How to Prevent Employee Theft

Recently, Edward Snowden became a household name due to his theft and release of highly confidential information from the National Security Agency (NSA). Prior to being allowed access to the NSA’s information, Snowden was subjected to a background screening, which apparently revealed nothing problematic at the time. However, after a re-examination of Snowden’s background check, it was determined that, among other things:

1. Information regarding Snowden’s past work for the CIA and associated performance were not gathered and

2. Snowden’s only character references were his mother and girlfriend.

Given that Snowden’s supervisor suspected that he had previously tried to break into computer files, which he was not classified to access, these oversights may have been extremely important.

While this high profile story is clearly unique due to its obvious impact on the country’s security, it’s unfortunately a phenomenon that is commonplace for the vast majority of employers. On a daily basis, employers hire individuals based on inadequate information. Subsequently, up to 25% of these employees end up stealing information, money, time and merchandise from them.

This is reinforced by the 25th Annual Retail Theft Survey, which included 23 large retail companies. According to the survey, the participating companies apprehended over 71,000 dishonest employees in 2012, along with recovering over $50 million from them. These are huge numbers that take away from company profits and drive consumer prices higher.  They’re also only the tip of the iceberg, since it is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of dishonest employees are never detected.

Consistent with the implications of the Snowden case, the Survey found that improperly screening job applicants, including the failure to check references, was the primary way in which these retailers failed to protect themselves from employee theft. So, what’s an employer to do?

Most employers realize that it is imperative to conduct reference checks for a variety of reasons, including minimizing employee theft and the associated liability. However, prospective employers often become frustrated with the process due to the extensive time commitment needed to actually speak to reference providers. Additionally, employers may dismiss the utility of checking references due to respondents not really providing any insightful information by limiting their responses to verifying wages, position and time on the job.

Now with hiring tools like the Wonderlic Automated Reference Check, employers will have more motivation to follow the reference checking process. With tools like this, the applicant provides contact information for their references and specifies their relationship to the applicant. Reference providers are emailed a reference form, which also provides a simple way to rate the applicant’s job-based competencies. It’s also important to note that the process also requires applicants to execute a liability waiver, protecting reference providers from any liability in the process.  

By means of this approach, the employer doesn’t waste time attempting to contact references, and the reference provider can complete the form at their leisure. Moreover, reference providers can feel comfortable providing candid information, as this information is not shared with the job applicant.

Certainly an improved, automated reference checking process will go a long way towards impacting employee theft levels within an organization. However, employers should always consider the use of integrity testing, criminal background checks, drug testing, and well developed interview questions to maximize the effectiveness of their hiring process. Screening out individuals who are likely to steal information, money and/or merchandise is easier and more time-effiecient than ever before, and organizations of any size and type are wise to put these powerful new tools to work.

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