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How to build a zero-tolerance culture for employee theft

dish washer
Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

My underage dishwasher helped himself to a shift beer from the tap while my bar manager looked the other way. Who is at fault and what should I do about it?

– Restaurant Owner

Answer:

Both employees are at fault. First, they stole from the operation. Even if you offer a shift drink (a dying practice), you certainly did not offer an alcoholic one to a minor. By taking one, and by condoning it, respectively, both the dishwasher and the bar manager stole from you. Further, serving alcohol to a minor, even one who is not a customer, puts your liquor license and possibly your entire business at risk.

In this case, the most important thing you can do is something. If you let it go unaddressed, you are implicitly endorsing both the theft and the underage drinking, and you’ve lost the professional culture of your restaurant. Tomorrow it becomes two underage employees having two drinks. By ignoring it you send the message that they are in charge. While you could fire both employees, I would advise against a knee-jerk response. For the minor in particular, if he is a good employee in other ways, I would use it as an opportunity to teach and develop him. Kids do stupid things. Your bar manager is not a kid. They should simply know better, and this error in judgement may be indicative of larger ones.

Your operation should spell out zero tolerance for illegal activity. While you may not want to fire someone on the spot, having the guidelines clearly stated in the employee manual will make it easier to follow an aggressive disciplinary process.

As always, consult with your attorney.

More on employee discipline here.

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