I had to fire an employee that was dear to me today. He is a young man, with a wife and 2 small children with so much potential. I caught him stealing money out of customers cars today. I had to write his final paycheck in my office as he called his wife, who was at his daughters end of year school celebration to come pick him up. He was devistated. I feel horrible but realize that he chose his actions.

I also think he is not the only one stealing. On one hand I want to directly speak to all of my technicians to make a very clear statement that stealing is not acceptable behavior and to use this event as a deterrent. On the other hand I have been informed that that is an action that could land me and the company in legal hot water.

Any suggestions?


juliahhavener's picture


I think these things vary a bit from state to state on the legal side. I would ask your HR manager what the laws are and what you can and cannot say. A simple blanket statement to your team of 'Stealing will not be tolerated and will result in immediate termination' may do the trick. It doesn't say this young man was fired for it, but they can likely make the connection as to WHY you feel the need to discuss it so bluntly right now.

And...I'm sorry. It's hard to find yourself in that position. They do make their own choices, and as one friend and mentor said "We don't fire people, they fire themselves really." It still doesn't make it feel good, or make it easy.

asteriskrntt1's picture

I agree with Julia

However, as Mark and Mike said in the "Body Scent" podcast, bringing the issue to a staff meeting is not the answer. Everyone knows stealing is wrong.

The word will spread quickly about what happened here. If you have been informed that this action could get you in hot water, who informed you?


RichRuh's picture

I had the same reaction as *RNTT- there is no need to make a statement about stealing. That's not something anybody should need a reminder for.


LouFlorence's picture


Two things:

1. Firing someone is traumatic for the manager as well as the employee. Even though you have done the right thing, it's like seeing someone die. In a sense, it is a kind of death -- few things in life are as devastating as losing a job. While the manager is not the one who goes home without a job to come back to, it is still an emotional rollercoaster. Be prepared for it and don't pretend it's not happening. You'll want to talk about it and your co-workers are not the ones to share your feelings with.

2. I think it would be a good idea to talk with the team -- not about the specifics of the event, but about things that can result in immediate termination. Expectations like that should be explicit, not implicit -- that's why companies publish codes of ethics. Talking about what can get you fired on the spot might be effective for you to do now because you will have everyone's attention.

Hang in there!


attmonk's picture

We have had one or two similar events in the past and have always followed up by issuing a site wide memo, or similar, to the effect:

Please note:

Stealing (or whatever the action was) is considered an act of gross misconduct and as such will not be tolerated. Anyone found stealing (or whatever) may be subject to disciplinary action which could ultimately lead to dismissal

I know thats fine in the UK as its straight from my HR, but I dont know how it works over the pond


bflynn's picture

[quote="attmonk"]Stealing (or whatever the action was) is considered an act of gross misconduct and as such will not be tolerated. Anyone found stealing (or whatever) may be subject to disciplinary action which could ultimately lead to dismissal[/quote]

Too soft for me. I prefer "[i]will [/i]be subject to disciplinary action which [i]will [/i]lead to dismissal."

This is a culture building moment. You made it absolutely clear that this action is not tolerated. You are expressing the core values of your company. I presume this is really important, so don't soften it by "hiding" it from the rest of your staff. This is an area that I agree with Jack Welch on - when someone violates your culture, you don't dismiss them quietly. They do not leave to pursue other interests. You publicly execute them as an example to everyone else.

Action wise - I recommend a short statement tomorrow morning, in a face-to-face group meeting. Announce the dismissal and give the reason. Keep it short and stick to facts not in question (behaviors). What you tell them can only get you in trouble if it is false. Avoid judgemental descriptions (he took money, he didn't steal it). If there are further inquiries, ask to take them in private. Three sentences.

"Some of you may have heard that Bob is no longer with us. Yesterday, he was found taking money out of a customer's car and he has been dismissed. If anyone has further questions or concerns, please come see me privately some time today." Deadly serious and you only do it once. Word will spread to anyone who isn't present. Announcing this to your crew may be every bit as difficult as announcing it to Bob. It can also be difficult for the employees to hear, but it needs to be done.


thaGUma's picture


firing is one thing. I assume here that 100% proven theft. I note however that the police were not involved. Openly stating that the person was found stealing therefore leaves you potentially open to a separate action. Your HR needs to be involved before you consider making this public.

