What do I do if I am being accused of employee theft?

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What do I do if I am being accused of employee theft?

I am an RN who works in a call center. On a night shift my one coworker and I were extremely busy and there was no time to take a break until 9 hours into a 12 hour shift. By then the cafe was closed. I went to the unit next door and took took pieces of bread and a tablespoon of peanut butter and made toast. Now, in exchange for not abandoning my post and my co-worker I am being accused of employee theft. What steps do I need to take?

Asked on March 21, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, South Dakota

Answers:

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

For a piece of toast and spoonful of peanut butter?  You have GOT to be kidding me! But we have to take this accusation seriously no matter how ridiculous it seems.  Have they filed a "formal" complaint?  Do you have an employee manual or an employee handbook?  Does it give you any guidance as to how disciplinary proceedings are held by your employer?  I would consider taking what ever you have and seeking consultation from an attorney.  If this "incident" - and it is very difficult to even call it that  - is place in your permanent record it could effect your employment now and in the future.  Get help.  Good luck.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

It depends on what is being done.

If you are being charged with theft, you need a criminal defense attorney. If you are being expected to repay the value of the bread, you're probably best off paying it. If you are fired for this, then unless you have an employment contract which is therefore violated, or unless you are being discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic (e.g. you may really be being fired due to your race, religion, age over 40, disability, or sex), you probably don't have any recourse: without a contract, you are an employee at will, and may be fired at will for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it's not a discriminatory reason.

If you feel that you are being defamed by accusations of theft, you may wish to consider a defamation suit and consult with a personal injury attorney--though note that opinions ("Doe is a lousy employee") or provably statements of fact ("Doe took a piece of bread from an adjacent unit") are not defamation. Only untrue factual statements may be defamation (e.g. "Doe stole bread"--since "stealing" has a specific legal meaning, being accused of it if you were never convicted may be defamation).


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