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Staff / Business / Management And Training
Personnel and Policies April 2017

Addressing Facility Theft

Prevent finger-pointing from building occupants

April 07, 2017
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An architect in a Northern California architectural firm decided to go back to work on a Friday night to finish a project. It was a cool evening, so he was wearing a brown leather jacket, which he left on a chair by his desk. Close to midnight, he decided to call it a day, but forgot to put on his leather jacket when he left.

Come Monday morning, believing his jacket was still in the office, he was very surprised and a bit shocked to find it missing. No one in the office had seen the jacket, so he brought the matter up with the building manager.

The cleaning crew had cleaned the building Sunday through Thursday, and while the service was new, the building manager felt very comfortable with the new workers. Not only had she met with the contractor several times, but she knew the people cleaning the facility, as well. Finally—and reluctantly by mid-week, with the architect bewildered and becoming unhappier by the day because the jacket still hadn’t been found, the building manager had no choice but to discuss the incident with the cleaning contractor.

Who’s to Blame?

In my many years of experience in the cleaning industry—and while there may be some uncomfortable hesitancy to point blame—invariably it is the cleaning service that is held liable when there is a theft in the office. And second, it has also been my experience that the cleaning service is rarely—if ever—responsible for a theft.

This is even more likely today than it was years ago. Workers are now coming and going at just about any time, day or night. And because of this, there is a greater possibility of personal possessions, such as a leather jacket, finding a new home, even if by accident.

As a result, managers of custodial crews must be prepared to deal with personnel and security issues, such as building theft. Here are five tips to get you started.

No. 1: Address Your Employees

As far as addressing a situation of building theft, of course the contractor must discuss it with his or her cleaning staff. It is often best to do this in front of the entire cleaning crew. Speaking with each person individually will make employees feel like you are accusing them. Remember: We are innocent until proven guilty or someone confesses.

  • The best tactic to use in such a case is to discuss the following:
  • The situation
  • What items are missing
  • Who reported the theft
  • Where and when the missing item or items were last seen.

Very often in these types of situations, the item may have been moved as a helpful gesture. Someone else may have placed it in the janitorial closet for safe-keeping, or something similar.

No. 2: Settle on Consequences

What should you do if you find out a member of your crew has taken an item? First: The item must be returned to the rightful owner. Additionally, the client, quite justifiably, will likely not want that cleaning worker in the facility, so the thief must be removed.

Next, the contractor needs to decide whether to retain the cleaning worker or let the employee go. Some contractors have an iron-clad policy of dismissing the worker. Also, this may have to be done for insurance reasons. Other contractors may reprimand or penalize the worker in some way, but give the employee another chance.

No. 3: Defend Honest Employees

If no one confesses to the theft, and if the contractor believes his or her workers can be trusted, the most important thing for the contractor to do is to speak up for the cleaning staff. Doing so should encourage the client to look a bit deeper into the situation. And while the first finger may have been pointed at the cleaning crew, the client will invariably uncover what actually happened to the missing item.

In the architectural office incident, the building manager forgot that another maintenance service had been scheduled to come in that same weekend to remove many of the older plants in the building and replace them with new ones. This means that there were more people in the building during that time than just the cleaning workers—and more of a chance that someone else could have taken the jacket.

No. 4: Mend Relationships

Many times when an office theft occurs, the cleaning contractor will replace the missing item in an effort to keep the peace. This should never happen. While the contractor may have good intentions, replacing the missing item suggests that the cleaning contractor is accepting responsibility for the theft, which raises a red flag with the client. Now the building manager may wonder if this will happen again. Can she trust these people in her building?

No. 5: Create an  Accountability System

Years ago, when I was in charge of cleaning and maintenance at the Walt Disney Co., there were ongoing problems of items disappearing from various areas of the complex. To help address this situation, I required every janitor to record who was in the various buildings while he or she was cleaning and whether these people were in an assigned or unassigned area.

I would then call this information into the security department first thing the next morning. As a result, if an item was reported missing, security would turn to the janitors for help in solving the problem instead of accusing them of theft. In other words, the cleaning staff became the eyes and ears of the security department.

Looking Ahead

When it comes to office theft, the first step a cleaning contractor must take is hiring trustworthy cleaning workers.  And should there be a theft, the contractor must support the staff if he/she believes they are not involved and become a partner with the client in combating theft in the office. As to partnering, we must always remember that partnership includes the contractor, the client, and the cleaning workers who service the location.

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