According to statistics from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 75 percent of employees steal from work. And most do so repeatedly. If that’s not enough to get your attention, that same U.S. Chamber of Commerce study says 30 percent of corporate bankruptcies are a result of employee theft.

The FBI calls employee theft the fastest growing crime in America.

King Rogers has helped companies with loss prevention and security for nearly half a century. After helming his own company for many years, Rogers now is business leader, security management services for Master Technology Group. He says the first step to preventing employee theft begins with the hiring process.

“It starts with recruiting the employee,” Rogers says. “The orientation should include a clear communication of expectations.”

This should include disclosing any initiatives that exemplify how much the business owner values his or her company and all the people working there.

“As a result, management is going to keep an eye on the business as well as the employees,” Rogers says.

Rogers suggests background screening and drug tests on all potential hires. Employees with drug addictions are at higher risk for stealing to support their habit.

“It’s controversial, but I firmly believe in the value of background screening and records checks,” he says. “The theory that has proven itself time and time again is that past behavior predicts future behavior. If someone has been inclined to steal from an employer in the past, or just commit theft in the past, whether it’s from an employer or not, the chances are pretty darn good that they’re going to steal again.”

In the nursery industry, it can be difficult to find good, reliable records. If you use a lot of seasonal workers, Rogers says you can double down on showing the employees you really care about your business. Make a conscious effort to be alert, keep an eye on the inventory, tools, and employees that handle them.

A matter of trust

Security consultants will recommend video surveillance with high-definition video cameras. If that sounds a little too “Big Brother” for you, a simple sign-in/ sign-out system in your maintenance shed can keep track of hand tools.

Business owners walk a tightrope with trust. Terrence Shulman, founder and director of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding, says the old saying that a happy employee is more honest rings true.

“They have to find a middle ground between watching people like a hawk and being too laissez-faire,” Schulman says.

Make your employees feel part of the team, and it will make their decision to steal from you much more difficult. Surveys consistently show that employees care about recognition and salary. Train your managers and supervisors to have solid people skills. It won’t deter hardened thieves, but for a seasonal worker who feels overworked and underpaid, the feeling of being part of a family, of being valued, can make a difference. Even a birthday cake could make that employee think twice.

Don’t be the enforcer

If you do suspect theft in your company, what should you do? Rogers strongly recommends the owner takes no steps at all, other than to document the observation and call a professional. It could be law enforcement, it could be a private sector individual that specializes in employee theft.

“The problem is if the owner takes the matter into his or her own hands, the liability meter begins to ping,” Rogers says. “Because if they’re wrong, and they say the wrong thing, that employee now has a claim against the employer.”

Rogers says many business owners think they can do this themselves. But watching a few episodes of CSI or Columbo doesn’t make you a true detective.

“Don’t think you’re the smartest person in the room and can conduct an interview that is going to elicit an admission from the suspected employee, because that interview is part of the basis for a potential liability claim,” Rogers says.

Schulman says nurseries, like every business, should have a clear company policy on theft. Like annual first aid training or safety and hazard awareness, he suggests a presentation by a consultant on dishonesty in the workplace.

Business owners can also work with a consultant to identify risks for theft or other losses, sometimes in the form of a vulnerability assessment.