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I, and some others, have recently had some personal belongings (valuable electronics) stolen from personal offices at work. It's unlikely to be co-workers and much more likely to be on-site contractors doing construction, or the janitorial staff.

This is a large office park, in a suburban area, with key-card controlled doors.

I reported this to both security, and my manager. The security team has looked at some CCTV footage and found nothing useful, and at this point I'm unclear what expectations are for an employer to respond. This is not an isolated incident.

How would you expect an employer to respond in this case?

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    Proof is key. And a good way to get it, is set up a "honey pot". Example, I once did IT at a jewelry shop, and by default was in charge of the CCTV system. We also did scrap gold, and the weight was consistently coming up round. I sat up some fake buy, weighed everything perfectly, counted items, took pics. For the process all scrap items, need to be reported to police, come to find out, the woman typing it into police system, was skimming it. – Dan Shaffer Nov 11 '15 at 13:17
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    In the general case, victims of theft report the theft to the local police. This is important because the property has likely been taken off-site and if the police recover the stolen property as part of an unrelated investigation (thieves often steal from multiple unrelated victims) they will not be able to return the property. The divorcee of an ex-employee at a former employer of mine reported her ex to the company as having stolen a company laptop. The police were unable to pursue the matter as the theft had not been reported at the time. – RedGrittyBrick Nov 11 '15 at 14:38
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    Second @RedGrittyBrick to call the police. Police dropping by for investigation may be enough to prevent further stealing. Also, I'm certain your employer has some sort of workplace insurance... police report would be necessary to file claim for your loss (yours and your co-workers') – CleverNode Nov 11 '15 at 15:45
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    I would add that you should NEVER leave anything at work that you can't afford to lose. If it's out of your home, your home insurance will (likely) not cover it in the event of a fire, and the business's insurance will (again, likely) not cover it because it isn't on the asset list. – Wesley Long Nov 11 '15 at 22:08
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    @DanShaffer The legality of such a honeypot would depend on the location. – gerrit Nov 12 '15 at 14:40
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How would you expect an employer to respond in this case?

I would expect the employer to warn employees to keep their valuables locked up when not at their desks.

I would expect the employer to talk to their janitorial vendors about the situation (not accuse, just notify).

I would expect the employer to beef up the supervision of external construction vendors.

If you are really asking "must the employer reimburse employees for their losses?" I would say "No, unless the personal belongings (valuable electronics) were required for work by the employer, or there was some blatant negligence on the part of the employer".

At the same time if the value of the losses is significant, I would expect the employer to talk to their insurers and see if the losses are covered. And some employers would step up and reimburse some or all of the losses anyway, just in the name of being a good employer. Others wouldn't.

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not a legal advice site. If you feel that your employer is legally liable for these losses, consult an attorney in your locale.

  • Worth noting that you may need to provide evidence that you own the missing values (like a receipt or equivalent) and possibly that the issue be reported at the police. I don't know if that will all be required, but I wouldn't be surprised if the insurance required this. – Ismael Miguel Nov 12 '15 at 1:19
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    I am pretty sure I have heard you give advice for people to use headphones to drown out office noise. Let's just say it was someone else and I am just playing devil's advocate... Manager says wear some headphones if it is too loud in here. So you bring in your ipod and headphones and these get stolen. Using US law the employer would be liable for work related losses on their premises - which for valuables would probably cover most things other than purse/wallet/cash/credit cards/jewelry. – blankip Nov 12 '15 at 6:28
  • By Brazilian law as well, the company is held responsible. According to above comment, US law as well. I don't think this is a proper answer, considering this serious risk. That last paragraph should be edited out. – Hugo Rocha Nov 12 '15 at 11:29
  • @HugoRocha People reading on this site need to understand that the views here are not legal advice. The situation about an iPod and headphones is interesting, but I don't see how it changes the value of this answer. – Brandin Nov 12 '15 at 11:38
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    @JoeStrazzere - If you are my manager and tell me I need headphones to drown out noise because my work environment is too noisy then I can go out to the Apple store, buy an ipod, buy headphones, and these are fully tax deductible if their intended use is for work. And by making these a work related item/expense the employer is 100% for theft of work items at the workplace. What would be the difference if someone's laptop was stolen? There are literally 100s of case law examples covering this. I will write up an answer to - but I find your answer overly managery and incorrect. – blankip Nov 12 '15 at 16:11
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They need proof to work from

This is a pretty serious matter, even more serious if the employer acts upon it. Before they can make any allegations, change any suppliers or really do anything they need to have something very solid to work from.