If you suspect theft is going on. (this itself causes me some concern - are customers telling you of theft?) Then you also need to be extremely careful to have tight procedures. Regular reminders of honour code or ethics or whatever is perfectly acceptable.
How about a metric? 'number of customers complaining about theft' Doesn't sound right...perhaps there is more for management to do?


attmonk's picture

Too soft for me. I prefer "[i]will [/i]be subject to disciplinary action which [i]will [/i]lead to dismissal."


the problem with using the word "will" is that by using it you presuppose guilt and therefore prejudge the situation. A tribunal in the UK could very well find against you because you said will instead of may, daft I know but there it is.


bradleymewes's picture

Wow, what a great response from everyone. Thank you all for your input. Today has indeed been a roller coaster for me. I have not spoken to anyone about it nor addressed the team about it. Someone here on the posts suggested that word will spread quickly enough. I believe it will.

The action, unfortunately, was proven theft beyond a doubt after we initiated an investigation after receiving a handful of complaints. Bflynn, you mentioned a metric. We don't track theft here because we receive virtually zero complaints about theft. So when when I received the first one it thought that was strange. The second one got me thinking and the third one I realized that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

I received a phone call today from the employee and he said that he had talked to some team members here and they all mentioned that they noticed I was in an agitated mood. He apologized for his actions, fully accepted responsibility for his actions and told me not to let what he did affect my mood - that it was his mistake and his mistake alone. He then thanked me for the opportunity to work with me. I was very impressed with what he had to say.

Perhaps the most frustrating part about the entire situation is that this was an individual who was young, but with so much potetial. We got along very well and I saw much growth and development for him. It hurts to know someone you trusted did not return that trust. The interesting thing is that it hurts even more when you see the look on their face, when they realize what they did, and you can see that they would do anything in the world to undo what they did but you both know you can't.

I will make a general statement this afternoon before we close up for the weekend. Thank you all for your input, I will keep you posted. It is great to know I have a community to turn to when faced with difficult situations.

Keep up the suggestions and feedback.


bflynn's picture

[quote="donnachie"]firing is one thing. I assume here that 100% proven theft. I note however that the police were not involved. Openly stating that the person was found stealing therefore leaves you potentially open to a separate action. Your HR needs to be involved before you consider making this public.[/quote]

I understand what you mean, but no, they don't. HR's purpose is not to be a gateway for you to pass policy decisions through. They are there to serve you, not to restrain you. As a manager, I hope you have enough knowledge of HR's requirements to avoid the legal entanglements. If you ask HR a question, they will not give you the effective answer. They will give you the safe answer.

There is not a legal case that must be proven before taking action. If it is clear enough to dismiss a person on the spot, it is clear enough to tell others. If you're not comfortable telling others about it, why would you have acted on the dismissal in the first place?

I also suggest that using the word "stealing" is emotional and judgmental and therefore should be avoided. Contrast that with "taking" and see if you feel better about it.


thaGUma's picture

bflynn, as usual I need to apologise from my poorly worded posts. My suggestion to involve HR was to ensure the company would be aware that the theft by an ex-employee was to be made known to others.

If it were my company I would not be happy if a manger was considering making statments that could be considered slander. Imagine if the employee chose to claim unfair dismissal. Their solicitor would look for anything to leverage his client's position. Every single action would be gone over with a fine toothcomb - that's why HR should be involved to advise the manger on what actions to carry out to ensure the firing is as watertight as possible and to avoid anything that could be mis-construed.

Hmmm...I'm still not making a good case. But the idea is there.


pneuhardt's picture

I don't know about landing the company in hot water, but is there really a need to tell people that stealing is wrong? I'm sorry, but I agree with Julia and don't think so. It's one thing that everybody knows, including those who are doing it. If you really feel the need to tell your staff something that basic, what does that say about your true opinion of your staff?

Next point: If you think the technicians on your staff don't already know what has happened, you are wrong. Even if the fired employee didn't tell them, someone will figure it out and the word will spread. If asked, say that yes, so-and-so was terminated for theft of customer property and as everyone knows that isn't to be tolerated. Then say nothing more. You don't need to remind them that they can get fired for stealing: They just got that reminder.

