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Handling Employee Theft

By Jim Berlucchi, M.T.S.
One of the employees I manage stole some office supplies from the company. I talked to him about it, and he returned them. I don’t want to get him fired, but am I obligated to fill out an official report?

You handled the first step well. But your question reveals three points of confusion.

First, you acknowledge that he returned the supplies. What else would he do? Offer to split the booty with you? Be not confused about his character. He stole and it’s probably not the first time. Is this the kind of person you can trust and count on to be a credit to your company?

Second, you don’t want to get him fired. That’s commendable. But don’t let your sympathy muddle reality. How can you get him fired? Only his actions can get him fired. That’s reality. Let sympathy take a back seat to objectivity.

Third, you wonder about your obligation to fill out an official report. It’s deeper than that. Your obligation is to justice – to three parties in this order:

•    Your employer. If you owned the company (and the supplies) you could handle it as you’d like. But you don’t so you can’t. To fail to report the theft to the owner actually increases the deception and further violates the rights of the offended party.

•    Your subordinate. Would shielding him from facing the music be a service to him? Protecting him from consequences of his stealing undermines his already defective conscience. As painful as disclosure might be, it will help him to be truer and wiser in the future.

•    You. Be true to yourself. Justice is an internal virtue which consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due (CCC 1836).  And courage is a virtue which ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. (CCC 1837).

Because you’re a kind person, you might want to give him the option to self-report and apologize for his theft. It could increase his chances of keeping his job, and will be good for his soul. If you think this tactic comports with company protocols, require and confirm that he discloses quickly and accurately – telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

 So be courageous and do the right thing. In the end all three parties will be well served. You have the enviable opportunity to, in a small way, advance righteousness in your workplace and nudge another soul closer to God. This is precisely the stuff by which Catholic laymen and women fulfill their apostolate in the world.
By Jim Berlucchi, M.T.S., Executive Director of the Spitzer Center.
Reprinted with permission of FAITH Catholic Publishing and Communications. Rights reserved.