OFFICE POLITICS 101: My co-worker may be a thief
Q: A co-worker invited me for dinner recently and I noticed what appeared to be company supplies such as a stapler, pencils, even a small scanner. She is becoming a good friend but she may be a thief. Now what should I do?
A: I’d encourage you to approach this matter with a measure of caution—in particular, because you can’t be certain she is, in fact, a thief.
It may very well be a coincidence that the supplies are similar to those in your office.
It may also be the case that she has been authorized to work from home from time-to-time and has been using the scanner and stapler, for example, to complete the various assignments.
Some employees will be permitted to buy personal items such as computers—through a group purchasing program which offers better prices—and she may have taken advantage of this benefit.
But, let’s assume you have determined unquestionably she has stolen these articles.
A scanner identical to the one you saw has gone “missing” at the office and perhaps you also noted an identifying corporate logo.
She’s your friend of course which complicates matters, but you still need to reflect on your own interests and those of the company.
Doing nothing is not an option.
It would probably be best if you let her know immediately you are aware of her thievery. She may be extremely defensive—even aggressive—but she may also be repentant and apologetic. (You’ll certainly be hoping for the latter response.)
You could recommend she return everything she has stolen at the earliest opportunity, perhaps before or after business hours in order to be discreet.
While she would prefer not be “found out,” it may however be advisable that she confess her indiscretions confidentially to a supervisor.
Being truthful and proactive could diminish criticisms later if the thefts were revealed to the general office.
Remember, too, that if she refutes your assertions—even though it is obvious she is a thief—you are obliged to reveal this matter to a supervisor or HR department: failure to do so will make you a collaborator in her theft to some extent.
While this woman is a friend and no doubt a good co-worker, you’ll need to determine as soon as possible if she is a thief.
Tact will be required but once you have learned the worst, give her the opportunity to confess and return the articles, or you should directly communicate the facts to company management.
• Simon Gibson is an experienced university professor, marketing executive and corporate writer. He has a PhD in education from Simon Fraser University and a degree in journalism from Carleton University. Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to firstname.lastname@example.org.