When you hear the term “employee theft,” you probably think of retail workers using their position to shoplift expensive items or pocketing money from the cash register. These, however, are only two types of employee theft covered by the laws of Minnesota.
Below, we’ll cover different ways someone can be charged with employee theft in our state, what rights you have if accused, and what steps you should take if you find yourself in this position.
The Many Shades of Employee Theft in Minnesota
As mentioned above, there are all kinds of acts that can qualify as employee theft. Some of them are obvious; others you may not have realized fall under the category of theft. Read on for just a few examples.
Supply theft. Most of us have probably engaged in this at one time or another – often without even realizing we were doing it. Technically, if you take any office supplies or other arguably “minor” items home with you, it’s stealing. Generally, this type of crime falls under Minnesota’s petty theft laws.
Theft of merchandise. Essentially, this is what we discussed above – shoplifting by employees. The only real difference here is that employees can do it on the sales floor, in the warehouse, or from trucks as shipments arrive.
“Sweetheart” theft. Have you ever given a friend, relative, or significant other a discount that wasn’t specifically authorized by a superior? Technically, this is a type of theft, and you could potentially be prosecuted for it.
Information theft. Every business has sensitive information (customer lists, office memorandums, etc.) that could benefit competitors if they knew about it. When an employee takes this information and either uses it for their own gain or takes it to a competitor, this is a form of information theft.
Embezzlement. If someone is put in charge of money and takes it for their own gain, it’s called embezzlement – yes, shorting a cash register is a form of embezzlement. It sounds a lot more serious when you call it that, doesn’t it?
Your Rights If Your Minnesota Employer Accuses You of Stealing
So, what rights do you have if you suddenly find yourself facing theft allegations at work?
You can view your HR file. Minnesota law gives all employees the right to review their HR file upon written request. Why does this matter if you are being accused of theft? Because your HR file should have details about your performance, any disciplinary action that has been taken against you, and surveillance and management statements. All of this information can be used to build your defense.
You cannot be discriminated against. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (as well as various state and local laws), employees may not face discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or other factors. If you can point to verbal or written statements that seem to show discrimination, it can help your case.
You deserve (some) privacy. There’s not much privacy at work. Your employer has the right to access and log all kinds of information about you, including your attendance record, physical activities you’ve engaged in, emails you’ve sent and received, and where you’ve gone on the internet. That being said, you should expect some level of privacy in regards to physical searches and your voicemail. At the very least, these are considered gray areas.
You can say no to a lie detector test. If your employer demands that you take a lie detector test, you have the right to refuse. Moreover, they are required to follow a number of rules covered by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, and you can also reach out to the U.S. Department of Labor if you have questions.
Your Boss Says You Stole – What Should You Do Next?
Talk to management. This is particularly important if you believe you are innocent of the act or acts in question, but it can be valuable even if you did steal. Why?
Not as a mea culpa. While it is possible that an employer might be more lenient if you confess and show regret, remember that your words are also evidence they can use against you – and many will.
Instead, think of it as a fact-finding mission. You want to know what management knows and understand what you’re up against. This is also your opportunity to request information, like your HR file. Just be careful with your words and actions so as not to incriminate yourself further.
Get a lawyer. Why? Lawyers know the law. They will know if your rights have been violated. They can gain access to information you likely can’t get to. They understand how to craft a narrative that paints you in the best possible light.
In fact, you may wish to speak with an attorney before talking to management (or even have them in the meeting with you) if you are worried that you might be guilty or if the allegations against you are of a more serious type or degree of theft.
Bottom line? You need to take job-related theft accusations seriously. Even the most minor of penalties is likely to cost you your position and serve as a black mark on your work history. If they decide to press criminal charges, you could end up facing high fines, prison time, and more.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).