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Employees Who Steal from Customers

April 1, 1993
Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Featured Article
There's another dark side to employee crime—one that only occasionally makes headlines on the five o'clock news. Many thieves know better than to target their employers. They steal from customers instead.

One of the most disturbing cases came to the public's attention in 1989, when the FBI arrested 16 baggage handlers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Agents seized more than $250,000 worth of jewelry, video equipment, fur coats, cash and even guns that the employees had removed from passengers' bags.

It wasn't an isolated instance. For years, companies have caught bank employees, stockbrokers, attorneys, private investigators and retail clerks stealing from customers. The negative publicity can be bad enough, but such acts bring into serious question the competence of the HR department or the person responsible for hiring the individuals.

The courts increasingly rule that a company must pay for its workers' crimes while they're on duty. Hospitals, hotels, schools, recreational facilities, religious institutions and others who invite the public onto their property are particularly susceptible to judgments against them.

It isn't a trivial problem. Civil judgments and settlements stemming from such cases routinely hit six figures. In cases of rape, assault and murder, the amount has gone even higher. Security experts, such as Thomas W. Wathen, CEO of Los Angeles-based Pinkerton Security & Investigation Services, say that this is the reason to have thorough and diligent hiring practices.

"There's no question that screening applicants has become more difficult in recent years," says Wathen, "but there are ways to do it effectively. The price of not investigating someone's background can be devastating."

Personnel Journal, April 1993, Vol. 72, No. 4, p. 82.

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