How to investigate theft in the workplace

While it is impossible to know the true extent of workplace theft, recent research has suggested that as many as 1 in 4 employees steal at some point.

Although much of this is often dismissed as petty pilfering or even ‘perks’, the effects on a business can be devastating.

The true cost of workplace theft

Workplace theft is something which affects companies of all sizes – you could be anything from a multimillion pound organisation to a small retailer or petrol station. The cost of a single incident can be catastrophic – tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions. But smaller regular losses can also mount up to become significant business issues if not stopped.

Workplace thefts also cost a lot more than the value of the money or items removed. If you look at the damages incurred by any business affected by workplace theft you will typically see:

  • the time of owners, managers and any other staff involved in dealing with the problem;
  • the cost of the raw materials and utilities used; and
  • the cost of employees’ time to remake, reorder or re-serve.

And just as costly can be the unseen damage to the morale of an organisation if staff are aware that there is a thief in their midst. Remember that as employer, your employees have a right to expect dignity in the workplace; you in turn have a duty of care to them.


Who steals (and what do they take)?

Workplace thefts can be tangible or intangible. Tangible means that someone will actually physically remove an item from your organisation; intangible thefts may be theft of intellectual property or the electronic transfer of monies from one account to another or an identity theft.

In more than 20 years of investigating we have seen all manner of items stolen. We have investigated theft of precision ball bearings, CO2 gas canisters, pension monies and vending machine foodstuffs. There are open markets for any product and we are yet to find an item which does not have a resale value.

Of course there are many different motivating factors, but financial gain lies at the heart of virtually all workplace theft. Economic challenges have undoubtedly heightened this problem – according to fraud prevention service CIFAS, the economic and employment challenges facing many in the UK are behind a 22% increase in dishonest actions by staff in recent years.

Probably the most important thing to recognise is that thefts can be committed by anyone in your organisation: white collar or blue collar; male or female staff; young or old; religious or non-religious; new or long-serving.

Can workplace theft be stopped?

The short answer is yes! However, to be sure of successfully detecting, stopping and remediating incidents of workplace theft you will almost certainly need to take the initiative rather than relying on the police (or on the problem simply going away).

The perception that the police lack interest in workplace theft and other commercial crime is widespread, and unfortunately there is a fundamental truth at the heart of it. The police have a finite (and shrinking) amount of budget and resources so, whatever they may say, they are not in a position to treat commercial or business crime as a priority when so many of those resources are drawn to other operational requirements. This situation is compounded by the fact that by most people, commercial crime is perceived as somehow ‘victimless’. As we have seen, this is far from true.

However, these are the facts and the boundaries within which you must work if you are to successfully address workplace theft. The good news is that this most certainly be can be achieved, once you understand how best to work with the police and legal system.


How to investigate workplace theft

While most people’s instinct on discovering (or suspecting) workplace theft is to call the police, it is almost always the case that calling in specialist investigatory support will ultimately save you time and money, guaranteeing the most timely and cost-effective resolution.

There are two critical advantages:

  1. As we have seen, the police are usually reluctant or slow to respond to issues of workplace theft. But the simple fact is that if you have successfully gathered evidence and then preserved and presented it in a correct manner then the police are much more willing to make arrests. It is simple for a police officer to take a case from Expert Investigations because the investigations are almost complete at the point we hand over the file.
  2. Even if a suspected employee is arrested by the police, they may very well not admit the offences. They will then most likely be suspended from work on full pay pending the outcome of a court case. It can easily take 12 months before a case is completed in court, resulting is large financial loss to your business. In fact, offenders often take this route and plead guilty at the last moment specifically to cause financial distress to an employer who is taking action against them. By engaging a specialist commercial investigator you can instead deal with theft under employment legislation, following a disciplinary process to resolve the case quickly and with limited financial costs. Critical to this is the understanding that the burden of proof in criminal law is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, whereas in civil law it is ‘the balance of probability’.

Gathering evidence of workplace theft

Before engaging specialist commercial investigators, employers are quite rightly concerned to make sure that it is completely lawful to conduct covert investigations in the workplace. Fortunately there is legislation in place which ensures you can conduct such investigations, whether within a private or public sector organisation.

As an argument against this you will often hear cited two pieces of legislation – The Human Rights Act and The Regulatory Investigation of Persons at Work Act (RIPA).

Because offenders often try to use these pieces of legislation in their defence, they are commonly seen as a barrier to investigatory activity such as the installation of covert cameras. But the truth is that if proper policies and procedures are adhered to then this legislation actually helps you and your investigator. In essence, you can investigate so long as what you are doing is deemed reasonable for the circumstances.

In all our time investigating in the commercial sector this legislation has never proved a defence or been contested in court or tribunal.

Workplace theft investigation in practice

Every case of workplace theft is different, and each requires a bespoke investigatory solution. As a specialist commercial investigator, Expert Investigations first job is to help you identify the methods most appropriate to your situation.

In some cases our approach may look to the outsider to be overly sophisticated or elaborate. But for all the reasons we have detailed above, it is critical that we gather the right evidence at the first time of asking. To ‘spook’ an offender and give them a chance of stopping and/or covering their tracks could jeopardise not only your chances of detecting and resolving this incident, but also your opportunity to stop it reoccurring at the later date.

Methods may be as simple as fitting a covert camera into an office to observe thefts of cash from employees’ drawers. A recent case saw us fitting smoke alarms into an office, each containing a tiny covert camera invisible to the naked eye. This was all that was required to record the evidence of a member of staff stealing money from colleagues’ drawers.

Often there is a need to have a surveillance team follow a subject in order to gather and preserve the evidence of thefts. One recent case saw us insert an observations team into a builder’s van to observe the yard of a metal manufacturer. Our team observed staff members loading their own vehicles with metal and then followed the offenders to another location where the stolen metal was delivered. All of this was video recorded and presented to the client.

Just occasionally things do get slightly more ‘extreme’. When we were asked to investigate and provide evidence of items being removed from a wooded environment, we could see that the only opportunity to gather this evidence was to ‘dig in’ to the undergrowth. Fortunately this was a simple task for one of our military teams and the approach proved effective at first time of asking.

In each of these cases, a combination of the right methods, the right equipment, used by the right team with the right preparation, resulted in successful operations. Each time the client was delighted with how quickly they received the lawful evidence required to catch – and stop – the thief.


Act Now!

As we have seen, workplace theft is a common problem which can – and indeed should – be stopped. It is rarely a something which just goes away; on the contrary, it often escalates as offenders become emboldened by years of ‘getting away with it’.

Although the lack of police interest can seem daunting and unfair, it certainly doesn’t mean you are helpless to act. A specialist commercial investigation and risk control specialist like Expert Investigations has at its disposal the investigatory expertise, the technology and the legislative framework required to stop the problem dead in its tracks and to prevent it happening again.

For a no obligation and 100% confidential discussion about your workplace theft issue, please call us today on 02476 630 498 or email

Or click here for more information about our workplace theft solutions.



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