Many companies are willing to overlook a certain amount of theft and abuse. They recognize that people cheat on expense reports and pilfer office supplies. Many companies are aware of bigger abuses, like significant personal purchases with company funds to tending to personal business on company time.
The secret is drawing a line in the sand. Management must decide what is acceptable and what is not. I submit that the best policy is a zero-tolerance policy, in which no level of fraud is acceptable. This is the easiest to enforce because it takes away the judgment call on the part of the employee. The employee doesn’t have to wonder if the fraud he’s contemplating is too big or too small. He knows it’s forbidden, period.
If management, on the other hand, allows a certain level of fraud to go on, this can create a larger problem for the future. Employees know that fraud is tolerated, and the secret is just not stealing too much. If they can stay below some imaginary threshold, they don’t have to worry.
Is that really how you want your employees to be thinking? Do you really want them spending their time deciding how big of a fraud is too big?
I would hope that management and owners would much rather have employees acknowledge from the get-go that fraud isn’t tolerated. They know that discovery of theft will be met with swift punishment. And punishment will be fairly given at all levels of the company. Even executives aren’t immune from sanctions for unethical behavior.
It’s probably easier, in many ways, for owners and managers to just accept a certain level of dishonesty from employees and carry on. But the truth is that in the long-run, a strict policy against fraud and theft with predictable and fair punishment will serve the business better. Help employees focus on their jobs, rather than on scheming and hoping that management won’t deem this fraud the one that was too big.