[Blog 26] The Chief Guru Chronicles 102: How Would You Like Your Justice Served?

While you always want to assume that the majority of your employees are upstanding and honest citizens, there is no escape from encountering rogues in the pack from time to time. Many managers find themselves stumped and do not know the course of action to take when it comes to upholding policies and conducting employees effectively in the case of an eventuality where a business crime has been committed. Approaching a problem like employment theft, for instance, can pose a challenge due to contextual functions of management in different economies and how the issue of stealing is perceived. The comparative and diversely configurative nature of HRM further begets the question if there is even an overarching way to solve this predicament.

In my relatively long history of dealing with real life cases of employee wrong-doings over the years, two particularly struck a chord namely because of the stark contrast in comparison and the factors at play. One was a blatant theft of a high-end designer belt carried out by a young retail assistant in a historic hotel in a developed country, where the luxury market is driven by the young and the millennial state of mind. On the contrary, in a developing country where poverty levels run high, a housekeeping staff of a hotel was caught swiping four oranges from the staff canteen, where food was strictly to be consumed within the premise. After a series of questioning and thorough inquiry, it was discovered that retail assistant stole for the mere purpose of showing off luxury goods (perhaps to seek a lifestyle beyond her means or peers acceptance) while the housekeeping staff was compelled to steal by a sense of desperation—he was struggling as a sole-bread earner to meet ends meet in order to support his family of twelve people. Either way, both employees have stolen from the company and one question lurks: To punish or not to punish? It’s important to note that the disparity in both reasons and circumstances here are poles apart with regards to their intentions. As a management, we then came to an agreement to dismiss both employees in an effort to emphasise the importance of upholding both our core values and beliefs. There needs to be a consistent message sent to all employees: zero tolerance on dishonesty at the workplace. As sort of a lifeline and empathy, we assisted the poor employee in the developing country with finding an alternate job to curtail any long-term disruptions to his livelihood so he will able to continue supporting his family again. In the case of the retail assistant, not only was she rightfully terminated, but she was subsequently reported to the authorities for further investigation.

As the incidents above demonstrate, the major issue that I wish to illustrate here is the ethical calculus that bestows a HR professional when faced with theft at the workplace. How would you as a HR manager handle both situations? Do you condone one or the other? There is often a conflict of legal and moral obligation—one to faithfully run your business, and the other to generally evaluate your employee’s actions in a favourable way because of circumstance. However, not all situation warrant second chances and forgiveness, especially when there are good grounds for termination and damage has been incurred. Perhaps this is why is critical to implement clear and solid policies to educate employees about theft consequences from the get-go, so when it comes to the day that an employee does steal, you are capable of following through with little cloud to your judgement. Irrespective of the size of the organisation, grounds stated in the company policies should be clear-cut even in cross-national settings, across jurisdiction.


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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.