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Oftentimes when I fill out a job application, I'm also asked to take a survey where I have to write the best action to take. One question (or something similar) I see pop up on these surveys all the time is:

You see a co-worker take something that you know doesn't belong to them. What do you do?

I've always written a basic "report the suspected theft to your supervisor" response because I really don't feel that confronting them is a beneficial thing for me to do, but something needs to be done. I know it makes me kind of a snitch, but that's just how I feel it should be handled.

What I'm wondering is what employers see as the best solution. What do employers want their employees to do in these types of situations?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Talk to Human Resources immediately. Theft is a Human Resources issue and they'll know the specific policies ect, and by talking to them first you'll know what you need to do.

Call them and tell them you need to speak to them privately; you don't need to say why aloud. Close the door when you're talking to them and tell them why you're talking to them (about a suspected theft/ect) before you divulge the specific details; if you need to talk to someone else instead due to company policy, they'll know what to do.

If you're concerned about a reputation as a "snitch" ect. ask your HR person what they can and can't keep confidential about your conversation; they may be required (by law or by company policy) to pass along certain information they get from you.

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Are you asking what you should really do, or what you should say on the application? On an application you may not know the procedures of the company, so I would suggest being a little vaguer. Mentioning HR when applying to a small firm that doesn't have an HR department might tag you as a big-company rules-stickler who won't fit in to their small folksy ways. Mentioning a specific job title like supervisor, foreman, or manager might raise hackles if in that company, you'd be messing with the chain of command going to that person. So I'd say something like "discreetly report it to the appropriate person as soon as possible."

As to what you should do in real life, it would depend on what was being taken (Joan's lunch? Steve's red stapler? A box of printer paper or pens? Cash from the petty cash box?) and where it was being taken (to a desk to be used? or home?). If one co-worker is stealing private possessions from other coworkers, or stealing items from the company for personal use, then that's just not acceptable. I mean maybe a pen or two might happen to go home in a pocket, but nothing beyond that. However taking "the good mouse" or "the nice ruler" to your own workstation is not the same thing at all. So the interview question "taking something that didn't belong to them" is insanely vague.

If something's not acceptable, it has to be acted on. It would usually be ridiculous to start with the police (though if a coworker took car keys and drove off in someone's car, I would call 911) so your boss or a neutral third party like HR is the way to go in non-emergencies. If you're concerned that the consequences of that would be too severe for the offense (firing for yogurt-taking) then you can confront the person directly or anonymously (Eg leave a note that says I know who took the yogurt and if it happens again I will report you) although people may just laugh. And worrying about being a snitch? The workplace isn't high school, where there's a students-vs-teachers vibe, or prison for that matter. You're all on the same team. There may be places that are line-vs-management but I don't want to work in them. I recommend you don't think that way at all.

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@Rarity imagine a two or three person company. No HR, no payroll, no chain of command. People who can't imagine there not being an XZY department don't last long in such a small place. But there are a lot of them out there! –  Kate Gregory Apr 22 '12 at 21:31

Actually, you might consider talking to them first, if you know then and get along well. After all, it might be a misunderstanding. Maybe they actually loaned object in question to the company and are taking it back, or maybe it's a piece of old equipment which they bought from the company.

Also, if it is something of low value, I'd consider addressing it directly, rather than making it a big deal.

But if it is clearly criminal behaviour, then reporting to the supervisor indeed seems like the only viable action. I would not see this as "snitching" - by harming the company, they are also harming their colleagues, who may have to bear part of the consequences for the company, such as financial problems.

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