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Bryan Edwards

ABC Training Solutions - off shelf training materials

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“Theft is theft. So sack ’em, right?”


Theft is a severe offence and is normally viewed as gross misconduct at work. The outcome seems pretty clear (after the obligatory disciplinary procedure).

Take the the theft of a laptop from the office. It’s high value; the evidence is caught on CCTV; there’s reliable evidence to suggest that the employee sold the laptop at the local car boot sale. So unless they can provide any other explanation at disciplinary interview, most managers would conclude that the outcome is dismissal.

However consider personal phone calls made by staff; or accumulating company pens at home. They're also acts of theft, aren’t they?

U.K. Employment Tribunals use a test when deciding cases:

"Has the employer acted fairly and reasonably in all the circumstances?"

Managers have to decide where fairness and reasonableness lies. At what point do personal telephone calls become a disciplinary? 3 calls a day? 5 calls a day? Or, in the case of a retail head office, an employee made personal phone calls for over half of the working day! Sometimes the standards applied have to be judged for fairness and reasonableness, and decisions made that consider all the circumstances.

The decision to discipline for any misdemeanour, and the subsequent outcome, may be influenced by a number of circumstances. For example:

  • Has the employee been told about this behaviour informally and the importance of doing it properly? (particularly around performance issues)
  • What is the severity of the ‘offence’? What is the effect of the behaviour on customers; the team; the company?
  • Has the employee been performance-counselled? (not essential however is good practice, particularly in the case of performance/ capability)
  • Is the behaviour out of character? e.g. they’re going through a traumatic divorce so are emotionally stressed
  • Is it a first offence?
  • How old is the employee? e.g. an immature 17 year old employee horse-playing in the office might be treated differently to an experienced team member
  • What is the employee's length of service?
  • What training have they had?
  • Are there any mitigating circumstances?
  • Any similar cases happened before? How were they dealt with?

Returning to the laptop theft, what happens if the employee says they are on medication that has a known side effect of causing irrational behaviour? or they say that they are going through a traumatic separation for their partner? What will be your decision then? It just goes to show that the background and circumstances to every case has to be considered.

Theft may not be theft in every case!

Bryan Edwards is Managing Director of ABC Training Solutions Ltd ( which delivers training and markets a range of fully-designed, ready to deliver course materials (slides; trainer notes; delegate workbooks including disciplinary skills), ebooks and other training exercises for the busy trainer.

3 Responses

  1. interesting Blog, really
    interesting Blog, really thought provoking. Re the point about a 17 year old and them being treated differently because they are immature; I think one needs to consider that age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. So, if someone was treated more favourably based on their age, you may have a case to answer of indirect discrimination for those people who have received a more punitive outcome, for similar actions, just because they are older. It’s a hot potato making decisions on that basis and wouldn’t advocate that approach.

  2. Hi Clive
    Hi Clive
    Good point re- potential age discrimination. Would the case be strengthened if the youngster (who had been horse – playing) had not received an induction explaining standards of behaviour?

    1. Not sure Bryan, I don’t think
      Not sure Bryan, I don’t think the individual would have much recourse unless they could prove that not having an induction had been discriminatory in some way and that would mean that they would have to have a protected characteristic for it to be considered.

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