More and more people now use debit and credit cards when they go shopping, but even so there’s still a lot of cash changing hands, and shop safes can get very full, especially at peak times of the year. Faced with such large quantities of money can be too tempting for some employees whose job it is to count and bank the cash. A moment’s dishonesty (and you might say stupidity) not only ends a career, but closes the door to certain jobs. Who wants to employee a store manager, accountant or even HR manager who steals from you? But despite that you hear of such cases all too often. In one company I worked for an employee stole £5,000. She was earning a good salary but wanted the extra money to pay for her daughter’s wedding. The safe room had security cameras fitted and needless to say she was found out and dismissed.
Recently a similar kind of incident has been in the news. Former store manager Edward Coughlin has been sent to prison for two years after stealing £50,000 from Asda. It is alleged he took the money to fund his gambling addiction. Mr Coughlin ran the Goose Green branch in Wigan. He persuaded the branch’s Chief Cashier, Deborah Croft, to collude with him, though it was accepted that she didn’t benefit from the theft herself. Mr Coughlin came into the store early with Ms Croft to empty the self-scan machines. He would take some of the money and replace the rest with pieces of paper. Ms Croft’s job was to check the contents of the safe before banking it. She amended the results the machine showed and also manipulated computer records to make it look like the correct amount had been banked.
Another employee spotted the doctored bundles in the safe and reported it to Mr Coughlin. Mr Coughlin tried to cover it up by telling her to sign the sheet to say it was all normal, and that he would ask Ms Croft, to check. Ms Croft later told the employee that everything was normal, but she remained suspicious and reported the matter. An area manager came to the store and Mr Coughlin confessed to the theft.
Where there is a suspected incident of misconduct a procedure must be followed in line with the ACAS code. Firstly an investigation must be carried out. This is usually done by the line manager of the employees who were involved.
The investigating officer’s role is to establish the facts and gather as much information as possible. He does not need to decide on guilt. His role is only to decide whether there is a case to answer. If he believes there is a case to answer he can then invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing. This is a formal meeting so you should write to the employee to set the meeting up. The employee should be given reasonable time to prepare his case, this is usually three to five days depending on how much evidence there is and how serious the allegations are.
Someone who has not been involved in the case so far should chair the disciplinary hearing. This could be a more senior manager or an independent consultant. He should listen to the case that is put forward by investigating officer. The employee then has a chance to respond to the allegations and put his case forward. This is his opportunity to say his piece. We recommend including the catch-all question at the end; “is there anything I have not asked you or you have not told me that you think I should know in order to make my decision?”
If the disciplining officer considers the case is made out, he may give a sanction. The sanction given will depend on the facts of each individual case and should include proper consideration of any mitigating factors, for example, co-operation with the investigation. What is a suitable sanction turns on the individual facts of the case. What may be right in one case may not be right for another. If a sanction is awarded an employee has the right to appeal against the decision. Again, this should be someone impartial who has not been involved in the case so far.
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