Tips for protecting your business
Employees are one of your biggest assets, even though they don’t appear on your balance sheet. They help you operate your business and are the faces of your company brand.
But employees can also be a big liability if they steal from you. What can you do to protect yourself?
- Acknowledge the problem
Recent statistics from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that companies lose five percent of their revenues each year to employee fraud. Companies with fewer than 100 employees had 28 percent higher fraud losses than larger companies.
Fraud can take many forms, including outright theft of property (from paper clips to expensive inventory items), subtle theft by wasting time (focus on personal matters, sports events or other distractions), to embezzlement of company funds.
Employees can be very creative in devising ways to steal from you, including creating bogus customers and invoices to siphon funds from the company.
- Wise staffing practices
Having the best employees on your staff can go a long way in minimizing or avoiding fraud inside your company. Here are some best practices:
- Do background checks before hiring anyone new. You can check public records to look for bankruptcies and criminal records without permission from the job applicant. If you want to do a credit check (there’s debate about whether a bad credit rating is any indication of potential employee fraud), you’ll need permission. Note: About a dozen states bar employers from doing credit checks of job applicants and employees and Congress is considering similar federal legislation.
- Get to know your staff so you can detect potentially bad situations. Those with financial difficulties, such as an employee experiencing a home foreclosure or one with a gambling problem, may feel impelled to steal. Those displaying unaccounted wealth, such as a Lamborghini suddenly being driven by an employee who was previously driving a Ford Focus, may raise suspicions.
- Create the right company culture. Let employees know how seriously you view any theft.
- Implement systems for protection
As with the three branches of the federal government, checks and balances can prevent an employee from manipulating financial data. The less opportunity that employees have to steal, the lower the incidence of such action will be.
Frequent inventories can monitor and detect any employee theft of company property. Bring your accountant in to review your inventory and other financial information.
Make it clear that employee theft will not be tolerated and that violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, some small business owners ignore illegal activity, which then breeds more of the same.
- Be vigilant
As the business owner, it is up to you to oversee what’s going on in your business. Look for clues that something nefarious may be going on, such as a bookkeeper who never takes a vacation or declines to delegate work. Limit review of the monthly bank statement to you and, perhaps, your accountant; don’t leave it to the bookkeeper to review the statement before you see it.
Create an anonymous reporting system for employees to tell you about suspected fraud without fear of retaliation. Tips are the most common method of detection, yet fewer than 20 percent of small companies have a system in place, compared with 70 percent of larger firms. If you want to implement a reporting system, it can be a web-based system or a special phone hotline for this purpose.
And keep your ears open to any talk from staff members about possible thefts that may be going on.
Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser’s Guide to Self-Employment and Smooth Failing, as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day®, and a monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business®. She hosts Build Your Business Radio and has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraWeltman