Employee Theft: Know Your Rights If You’re The One Accused


It’s normal for employers to exert all efforts to take care of their business, which is why employees accused of stealing from the company are terminated. But what if the accusation is wrong and that employee is you? You should know your rights and defend yourself from such allegations.

Employee theft is the biggest cause of loss for business owners, especially the retailers, and the theft is more common in small businesses that do not have a proper inventory system. The common items stolen by employees are cash, merchandise, supplies and information. In a National Retail Survey in 2011, employee theft made up 43.9 percent of business losses due to external & internal theft and fraud.

An employee who is falsely accused of theft of company assets can suffer from psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress. There is also the shame and humiliation from being under suspicion of theft and, even if there is no criminal charge or conviction.

If you have been the subject of a theft accusation in your company and you know the charge is false, it is important that you know what your rights are. Learning about them may save your reputation and allow you to look for other employment.

  1. The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights

An employee may take the fifth and refuse to answer questions that may incriminate him in a crime he is accused or suspected of committing. On the other hand, the employer has the right to do an investigation that the accused employee must participate in. It is to the employee’s benefit to give his full cooperation to the investigation to have a better view of the case against him.

  1. The right to privacy

The employee’s right to privacy does not include emails and browsing history that are in the work computer, computer usage and other activities the employee performed in the workplace. Bodily frisks and strip searches are obscure areas in privacy rights and if criminal charges have been filed, the employee must get legal counsel.

  1. The right to reputation

The employer cannot accuse the employee of theft or fraud if the investigation is not yet completed and, if proven that the crime has been committed, the employer may not announce the news to protect the reputation of the employee. Violation of this right may result in the employee charging the employer with wrongful accusation and can hinder future job opportunities.

  1. The right to refuse a lie detector test

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act is a federal law that protects the employee from being forced to take a lie detector test. The exception to this law is when an investigation will be performed and the concerned employee has access to the goods or cash that has been stolen. In this case, the employer must give the suspected worker a written notice 48 hours prior to the test stating that there is reasonable ground to suspect the employee’s involvement.

  1. The right to a degree of procedural fairness

Procedures for investigating employee theft vary, depending on federal, state and companies laws and policies. The general principle in procedural fairness is giving the employee due respect by giving him a written notice of the allegations against him and the corresponding penalty and giving him the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Violating procedural fairness when investigating employee misconduct can have legal and social consequences for the employer.

  1. The right to review files

This right varies depending on state laws. In California for example, “the right to inspect personnel files and records does not apply to records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense…” (http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_righttoinspectpersonnelfiles.htm). The law on this particular right may be viewed on the state’s website, in the labor or workforce section.

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