ that the act took place. However, they must carry out a full investigation into the alleged offence and provide the employer with all relevant information gained during the investigation. This must be provided to the employee before any disciplinary hearing can occur. The employee must be given an opportunity to respond and state their case. At the hearing, they are entitled to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.
They must also be notified of their right to appeal.
Many gross misconduct cases at tribunal can be overturned by a failure by the employer to follow a fair procedure, despite their reasonable belief in the offence being sufficient enough to win the day.
Despite the statistics of theft at work being surprisngly high, the reality is that around half of the British population have not been dismissed. Either employers are either turning a blind eye, or don’t consider the acts serious enough to warrant time consuming response. On the whole it’s better to be safe than sorry. Are few post-it notes and pens really worth losing your job over?
Our no win no fee Employment Law Solicitors can assist with all types of claims. Naturally, we pride ourselves on providing the best possible service to the highest standards, we offer free employment law advice on all problems. Call us on 0800 756 6605 or 020 3923 4777
Tom Street qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and has over 20 years experience in employment and litigation law. He studied law at the University of Manchester before undertaking the legal practice course at the College of Law in Guildford, going on to complete his legal training at a firm in Chancery Lane, London. Once fully qualified, he moved to a niche litigation practice in the City of London.
In 2010, Tom set up his own legal practice, Tom Street & Co Solicitors and as part of this, in accordance with his strongly held objective to provide everyone with an easy pathway to justice he established the online portals Do I Have A Case? and Tribunal Claim. These websites are trading names of Tom Street & Co Solicitors.