Lastly, any lawyer or HR person that tells you that you can't tell people stealing is wrong and needs to be replaced. (The nice thing about lawyers is that they are pretty easy to replace.) There are right ways and wrong ways to say it, clearly, but you can't get in trouble for stating what is both correct and blindingly obvious. Also, if your company has a written policy on the subject then there is no legal jeopardy in repeating that policy to employees. Well, no additional jeopardy. If the policy itself has problems then there is an issue, but that issue already exists and you will not be making it worse. In fact, having a policy and NOT sharing it would be quite harmful.

juliahhavener's picture

Even though stealing is wrong and everyone knows it, it bears saying out loud on occassion. In a call center, everyone knows call avoidance is wrong, yet I very clearly state my expectation and that I will not tolerate it. I feel very strongly that in order to hold folks to an expectation, they must know what it is. I won't risk ignorance by being unwilling to say it explicitly.

As for HR involvement - Brian's right. HR is there to support and give guidelines, not to limit. I believe I'm extremely fortunate in my company's HR department. In both locations I've worked in they are a resource and an asset. I have no problems discussing sensitive issues affecting my team members with our HR director. She consistently offers me resources I can give them, advice on how to word certain delicate topics, and role-playing scenarios when I'm going into a new situation (my first firing, some late-stage coaching, etc.). In return, I work fairly hard to be sure she is fairly represented to all of our employees, because she IS there for more than just firing folks.

Mark's picture

From the West Point Cadet Prayer:

"Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won."

I am sorry you had to do a very hard thing, but so often the hardest path is the right one. One definition of a professional is someone who does what they're supposed to do, when they're supposed to do it, whether they want to or not, no debate.

I do not believe ANY public comment is needed, required, or even valuable.

First of all, remember Horstman's Law: There are no secrets. People KNOW that he was fired for stealing. Please don't say that you didn't tell anyone, and surely he wouldn't, so no one will know. THEY KNOW.

Further, think of this: he stole, and you fired him. This happened without any reminders... so, people KNOW what will happen to them if they GET CAUGHT. No public announcement will stop someone who is stealing from stealing.

Honor the good of the young man whom you just fired, and say nothing.

And call him in a week or so and offer any encouragement he will accept.


nagesh's picture

Unethical behaviour is not acceptable. By firing a person for violating ethics policies, irrespective of that person's performance and potential, you have hopefully sent a strong message to the rest of the organisation.

A couple of months ago, the Business Week magazine carried a cover story on the 'Fear of Firing,' and lawsuits over perceived wrongful termination. The article explained that the manager bears the burden of preparing a trail of documentation and communication for the problems that lead to the termination. The article cited a survey that suggested that three fourths of managers needed improvement on conducting performance management discussions with their employees.

As others have stated in their replies above, (1) have a clear policy statement about stealing and the consequences -- mainly, termination of employment, (2) provide timely feedback or reiterate company policies in case of suspected unethical behaviour, and, (3) document the reasons for termination.

rwwh's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]First of all, remember Horstman's Law: There are no secrets. People KNOW that he was fired for stealing. Please don't say that you didn't tell anyone, and surely he wouldn't, so no one will know. THEY KNOW.[/quote]

Was there not another law that said that too much communication does not exist? :roll:

Mark's picture


Sure, the Second Law... but I'm not getting your connection. Help me out! :)


rwwh's picture

Mark, this is the first topic in which I see that you are suggesting NOT to communicate over something that you DO want people to know. In other cases you tend to say "repeat it seven times and half of the people will say they heard it once".

Of course, in reality I think I do understand the point, and I am just trying to tease you with an apparent conflict of two laws.... :evil:

Mark's picture


You mean, like the laws of say, gravity and magnetism?? :lol:

To be clear, I DO NOT want my people to know about information that I know but have committed to keeping confidential. Adults ALWAYS do what they WANT to do... if I wanted them to know it, I'd tell them.

The underlying driver here is that the manager works FOR the organization and does her best by being close to her team. But closeness NEVER trumps the organizational demand.