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Legal lessons - employee pilfering practice stationary

Advice on a tricky practice problem from barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden

Advice on a tricky practice problem from barristers Michael Salter and Chris Bryden


I believe that a particular employee is helping themselves to items of stationery, reams of paper and the like. I am concerned that prescription pads have also gone missing.

What steps should I take?


First of all, the question of the stationery. All workplaces, to a greater or lesser extent, are likely to suffer from employees helping themselves to property which belongs to the employer. Many employees consider there is no harm in taking home small items such as marker pens or sticky notes. It is not unknown for larger, more expensive items of stationery to go missing, such as staplers, hole-punches or reams of copier paper. Bear in mind, though, that such losses are likely to amount to a small but significant extra cost to the employer.

It is important to ensure that there are clear policies in place making clear what the practice will and will not tolerate. If there is an absolute prohibition on employees using practice stationery for anything other than work purposes, this should be clearly set out in the staff handbook. Staff contracts of employment may also make clear that theft will be gross misconduct that will lead to summary dismissal. It is likely, however, that most employers will tolerate the loss of minor items such as pens as simply part of the nature of employment – with no dishonesty suspected on the part of employees. However, where larger or more expensive items regularly go missing, the practice may need to take action to prevent this.

The first step may be to make known to all employees what is happening, and make clear that this will not be tolerated. If the problem persists, it may be necessary to interview employees on a formal basis as part of an investigation. All employees should be interviewed in the interests of fairness. If the investigation sheds light on the thefts, disciplinary procedures will have to be followed if the practice intends to discipline the employee. All investigatory meetings should be minuted and the employees should be invited to confirm as accurate a copy of the minutes. As a matter of good practice, employees should be given an opportunity to be accompanied.

Police involvement

Missing prescription pads are of more concern and police involvement would be necessary here. PCTs should have guidance as to the procedure that must be followed in such circumstances, which will involve, for example, a designated code to be used on all prescriptions, or a particular ink colour. It goes without saying that prescription pads should be kept in locked drawers or similarly safe places.

If it is suspected that a member of staff

is responsible for stealing pads, the police should be informed of this fact. Following any police investigation the practice will very likely wish to conduct its own investigation and instigate disciplinary procedures as necessary.

Michael Salter and Chris Bryden are barristers at 2 Gray's Inn Square Chambers: Legal points are provided for information and discussion only and are given without obligation. For specific legal advice, consult our solicitor

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