Oklahoma City kitchen designer Jennifer Miller once worked for a company that spent more than $25,000 at Home Depot in one year.
“None of the charges were ever applied to job costs, and that drove me crazy,” said Miller, who discovered something after she started her own company. When a Home Depot customer returned merchandise bought on credit, the retailer reimbursed him in cash.
“I believe to this day the project manager was supplementing his income,” Miller said.
According to recently released research, such “maverick spending” is common across workplaces.
In a June online survey of 500 American office workers conducted by uSamp for California-based Coupa Software, 33 percent of respondents reported taking from their companies in devious ways.
Those include inflating the cost of a taxi ride on a blank taxi receipt, 16 percent; padding tips given to waiters, 11 percent; accepting refunds for already expensed items, 13 percent; and expensing personal items, expensing items more than once and creating fake expenses, 14 percent, 10 percent and 7 percent.
Researchers found that 54 percent of workers buy things without the advance approval of their managers, while 66 percent make risky purchases, including overly expensive dinners, 38 percent; office supplies for home use, 23 percent; airline upgrades, 22 percent; smartphones, 18 percent; exercise equipment, 9 percent; and apparel, 7 percent.
Pat Reeder, publicist for the Will Rogers Memorial Museums and former longtime news editor of The Claremore Progress said she’s always feared that “if I stole anything, there’d be a ‘red thief’ written across my forehead. Those times when I thought my meal ticket was too much, I just didn’t turn it in.”
Reeder said she was shocked to learn from a co-worker who stocked the restrooms at the newspaper that employees took home toilet paper.
“I told him if they were so needy they would take that scratchy stuff, I was all for it,” she said.
Another Oklahoma City professional, who wanted to remain anonymous, admitted she has a thing for her company’s Sharpie Pens and has a habit of slipping them into her purse.
Abusers in the survey blamed their indiscretions on various things, from too many levels of approval, 46 percent, to a fear of being denied reimbursement, 43 percent, and unclear processes, 25 percent.
No matter the reasoning, Oklahoma City human resources expert Gayla Sherry and Allen Hutson, a labor and employment attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy, advise employers to adopt and follow zero-tolerance policies.
“Have clear written policies, stating that inappropriate use of company equipment and funds will result in discipline up to termination,” Sherry said. “Include in the policy that employers have a right to inspect workstations, lockers, bags brought into the company, computer equipment, cellphones, etc., and employees should have no presumption of privacy,” she said.
Sherry said to be sure to include a strong code of conduct, which clearly delineates what’s acceptable in terms of gifts that can be accepted from vendors, customers, and clients with examples of appropriate and inappropriate conduct.
“Lastly, ask your employees to be the eyes and ears for the company, and have an anonymous way, such as a tip line, to report violations,” she said.
“An employer can absolutely terminate an employee for stealing seemingly small-ticket items,” Hutson said. “Stealing is stealing.”
Employers that differentiate by the value of the item add a subjective aspect to discipline, which inevitably results in perceived favoritism and opens employers’ decisions to criticism, Hutson said.
To further deter thefts, employers can conduct random internal audits of departments whose employees have access to supplies, cash or bank accounts, he said.
“Finally, employers should pay close attention to disgruntled workers, as they may be more inclined than others to steal from their employer,” Hutson said.