Surprising reasons why employees steal from their employers

Posted February 26, 2018

By Katie Loehrke, PHR, editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Stealing is most often thought of as the theft of money or other physical items (i.e., office supplies, merchandise), but employees might also steal intangibles, including an employer’s intellectual property and time (employees might fail to report used vacation time or lie about hours worked, for example).

Why do employees steal?

An employee could have any number of motives for stealing from your organization, but a few reasons may be more common than others.

Need is one reason individuals steal from their employers, and while a need might be based on some particular hardship or change in income, it could also be motivated by an expensive addiction like drug use or gambling.

Employees may also steal to get revenge on their employers. Employees who suffer a pay cut, or who feel overworked and underpaid might seek to even the score with their employers by stealing time or money from the employer. Employees may even exact their revenge by stealing things that aren’t even of great value to them. This is one reason that office supplies and equipment tend to go missing more during times of corporate cutback and salary reductions.

Another reason employees steal is because it’s simply too tempting. Some employers take such pride in their employees’ loyalty and honesty that they fail to take proper anti-theft precautions. For instance, employees who know their employer doesn’t monitor inventory won’t likely feel at risk for being caught stealing. Since some individuals steal for the thrill alone, employers who put obvious temptations in front of thrill-seekers won’t likely fare well.

State the obvious

Sure, most employees realize that stealing is wrong, but by not specifically indicating (in a policy, for example) that theft will not be tolerated, you risk creating the impression that you and your company are not aware of the risk.

Take the time to communicate your company’s policy on theft and the corresponding penalties. You may also want to clarify what constitutes theft; some employees may not be consciously aware that using office supplies at home isn’t the intent of the equipment. Others may think that storing copies of work documents or prototypes at their homes is perfectly harmless.

Failing to address theft may also insinuate to employees that the company hasn’t taken measures to prevent it or catch employees who steal. Mentioning your company’s security cameras or inventory monitoring, for example, should help to deter employees.

About the author:

Katie Loehrke

Katie Loehrke is a certified Professional in Human Resources and an editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm. The company offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by HR and corporate professionals. Loehrke specializes in employment law topics such as discrimination, privacy and social media, and affirmative action. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s Employment Law Today newsletter and its Essentials of Employment Law manual. For more information, visit and