Our expert, Mel tackles the sensitive topic of when you suspect your helper is stealing from you…
You never want to assume the worst in a person, but what if some things just don’t add up? This particularly taboo subject is objectively tackled by our expert Mel in this edition of Ask Mel.
I think my helper might be stealing from me. What should I do?
Over the past few months a few of my things have gone missing. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but I’m starting to wonder if my helper might have taken them. How do I get to the bottom of this?
Suspecting that someone is stealing from you can create a lot of anxiety and erode your trust in them. It’s important to address the issue, so that you don’t have to live nervously from day to day. Here are some questions that will help you think through your next steps:
How’s your current working relationship with your helper?
It’s helpful to consider the big picture and evaluate if you’ve noticed anything else unusual recently. What’s your overall working relationship like with your helper at this time? Have the two of you been working well together and communicating, or have you had other concerns or suspicions about her? Does she seem vulnerable or mysterious, or does she seem cheerful and take direction well? This doesn’t determine if she’s innocent or guilty, but it may help to shape how you address the issue.
Have you done a thorough search for the missing item?
Sometimes our possessions can mysteriously disappear for a while with no explanation. Once, I had a pair of trousers that went missing for months even after my husband, helper, and I had looked all over for them. We only found them much later; they had been mistakenly put away in the bottom of one of my husband’s drawers that he hardly uses.
Have you checked your car, office, clubhouse, or other places you frequent first? Have you asked your other housemates, husband, or children if they’ve seen it? Perhaps your child “borrowed” some money, or maybe your husband moved your cash safe to a different part of the house.
How do you figure out if she stole something?
Most of the time you can’t know with 100% certainty if your helper has stolen from you. But carefully gauging her reaction to being asked about missing items may provide some insights. Have you told her that these specific items have gone missing, and if so, what was her reaction? Has she stolen from you before, or have other things disappeared without explanation?
One practical way to investigate without accusing is to tell your helper: “I really need to find my missing (item) today. While I’m gone today, please don’t do any other work until you find it, because I’d like to use/wear (that item) this week.” Perhaps she will legitimately find it. If she can’t, you’ll be able to evaluate whether her reaction to not finding the item seems genuine or not.
What should you do once you reach a conclusion?
You will probably face one of three outcomes:
- You discover that your helper has indeed stolen from you (she admits to it, or you have other hard evidence)
- You find the item and realise she didn’t steal it
- You never really confirm for sure if she stole from you
If you’re faced with Outcome #1 or #3, your next step often depends on two things: the helper’s overall performance and possibly the value of the missing item. Has she been a faithful employee and you’re willing to move on from this incident – whether proven or not – without holding it against her and second-guessing her every move? Or, have you had other questionable things come up with this helper and this is “just one more thing” that makes you question if she is the right fit for your household?
- If you accuse your helper too soon or make her think that you are suspicious of her and she hasn’t stolen anything, that could really sour the working relationship. She may no longer want to work for a boss who she feels is looking over her shoulder; so be careful to use neutral words when describing/challenging the missing items.
- If you have strong reason to suspect her, even if you never get the proof, ask yourself if you can continue living and working harmoniously with this person. Don’t let it get to a point where you are nervous in your own home, hiding your valuables and keeping your handbag on you at all times.
- If your evidence or suspicions are so strong that you prefer to terminate your helper’s contract, it’s recommended to do so with a witness present, and to ask your helper to pack her luggage in the common area of the home. When dismissing someone on difficult terms, this is a safeguard for both parties, reducing the chances of further accusations (e.g. this helps to prevent the helper from accusing you of planting things in her suitcase, and also reduces the chances of her easily leaving with your things, in the event that she was storing them in her room).
- Sometimes these types of cases can get quite drawn out if you involve law enforcement, so consider how much time and energy you’d like to put towards this before calling the police. Some employers, understandably, would like for the theft to go on record; others prefer to deal with it quickly and then move on. Keep in mind that if you don’t have absolute proof (e.g. video footage, witnesses, or a confession), it may be very hard to prove your word against hers – especially if she is no longer in possession of the items.
Suspecting your helper may have stolen from you can be one of the most challenging management situations for an employer to navigate. Some employers are able to recover the relationship with their helper and keep working together, and others just don’t feel comfortable with that helper anymore and need a fresh start.
Regardless of what you decide, you’ll likely feel better about your decision – and look back on it with less regrets – if you think through your options before addressing it with your helper. And after that, do what’s best for your household. Make a decision to retain or terminate and then move on, because living under the weight of suspicion will not benefit either party. It may boil down to this one summarising question: Are you willing to overlook this, or has trust been broken beyond repair?