Are You Stealing From Your Employer? If You’re Not Sure, You’re Probably Guilty

 Company theft is one of those subjects both employers and employers hate to talk about. And when company theft must become a topic of conversation, it’s usually too late — the culprit has been caught in the act, and now it’s just a question of what to do with them.

In general terms, the majority of large companies tend to give their employees the benefit of the doubt — they trust them unless they’re proven wrong. Maintaining that trust is not only essential to continued career advancement but also to preserve your professional reputation.

The premise is simple: Never steal from the company

The vast majority of employees understand this. But what they may not understand is the actual definition of stealing, and how “circumstantial theft” can be used to justify terminating their employment.

The problem is an opportunity. You may never have actually intended to steal anything, but the opportunity just fell into place. You may claim you were a victim of circumstance, but rather than taking action to prevent or circumvent the questionable activity, you let it slide.

A so-called “opportunity” can range from using proprietary information for personal gain, to accepting kickbacks and bribes. In essence, participating in any activity that ultimately diverts company money or assets into your pocket is the very definition of company theft.

From the company’s perspective, part of your job is to conserve and protect company property

And while I’m sure most of you recognize the illegality of stealing office furniture or computers, there are all sorts of other, seemingly less illicit activities that can result in suspicion, mistrust, and even termination.

For example, there’s the subtle but intentional manipulation of reports, records, or accounts that directly or indirectly result in personal financial benefit — like expense accounts. I can hear the groans now . . .

“Hey, I gotta fudge a few bucks on the expense account to cover the miscellaneous charges. Otherwise, I’d never break even.”

And I’m telling you, don’t do it. Keep records of your reimbursable expenses as if your job depended on it. If you can’t produce a receipt, don’t submit it for repayment.

Expense accounts have been used for decades to pad incomes, put gas into the spouse’s car, and take the family out for a nice dinner. Moreover, those who do it, think they’re getting away with it.

The truth?

The accounting department, fleet managers, and human resources KNOWS. They talk about it over lunch — who’s doing it, and how much was embezzled from the company this month. Think the term “embezzled” too harsh? Read on.

Dipping your hand into the corporate till — regardless of the amount — will hurt you in the long run. Your actions define your reputation. If you can’t be trusted to handle a couple of hundred dollars in an honest and forthright way, why would management put you in charge of thousands?

The same goes for local office managers who buy copy machines and desk computers for the office staff. If you’re given local purchasing authority, make sure you collect evidence of having price shopped, negotiated for extra warranty periods, and obtained the very best price, terms, and conditions of sale before you purchase.

Make it a habit to get everything in writing and save every quote and estimate

You never know when this can be useful to rationalize your choice of brand and vendor. Having to justify your decisions may have nothing to do with an attack on your honesty, but could come in the form of a random audit. So be prepared to prove your best intentions by having a backup file of paperwork.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about bribes, kickbacks, and slush fundsBeginning to feel uncomfortable? It’s a common reaction, and that’s because the flow of money under the table is a common problem in large companies.

Product managers, sales associates, and marketing heads are continually being asked to cut prices to meet a competitive situation where none exists. In exchange, they’re promised cash or a cash-equivalent kickback.

For example, Distributor A asks their factory rep to give them a better price than Distributor B, their competitor. When Distributor A gets the business, the rep receives a “thank you” in the form of an expense-paid weekend to Las Vegas.

Kickbacks, slush money, and bribes can also originate from un-billed (free) replacement stock meant to replace “faulty” merchandise that never existed. It can also take the form of a “pass-through” discount (employee discounts, merchandise ordered as samples, or unjustified wholesale pricing) in which real value is exchanged, and one or more undeserving individuals receive a financial advantage.

It’s wrong and usually illegal.

Here’s an objective way to determine whether an activity is questionable

Put yourself in the position of having purchased the company you work for. That’s right — you own the whole thing, every desk, chair, and computer. The trash cans, staplers, and copy machines belong to you. You own the company cars and pay for the gas to keep them running.

Every month, you pay out tens of thousands of dollars for salaries, a building lease, utilities, and taxes. And when your company sells a product or service, you take a commensurate and reasonable amount for compensation. But most of the profit is used to pay for the continuing operation of the company.

Now, how do you feel about an employee who makes illicit arrangements to redirect money from your company’s pocket into his? Still, think it’s a gray area?

Here’s the acid test:

If company management wouldn’t approve of it, or you couldn’t openly talk about it in front of the CEO, you’ve crossed the line. The days of looking the other way are gone. The excuse of “Hell, everybody does it,” won’t fly.

Here are three facts of life for employees who embezzle funds from their employer:

(1) You will be found out
(2) You will lose your job
(3) You may go to jail

Oh and, by the way, your reputation?

It’s in the sewer. Even if you’re able to negotiate your way out of criminal charges, you’ll have a blotch on your personal work history.

If your misdeeds or financial impropriety results in a discharge for “nebulous” reasons — occasionally offered in exchange for a resignation — the resulting rumors will pretty much guarantee you’ll never work in the industry again. People talk. And what was nebulous to some will be explained in great detail to others.

Look at it this way

Protecting the assets of your employer is protecting your livelihood. The company provides you with the financial resources to maintain your standard of living and invest in your future. Never endanger that relationship by taking advantage of your employer’s trust — you’ll only end up stealing from yourself.

© 2020 Roger Reid. All Rights Reserved.