Greedy Employee v. Disgruntled HR: The Case of the Missing Orange Juice

When the weather is nice, I like to jog one mile to an upscale grocery store near my apartment, indulge in a few samples of cheese, bread and cookies as fellow shoppers watch my sweat collect on the tile floor, and then run back home. Clearly, my love for free things knows very few bounds.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for my ex co-worker. In addition to the typical coffee and tea selections, my previous employer had free bottles of juice in each staff kitchen. I respectfully limited myself to one orange juice per day, but “Margaret” lacked such self-control.

Every Friday afternoon, she would open the refrigerator and fill an empty tote bag to the brim with juice bottles. Picture one of those blow-out sales at Old Navy where you fill a bag with as many clothes as humanly possible for $15. Except in this case, Margaret paid nothing.

Margaret’s indiscretions were hardly the makings of a future Lifetime movie, but she was still sort of stealing. And the truth is, in some form or another, employee theft is happening at every company.

In the March issue of units, Independent Rental Owners Frank Barefield and Brent Sobol share some guidelines they’ve implemented to minimize the potential for their employees’ sticky fingers.

1. Don’t take cash from residents. Sobol and Barefield say having cash in hand creates the temptation to skim off the top and avoid any sort of paper trail. A few missing dollars here and there is the hardest kind of theft to catch, and it adds up.

My dad has a coin dish on his dresser that’s always full of change. When I was 10 years old, I didn’t think twice about grabbing a few quarters when I wanted to buy candy cigarettes from the ice cream truck, but I really doubt I would have cashed a stolen check to get the money. And if I did, petty theft would have been the least of my parents’ worries.

2. Review Financial Statements. Barefield says the manager must explain spending that showed any significant differences from budget—something that can only be caught from a review. So if you see a mysterious, $2,000 charge for “additional social media efforts,” you may want to make sure those funds weren’t used to buy a diamond necklace for the Mrs.

He also says owners should reconcile bank accounts monthly and ensure no payments are still in transit.

3. Prosecute, but With Caution. If an employee steals a stapler, you can probably leave Judge Judy out of it. But what about thousands of dollars worth of employee theft?

Sobol and Barefield both agree that legal action should be taken, but say owners should be wary of past employees prosecuted for crimes who were found not guilty, as they may have the right to come back and sue you.

It’s probably why Margaret already has a lifetime supply of orange juice, no questions asked.

For more tips on how to reduce employee theft, check out the IRO Insider in the March issue of units, which mailed March 8.