With the UK economy currently in limbo and inflation set to rise to it’s highest level ever, there is a chance that employee fraud will increase as pockets tighten. Employers should ensure they have procedures in place to handle fraud should it arise.

Question: What initial steps should be taken if an employee is suspected of fraud?

Answer: One of the main priority for the organisation should be to secure its assets and prevent any further losses. Suspend any signing authorities or bank mandates. This step usually involve suspending the ‘alleged’ wrongdoers while investigation takes place. Finally ensure your secure any important evidence you might have.

Suspend any routine destruction of documents and to retrieve and secure electronic data. In serious cases, forensic computer experts may be called in to ensure that electronic data is secured or retrieved safely. It may also be necessary to make insurance notifications and, where appropriate, to notify regulators or make a market announcement.

Question: Should the employee always be suspended?

Answer: As long as there’s reasonable grounds to suspect that fraud has taken place then a  suspension is usually the most appropriate course of action, depending upon contractual term permitting suspension. If the suspect has access to computers or other records that may be altered or destroyed and there is a risk that the wrongdoing will continue, then suspension will be essential.

The employer needs to consider whether the investigation could continue with the ‘alleged’ wrongdoer in the office. It may be difficult to later argue that the employee’s conduct was sufficiently serious to justify a dismissal for gross misconduct, if the organisation fails to suspend an individual.

If the organisation is regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and there is concern that the individual is not behaving in a fit and proper manner then there will be an expectation from the FSA that the employee be suspended.

Question: At what stage should the police be brought in?

Answer: Where there is a suspicion that money laundering has taken place, an employer is under a duty to involve the police. Otherwise, it is the employers discretion whether to report the crime. However there may be insurance or regulatory obligations that require any wrongdoing be reported.

The police have greater powers to interview witnesses and seize evidence maybe more cost effective than applying to the civil courts for injunctions. Before the police can act, the crime must be reported to a local police station to obtain a crime reference number.

Getting the police involved sends a strong message to other potential wrongdoers. This will mean that the organisation may lose control over the investigation process and could increase the chance of publicity. It may also cause delay to any civil proceedings to recover any lost assets.

Question: Should such employees be paid to go away?

Answer: If there is strong evidence the employee has committed fraud and the  statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure is complied and the employer can be confident that any dismissal will be upheld as fair then there is no need to simply pay the employee to go away.

Question: What rights does a suspended employee have?

Answer: The employment contract should always be checked to determine exactly what rights an employee suspended for fraud will have. However, while they are suspended they usually enjoy their normal contractual rights, eg, to be paid, and will have all the statutory employment rights that any other employee enjoys.

Question: What should be done, legally to minimise the risk of fraud?

Answer: Employers should ensure that all employment contracts and the staff handbook contains appropriate restrictions so as to minimise the potential for employees to carry out fraud. For example, ensuring that employees take at least one 10-day holiday a year can be a useful way to detect fraud. A fraudster might be able to cover up their activities for short absences but a longer absence is more likely to reveal what they have been doing.

Employers should ensure proper procedures are in place so as to minimise the risk of fraud and employees are given appropriate training on these procedures. Employees should be encouraged to report any colleagues who are committing fraud.

When recruiting, ensure your vetting process is carried out to the BS7858 Security Screening & Vetting standard. This safe guards you in the unfortunate results of employee crime especially if the alleged crime affects your clients information and relationship.

Question: Can an employer tell a suspected employee to clear their desk and leave immediately?

Answer:  An employer can usually suspend an employee they suspect of having committed a serious breach of their contract and can require them to leave the building immediately. However, to dismiss them it will be necessary to apply the statutory dismissal procedure so as to avoid any claim for automatic unfair dismissal.