The Call No Owner Wants

You try to hire quality people, you pay them a decent wage, you teach them the job and your business, and you increasingly give them more and more responsibility as you trust them and as they advance in the job. That's the perfect scenario ... but it doesn't always work that way. A couple weeks ago I learned of a contractor who had done all the right things when hiring an important in-office employee only to get a late-night phone call that no owner wants. The call was from a local department store the company did a lot of business with and the store manager was calling to confirm the purchase of several $100 gift cards on the owner's company credit card (to which certain employees had legitimate access). Unfortunately in this instance the employee had proper access but the purchase wasn't legitimate. The police were called in, the employee was located and arrested, the owner was called to the police station to sign a complaint, and the individual was fired. The contractor doesn't yet know the extent of the thefts -- this could have been the first one but it could have been part of a regular practice -- and it's only through luck, really, that the contractor learned of this one. "If this manager hadn't thought to call this would have gone under the radar and who knows when we would have realized what was going on," I was told. Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence among contractors. Over the years I've heard stories like this and stories much, much worse from contractors who thought they had done everything the right way so they didn't have to worry about theft or embezzlement from an employee. But as any owner who has gone through it will attest, it's much easier to establish a system of accountability before something like this happens than to have discover and deal with the situation after it happens -- and then set up such protections. There are many specialists out there who can evaluate your operation and suggest systems to protect your business. National Pavement Expo in 2009 had one such specialist, Pam Newman from RPPC Inc., discussing this very topic in 2009 (unfortunately her attendance was only nine). Based on a show of hands Newman learned that almost all nine of those contractors had already experienced the problem to one extent or another and were looking for ways to prevent future problems. Too bad that room wasn't standing room only.

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