Best Ways to Handle a Breach of Trust In Your Business

Employee theft costs U.S. businesses an estimated $50 billion every year.

That’s a big number that is tough to apply on an individual level. So how about this: Ernst & Young reports that “employers lose 20 cents of every dollar to workplace fraud.”

If you’re like the 75% of businesses that will experience some type of employee theft this year, imagine 20% of your revenue simply disappearing.

In our last post, 2 Great Ways to Create a Culture of Trust, we discussed why creating a culture of trust within your company is so vital. We also gave you a couple of great resources to help you get started. (If you’ve found this post first, you may want to stop and go back to that one first.)

Taking the time and effort to create a culture of trust is a good and essential thing to do. But what happens when you experience a breach of trust and confidence within your company? How should you handle the situation? How do you move forward?

That’s our focus today.

what to do when there's a breach of trust?

Breach of Trust and Confidence

First of all, never ignore a breach of trust…whether it takes the form of lying, stealing, gossip, slander, or whatever. When something happens to damage your team’s confidence in you (or you in theirs), you cannot simply sweep it under the rug. 

Like cancer in your company, it will grow and resurface elsewhere later…larger and more destructive than before. You must address it and work to rebuild the trust that has been damaged.

In an article titled, “Broken Trust is Bad for Business,” authors Dennis and Michelle Reina give seven steps to rebuilding trust. They say:

  • “Acknowledge what caused trust to be compromised.
  • Allow feelings and emotions to be discussed. “When trust has been broken, it is emotional,” they said.“ People can feel devalued, discounted. There is pain. There must be permission to express these feelings and emotions.” Ideally, such feelings will be conveyed in a constructive way, they added.
  • Get and give support to others in the process.
  • Reframe the experience and shift from being a victim to taking a look at options and choices. It’s not necessarily what happens to us that’s important, it’s how we respond,” they explained.
  • Take responsibility. Ask “What did I do or not do that caused this to happen?”
  • Forgive yourself and others.
  • Let go and move on.”

Rebuilding trust takes time. But when you take it seriously and respond appropriately, your team will see it as one more way that you are a person of character who can be trusted.

Managing Someone You Don’t Trust

It would be nice if you could just simply fire everyone you don’t trust. The only problems with that are: 1) employees are hard enough to find right now, 2) it doesn’t do much for morale among the ones who are left. 

Sometimes you simply have to find ways to manage people you don’t trust (and as a result, don’t like very much). The folks at SolvePMProblems.com provide a few helpful tips on the matter:

  1. Keep it professional. Remember that you’re the boss for a reason. 
  2. Limit information if trust is broken (especially anything personal). They’ve proven in one way or another that they can’t be trusted. Move to protect your company (and yourself) from any future behavior problems they may have.
  3. Set specific deadlines, goals, and objectives for work. If you decide to allow them to remain employed, hold them accountable and clearly let them know what future expectations are.
  4. Don’t let little things slide. If they have already messed up in a big way, the little things matter too until trust is re-established.
  5. Keep excellent records. Document everything you have them do, how they performed, and every interaction you have. If the situation ever escalates or requires legal action, you’ll be glad you did.
  6. Don’t react emotionally. This is a lot like #1, but it’s important enough to be repeated. Keep workplace issues professional…to protect yourself, maintain the moral high ground, and set the example for the rest of your team.

How to Handle Theft in the Workplace

If you discover that an employee is stealing from you, address it immediately and firmly. Stealing from your company is something that can never be tolerated…whether it’s physical items, data, or time. You’ve worked hard to build up your business, and you don’t deserve to have anyone feel like they can simply take any part of it from you.

Before you rush to fire the person you suspect of theft, be sure you’ve done these things:

  1. Get solid evidence. Hearsay and gut instincts won’t cut it. Imagine needing to prove in a court of law (which you might) that your employee stole from you. Make sure you have a sufficient collection of video surveillance footage, financial records, phone logs, emails, online activity, etc. to make an air-tight case.
  2. Document everything. 
  3. Take action…and bring backup. Meet privately with the individual in question along with at least one other senior leader. This prevents any accusations against you personally. Present the documentation and evidence in a calm manner, and allow them an opportunity to respond. If they are to be terminated, make sure you have given them a clear understanding of why and that they are not being treated any differently than anyone else who might have done what they did.

Creating a Company Theft Policy

One way to help avoid (or at least minimize) theft is to have a company theft policy in place that every single employee is familiar with from the very beginning of their time with you. It will let them know that you take theft seriously and place a high value on trust within your company.

Sample policies such as this one and this one can help you get started, but you may want to consult your attorney to make sure you craft a company theft policy that will stand up in court. 

Terminating an Employee for Theft

Should you decide to terminate an employee for theft, you must remember to do it quickly, calmly, professionally, and legally. Business News Daily has an excellent article on “How to Fire an Employee” that is worth bookmarking for that day when you will need to let an employee go…even if it is for something other than theft.

In addition to the action steps we’ve already mentioned, when you ultimately fire someone these tips from that article will help make it (a little) easier:

  • Focus on the facts (and the law), not the individual personally.
  • Don’t let it be a surprise.
  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it private.
  • Have someone else escort them out.
breach of confidence

Choose a Business Partner You Can Trust

Over the past 40 years, we’ve built a reputation for being trustworthy and acting with integrity. (In the industry we are in, handling sensitive financial information on a daily basis, we wouldn’t have survived this long otherwise!)

We regularly help business owners evaluate their internal controls. And when your company faces a breach of trust, our team of business experts can help you walk through it with confidence. 
Schedule a call today to learn more.

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