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We are a small company with the main focus on eCommerce. Sometimes we are also present at fairs to sell our products. Our stand is always pretty simple: It's just a row of tables (11m long, 0.6m deep - the rest is not relevant for this question). The main till is on a table within the stand, as depicted here (sorry for my bad drawing skills):

enter image description here

There's a 0.5m space between our and the neighbour's stand, "sealed" by a shelf standing about 0.5m deep.

There are 4 of us and we all have purses so we don't have to run back and forth to the main till. One employee went on a break and left her purse right beside the main till. When she came back she noticed that it was gone with all the 2500-3000€ in it.

Now what is an appropriate reaction to this? Me and another colleague are the owners of the stand and therefore the employers, but we have very different perspectives on that issue. His points are:

  • Somebody has to be held responsible for this
  • It should have been obvious that this was not the best place to put the purse (mainly because it would have been easy for our neighbours to grab it, which I consider highly unlikely for multiple reasons)
  • When I asked why he didn't put it away when he saw it there (he said that he did) he answered that he could not take care of everything (to be fair: we were extremely busy during that time)

But I don't agree at all.

  • I don't think it was obviously careless to put the purse there. Yes, somebody could have reached it if they really wanted to (we tried ourselves after that), but that possibility wasn't really obvious before and it required more effort than just stretching out the hand. Also, the 0.5m wide space between our and the neighbour's stand wasn't meant to be walkable for visitors since there was nothing of interest for them

  • The stand was extremely busy, so there were a lot of visitors standig in front of the tables - I don't think it's obvious to expect someone to just snatch something from inside the stand while so many potential witnesses are watching

  • If a place is considered safe enough for the main till, it should be considered safe for a purse. Yes, a purse is way easier to snatch than a steel box, but it just seems 'logical'

  • There were no strict instruction where or where not to put the purse and the employee in question has been to many fairs with us, so she has quite some experience herself

Now my colleague wants the employee to work a certain amount of overtime for free to make up for the loss, which I think is pretty pointless, absurd and inappropriate. She did not do it on purpose, she did not act carelessly (in my opinion, in his opinion "there would have been way better places to put the purse") and he (or anyone of us) could have put it away himself if he considered it so much of a concern. So there's either nobody to blame or all of us.

How should we handle this? Is it really appropriate to blame the employee and expect her to work overtime for free? Or should we just take it as a lesson for the next time?

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Dukeling, Masked Man, Mister Positive, mcknz Aug 28 '17 at 14:59

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Unless you have definitive proof, you can't accuse anyone of anything. Seems like the course is to learn from this (maybe come up with a better system/layout next time) and move on. – Michael Aug 28 '17 at 13:52
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    Seems like the police would need to be involved and find out who actually stole it. Just because something exists doesn't mean it's that person's fault for getting it stolen, that's what police are for. It could have been a random person on the street who stole it. It seems pretty ridiculous to blame someone for someone else's crime. – mutt Aug 28 '17 at 13:55
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    Your colleague is a fool. The likely result of making the employee work overtime for free is that they will leave the company. Considering you cannot force this person to work overtime good luck in that. If this money was so important then it shouldn't have been in the purse to begin with, or at the very least, a single person should have been the accountant. – Donald Aug 28 '17 at 13:56
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it has nothing to do with navigating the workplace. Leaving cash unattended in a public place always carries a risk of being stolen. – Masked Man Aug 28 '17 at 14:42
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    All your arguing somebody could have reached, it required more effort, to expect someone to just snatch something from inside the stand, it should be considered safe is irrelevant. The purse was stolen. – Jan Doggen Aug 28 '17 at 14:53
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Is it really appropriate to blame the employee and expect her to work overtime for free?

It's not only inappropriate, it's probably illegal, at least it is in the United States. Given that Europe's employment laws are even more employee biased, I'd be shocked it if were legal there either. If an employee works, you pay them for their work. You don't get to demand that they work for free. Ever.

Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. But you can't rectify mistakes by making a person work for free. That's called slavery, or at best indentured servitude. Just don't do it.

  • it is hard to believe because of that ! it has to be some 3d world country because not just employee can sue the company government could they are like hawks looking for any thing strange. – kifli Aug 28 '17 at 14:01
  • Thanks for this answer, that's quite a sanity check for me. I thought I was the only one to find this step ridiculous... – user76195 Aug 28 '17 at 14:13
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    @MatthewWhited That logic is profoundly twisted. I guess you are responsible for your house. If somebody would burn it down, would you be charged for arson? – NoBackingDown Aug 28 '17 at 15:13
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    ever hear of the presumption of innocence? – Chris E Aug 28 '17 at 15:27
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    @MatthewWhited - Even if the employee did steal the money. Having them work for free as punishment isn't allowed. If you believe they stole the money then fire them. If you believe they were grossly negligent in their duties then fire them. What cannot happen is the employee turning into slave labor because of what happen. – Donald Aug 29 '17 at 14:48
21

Somebody has to be held responsible for this

Certainly. The persons managing the stand are typically considered responsible for everything that goes wrong, and it sounds like that's you and your colleague. That's how management works: the people at the top bear ultimate responsibility.

How should we handle this?

Report the theft if you haven't already. Apologise to the employee on behalf of your colleague if he lost his cool when talking to her. Revisit your policies for handling and storing cash. That's it. As you've said, consider it a lesson for the next event.

I could even say that you should be grateful to the employee whose purse was stolen. If that easy target hadn't have been there whoever stole it might have ran off with your main till instead. If your colleague is a loon and not really listening to reasonable arguments, this one may convince him.