Document everything

Nothing can really happen here without your employer having proof. If an incident has occurred then be sure to notify your manager (or other appropriate party) as soon as you are sure that an item is missing. Make sure you do this in a recordable format (such as e-mail) for future reference.

Be sure before reporting

I do hope it goes without saying but before you make any allegations or report anything missing be absolutely sure beyond any doubt. If you were to report something missing only to find it later you would have to retract any comments you had made and you would lose considerable influence with your employer should a legitimate case happen later on.

But what should they do?

This depends on the proof. If it's quite clear that things are going missing out of hours then your employer needs to raise this issue with the janitorial company. If you have solid proof that something has gone missing that can't really be refuted then potentially you could expect your employer to make you whole. An example of this would be if you left a laptop in a locked cupboard over the weekend and it was missing on Monday.

Ultimately the proof will either expose that this is an internal matter - which needs to be tackled by management or a contractor and janitorial one, which will need to be raised with those companies directly. It's out of your hands but you do have the responsibility of gathering whatever information you can for your employer.

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    Great advice. We have problems with items "going missing" at my shop too, like a Fluke meter say. But really someone borrowed it. Don't want to cry wolf and freak out because you can't find your channel locks. – Dan Shaffer Nov 11 '15 at 13:10
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I would expect the employer to report the incident to the police, and if possible their insurance. Beyond that I don't think there's anything to be done to address the already lost items.

Next is to address the future. To lessen suspicion among staff, if it's possible to bypass the key-card controlled doors by tailing someone, they should raise awareness of this. They should also communicate a policy to lock in valuables, and provide the means for employees to do so.

If the incidents happen repeatedly, they need to stop them, ideally by catching the thief, because these incidents will certainly harm productivity. If they don't yet know how to do that, they should coordinate with the local police, who will be able to tell them what works and what's legal in their jurisdiction.

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As for your items all they can do is tell you they reviewed CCTV and found nothing.

Any reasonable company is going to take theft very seriously. If personal items are stolen then company items and company data are also at risk. Don't expect them to issue a memo here is what we have done to beef up security as the thieves can use that to elude security. If they catch the thieves they might not even tell you. A memo warning employees of thefts and guideline for how to secure items or not leave items at work is appropriate.

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The employer's liability on theft at the workplace is different per country. I will focus on the US as that is where I am from and where I did pre-law studies.

  • an employer is liable for all work related items/losses for theft/damage at the workplace. These would cover an employee losing their work clothing (Walmart case law), this would cover laptops an employer provides, and any item bought by the employee to be used for their work. Obviously there is grey area here but any sort of hard drive, usb drive, mp3 player, head phones, phone (if they take work calls on it), and similar devices would easily be covered. If there is any trail of your manager/management asking you to use these items at the job it is very very clear liability on their part. The grey area in case law here comes from usually jewelry items and people that are customer facing can say that the jewelry items are part of their job (US courts agree).

  • All other items are covered by the degree of negligence. First employers are held to a higher standard of negligence than a place of business. Often in employee lounges there will be multiple markings/warnings saying "We are not responsible for theft. Please lock your belongings." These sort of dis-qualifiers don't tend to hold any water. In this use case here an employee's lawyer could ask the employer how they vetted out each person coming into the building. Chances are the employer will not have done due diligence. Then the lawyer would ask if the vendors were bonded and ask employer to make an insurance claim against their bond. For an employer it wouldn't be worth the legal hassle to go through this and they will almost certainly be held liable for things happening in an office environment. The standards may be less if the employee works in a more public space.

Example: Your exact case happened at my office park in suburbs of US Midwest. This was maybe 4-5 years ago. Right away our company (we have a huge law department) admitted that they did not have any video of the incidents and accepted partial liability. They gave everyone 60% of the value of their item.

As an employee I guess it is more about how much was lost, how many people lost things, and how likely the people will stick together with a message. Obviously no one likes to have their things stolen and lose money. However many people realize that losing $200 is not worth management putting a black mark on your file.

Summary

  1. If the item was used for work. Employer is completely liable.
  2. If the item wasn't it is based on negligence. How the item was stolen, security measures, history of theft and so on.
  • @JoeStrazzere - Probably because they thought that is what they could get away with. There was 30-40 people that had stuff stolen over the course of a week on our campus. I am sure that management talked to our legal and they just threw out a number. Funny because legal team had stuff stolen too. Maybe there was an account for present value since they gave 60% of purchase price. I have no idea. I had a bluetooth headset stolen and was happy to get $55 for my crappy 3 year old headset. – blankip Nov 12 '15 at 18:19

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