When you suspect an employee of stealing, you have a potentially explosive situation on your hands. If you confront the employee and your suspicions are unfounded, you may get into legal difficulty yourself. But even if the employee is guilty, you should consider how such a confrontation will affect him and the enterprise, and what your options may be. Here are some questions to ask:
Do I have all the facts? Even if you think you do, you should regard employees as innocent until proven guilty. Begin your talk with them by assuming there's a reasonable explanation that just hasn't occurred to you.
If that turns out to be the case, you'll be very glad you used this approach.
Does the employee know he's done something wrong? Obviously, if he's taken a whole set of tools, he knows. But most employee thefts aren't that dramatic. What about employee photocopying, or the "liberation" of office supplies, or personal use of the enterprise's outgoing long-distance phone line? Do you have a clear-cut policy on such things, and do your people understand it?
How serious is the offense? If the amount of money or material involved is significant, you have no choice but to act. Embezzlement, for example, would mean immediate dismissal and likely criminal charges as well. If it's a small theft or pilferage, on the other hand, you may have a choice about what you'll do. What will do the most to remedy the situation—confronting people directly? Or discussing the issue with the whole team? Or simply inquiring about where the missing items went? As long as you don't ignore the matter entirely, you have a lot of latitude.
What's fair? Ask yourself if you would do the same thing no matter who was involved. Would someone with 15 years of service be treated the same as a new hire? Should they be? What does the policy say—and how have others applied it in your situation? Remember that as far as employees are concerned, being consistent is usually 90 percent of being fair.