Is it really appropriate to blame the employee and expect her to work overtime for free?

No. It's inappropriate, it's unethical and it's most likely illegal. A workplace theft is a business expense and you should never pass those off on your employees.

In most European countries an employee cannot be held responsible for business expenses or unintentional losses. Even in the US certain states like California have introduced legislation that prohibits an employer from charging business expenses to an employee. You'd have to check your local laws to know what is and isn't possible but all you need to know is that you shouldn't be asking the employee to cover this loss in any way.

  • I agree that working unpaid is illegal, but i think she is totally responsible for what happened and that kind of behavior is reckless.She most likely will have to pay for that loss, if not covered by her insurance. At worst she will be fired. By your logic if i where given money and leave it around for someone(cough a friend) to pick it up and could not be held responsible a lot more stuff would get stolen. – Shaeldon Aug 29 '17 at 8:04
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    @Shaeldon Whether the employee shares any blame is a matter for lawyers to decide but even if that's the case you are simply wrong. Employees cannot be legally held responsible for unintentional damages resulting from the execution of their duties. You'd have to prove willfull negligence. In Germany the relevant rules are covered by the "Grundsätzen der beschränkten Arbeitnehmerhaftung". An isolated incident like this probably won't even be grounds to fire the employee for cause. The scenario you propose is entirely different. – Lilienthal Aug 29 '17 at 8:21
  • Ofc you are right about lawyers, but leaving that much money lieing aroung is imho gross negligence, for which you can held responsible if you read what you quoted. Also isolated incident makes no different. Key Factor for me would be i can no longer trust that employee which ís always the best reason to dismiss someone – Shaeldon Aug 29 '17 at 8:31
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The only one responsible for the theft is the thief. But who should take the heat here?

If there are protocols in place on how to handle these purses and the employee broke those protocols, then she can be hold accountable but the accountability will never hold in court in terms of money being payed back by the person who did the mistake. The only thing she should lose is accountability with appropriate consequences, but that should never include payments of any sorts.

I'm assuming that there were no protocols in place, i.e. maximum amount allowed to be kept in a purse at each time, where are the purses meant to be stored at each time, etc. If they're not in place, it's simply the company's fault entirely if something goes wrong. Sure, the blame can be put on whoever was responsible for keeping the money safe but shit happens, especially without proper protocols.

Sure, this employee could have been more careful and there appears to be a lack of judgement going on, but the only one taking the heat should be the company, unless there truly were protocols in place that were broken. Then it's on the person that broke the protocol, even then it will never result in the employee paying anything, unless that person was behind the theft but then it's up to court to decide the penalty.

Make sure to check if the company is insured for thefts like this. Notify the theft to authorities, such as the police and possibly the management of the event.

This employee doesn't owe the company anything, however it is understandable that a certain level of trust was broken and it's up to the managers to decide which level of trust can be placed on that person again, but in no way can the company demand anything from this person for screwing up, in terms of money, not even abduction from future paychecks. First of all you simply can't and second of all, imagine which kind of people would be willing to work for a company that would put them through that in case of an incident like this.

It's up to the company to apply protocols that prevent things like this occurring in the first place, and once something bad happens (even when protocol has been broken) it's the company that needs to pay. If protocols were broken then management needs to decide which level of trust can be put on that person (perhaps none) but that's about it. Be careful playing a blaming game here, chances are that scolding is not going to help the situation, if anything it can ruin the morale of the team.

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    That was exactly what I was thinking. If there are no clear instructions, you can't just blame somebody for not doing it the "right" way after the fact. All the "could have"s and "should have"s just make no sense and are not helpful at all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! – user76195 Aug 28 '17 at 14:21
  • The only one responsible for the theft is the thief. I disagree here. If you make it easy for theives to steal then you also bear responsibility since it is completely foreseeable that someone would try to steal from the booth. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 28 '17 at 18:11
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings - Just because you leave your front door open or unlocked doesn't give anyone the right to come in and steal something from your house. What you describe would be a consideration for a civil law suite, in a criminal court, outside of a sign that said "free stuff" taking something that doesn't belong to you is a crime. If anyone can make a logical argument against a generality like that feel free – Donald Aug 29 '17 at 14:50
  • @Ramhound - I never said it was not a crime. But if you leave your door unlocked your home insurance may not cover your losses either. There is an expectation that you will do your part to protect your belongings. Note I said Also bear responsibility not you bear sole responsibility. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 29 '17 at 14:54
  • I think you're very much overlooking the main point of my answer. I actually go into details in saying who should take the fall here depending on which circumstances, I just wanted to hint at not going into deep victim blaming. – Jonast92 Aug 29 '17 at 15:31
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You have to look at this in the abstract. If you feel the employee was truly negligent in handling company resources, then you can discipline them on that basis. It doesn't matter what they were handling or the value.

You would have to prove a very high level of negligence, in the US at least, to get the employee to actually pay for the loss. Leaving the money next to the other money would sound perfectly reasonable to most people.

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    Leaving unlocked money next to locked money is not resonable. That would be like leaving a bag of cash on top of a safe. – Matthew Whited Aug 28 '17 at 15:08
  • @MatthewWhited Please read the post again. OP stated that the location was safe enough for the cash box which could have been stolen instead of or an attrition to the purse. – Johns-305 Aug 28 '17 at 15:26
  • @MatthewWhited - Even if that safe was in the middle of a sales floor, it would still be a crime to take it, your logic doesn't hold. – Donald Aug 29 '17 at 14:51
  • I see there's no explanation for the Downvote so I have to point out that it's probably wrong and unwarranted. – Johns-305 Aug 30 '17 at 15:45

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