Workplace Robbery: How I Dealt With A Dishonest Employee

For more than 20 years, I was senior manager of a major insurance company’s regional advertising department. In addition to coping with everyday deadlines and work schedules of 30 employees, I was responsible for an annual budget of more than $1 million (about $4 million in today’s dollars).

Budget: Through my purchasing manager, I bought office supplies and equipment, plus contracting out for printing and media advertising. I consulted with him regularly on dealing with vendors, pricing, delivery, expenses, invoicing and other financial matters.

After several years, because of priorities in other duties, I was checking on his work less frequently. He appeared to be doing his job well, and I trusted his expertise and honesty to deal with vendors, make purchases and stay within budget.

Misplaced Trust: It took me several months before I discovered evidence that my purchasing manager was a thief. After close scrutiny of invoices and comparing deliveries, I realized he was illegally involved with suppliers. With their collusion, he was filing orders on thousands of dollars worth of goods and services that were never delivered.
Confrontation: After making certain my suspicions were correct, I gathered several hundred dollars worth of questionable receipts together and called the purchasing manager into my office. The pattern of dishonesty was evident, and I showed him the paperwork. He immediately denied any guilt, declared there were billing mistakes and reached over to take the receipts away from me.

Vain Attempt To Fire The Thief: I refused and immediately escorted him to the personnel (now human resources) office, expecting immediate dismissal. To my surprise, and even though I’d presented the clear evidence, the HR executive did not approve. He told me company policy required that an employee could not be fired without being given at least one warning.
I argued that the rule in this blatant case was ridiculous. However, despite my appeals, I was required to keep the dishonest employee on the job. The HR executive said he accepted the thief’s claim that he had made honest mistakes, and the vendors had agreed to refund any missing money. 

If At First…: As required, I made the formal warning and returned the employee to my department. Fortunately, I didn’t have to give him to his purchasing job. Instead, I assigned him to be responsible daily for all units of my department to meet our many tight deadlines.

This was a highly demanding job, involving print work, advertising, video production, sales promotion projects and many other deadline-dependent schedules. Because of incompetence, he lasted less than three months on the assignment. Then, with the required warning on record, he was fired.   

Lesson Learned: Ronald Reagan often said about international relations, “Trust, but verify!” The same applies to responsible management when considerable sums of money and deadlines are involved. 

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