We have the best Agony Uncle at Sassy Mama – Andreas is the author of one of our most-recommended books: Hiring & Managing Domestic Help. It’s an absolute must-have for Hong Kong mamas and you can buy it here!
This week, we’re tackling the thorny issue of suspected helper theft…
I think my helper is stealing from me. My friends told me if she catches me looking through her stuff, she can report me to the police. What should I do?
This is a tricky question to answer without knowing what she might be stealing.
The first thing to do is establish whether she really is stealing. Just asking her is one option, but if it turns out your helper is not actually stealing that will probably sour the relationship. From now on, you need to always know exactly how much is in your wallet and what valuables you leave lying around. If you are sure something is missing, check first that no family member has taken cash or an item before accusing a helper. You can also try to coming home at different times than usual or somehow changing your routine. Perhaps you can catch her in the act.
While technically you can enter the helper’s room, you should not search her things. It is a violation of her privacy. She should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. If you are certain she is stealing from you, do not act on your own. If you do so, it will be your word against hers. Have a friend or your partner present so that you have at least one witness when you confront her with your suspicions. If she has been stealing objects and not cash, ask her if you may search her room. If she refuses, you can always call the police. Unless the sums involved are large, I would try to refrain from using the police since it adds a lot of complications like paperwork and the filing of formal complaints. If she has been stealing cash, this is harder to prove. You could resort to things like marking banknotes or writing down the serial numbers, but this seems a bit excessive.
In the end, perhaps it doesn’t really matter what she stole, or even if she stole. Her behaviour has made you have lose your trust in your helper and this may be impossible to regain. (Do look at yourself and try to establish if you are just being paranoid.) A simple dismissal without any accusations (which you then have to prove) might be the simplest thing, especially if the sums involved are small. Of course, this doesn’t warn her next potential employer but a very terse and formal proof of employment without a trace of personal warmth should be a sign for most that something is not right.
I’ll end on a slight tangent: most helpers are not thieves, but even for an honest person (helper or not) the temptation to steal cash or jewellery openly visible left on, say, a kitchen counter, may be too much. Before you hire a helper, get a small safe and keep valuables in it. Also keep cash out of sight at the very least. Once the helper starts working, build a rapport with her so that she feels loyalty towards you beyond just the paycheck, and is thus less likely to steal from you.
For the only guide you’ll ever need on working with a helper, check out Andreas’ fab book ‘Hiring and Managing Domestic Help’ and buy it here.
Do you have a question for Andreas? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ask Andreas” and we’ll make sure it gets answered on the site!