I’m Stealing From My Employer

by Evil HR Lady on April 26, 2010

The IT people in my company are seriously underpaid. If we ever complain about, management says they could always outsource our jobs to India, so we better stop whining. So, a year or so ago a co-worker and I had a great idea: we got permission to buy the old computers that were going to be discarded and then we fix them up and sell them on Ebay.

A few months ago, I took it a step further. When I’m asked to fix someone’s computer, I’ll declare it unfixable instead. The person’s department orders a new computer and I buy the old, “broken” one from the company for $50-$100, fix the minor problem and sell it for huge profit.

I’m afraid I’m going to get busted. What’s going to happen to me if my boss finds out?

Your boss will be really mad. Yes, he/she will. Go to BNET and read my full answer.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

The Plaid Cow April 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

And this is the primary reasons that businesses have what seem like such idiotic policies of sending possible reclaimable goods straight to the landfill.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm

"First, stop blaming your employer for underpaying you. If you were worth more money you could find another job that paid more."

I have to say I'm incredibly disappointed in this response. This very phrase is used simply as an excuse to abuse, mistreat and under compensate employees. Let me state that phrase another way:

"I'm sorry, the free market has determined that you simply aren't a valuable enough person to be allowed to support yourself and your family."

It doesn't matter how bad the economy is, threatening to fire people and send their jobs to India is not an appropriate action for employers to use against employees who already work terrible schedules for little pay. In many civilized nations, it would be considered workplace harassment and not be tolerated.

Have you ever seen how the median household income is doing in this nation versus the GDP recently? Have you seen how wages have stagnated for thirty years while GDP has soared?

Theft is obviously wrong that I don't need to address it, but you need to understand that when employees are put into tough situations they make less than optimal decisions. Employees tend to be more honest when they aren't abused and are fairly compensated.

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Twitchh April 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Theft is wrong (and this is very definitely theft) and should stop immediately.

But, while confession is good for the soul and they *should* consider it, they should also consider it *only* if they're prepared to become (at the very least) instantly unemployed, because that's exactly what will happen.

But given the "we could always just outsource your job to India, so shut up and get back to work" attitude, I don't know I'd really recommend confessing at all — This is clearly an abusive environment run by people who enjoy threatening and mistreating the powerless.

I'd say stop stealing immediately, start looking for a new job immediately, and don't steal from the new job (ever) when you get it.

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Twitchh April 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

. . . .

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Evil HR Lady April 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

First of all, the people who do the actual repair work on computers are in no danger of having their work outsourced to India, unless shipping suddenly becomes very cheap.

Second, if you are worth more money then your company thinks you are worth, go out and prove it.

Find a new job, start your own business, but stop whining about it.

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The Gold Digger April 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm

when employees are put into tough situations they make less than optimal decisions. Employees tend to be more honest when they aren't abused and are fairly compensated.

Is that why executives commit insider trading? Is that why the VP of finance at Koss has been charged with embezzling $31M? Because she wasn't making enough money as a VP?

BS. Stealing is stealing and there is no excuse. I would fire this guy's butt and then file criminal charges.

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The Gold Digger April 26, 2010 at 4:29 pm

"the free market has determined that you simply aren't a valuable enough person to be allowed to support yourself and your family."

You know what? Sometimes, that's true. Some people do not have the skills for a job that pays enough to support a family. Are you saying that I should have to pay five (or 20) times as much for a McDonald's hamburger so they can increase pay there to $15/hour plus benefits?

Nobody "deserves" a living wage. You earn it by making sure that your skills and experience qualify you for such. If you are at the point in your career where you can't afford a family/house/fancy car, then don't get them.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Yeah, it's really easy to prove worth when our labor laws are so weak. I guess all those coal miners complaining about poor working conditions and dead coworkers were just whining too. Maybe if they had "proven it" their boss would have stopped ignoring safety violations.

What good is proving it when the boss won't listen, and every other boss is the same way?

By the way, how in the heck is someone supposed to start a business when credit is so tight?

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Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm

@The Gold Digger

1. It's called greed. It's a motivation as old as time, and doesn't really mean much here.

2. It's funny you mention expensive hamburgers, because there's a chain in Seattle that is somehow able to start at $11/hour, pay for college or childcare and still be cheaper than McDonalds.

I don't see why someone should have to have an expensive piece of paper to deserve to have their labor be paid for at a decent price. I'm not expecting that someone becomes rich with no skills, but 40 hours a week should be able to pay for the basics.

Also, I think it's great that you tell people not to "get a family" if they cannot afford them. If I lose my job, should I just kick out the wife and kids? Is that what you're really advocating?

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Film Co. Lawyer April 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Evil HR Lady: I think you're being a tad flip in your last sentence. Considering the state of the economy right now, the lack of bank lending & that most people being paid horribly don't have very good credit to get loans in the first place, I think it's unrealistic to make it sound like starting your own business is as simple as filling out paperwork.

It's NOT! I speak as an entrepreneur & someone who knows plenty of solo attorneys. You have to have money for start-up costs & most businesses LOSE money in the first couple years. Changes aren't going to happen overnight & while whining doesn't help, sometimes you are in situations where there aren't many viable options.

For instance, my own spouse is trying to get a managerial position but due to working for a major city & excessive bureaucracy, he's STILL not been given a chance despite plenty of people DOING the job saying he's capable of it as well as mentoring from one assistant manager in particular. He's become a presence, spoken to people & done everything you can think of except become a butt-kisser. The ONLY way he can get a job is to compete w/tons of people in interviews.

After one, he was told he didn't get a position b/c he "was nervous in the interview." I'm speaking of normal jitters, not socially unacceptable conduct. I should mention he's been there over 3 years & supervising a particular class of workers for close to 1.

Is it no wonder he's considering leaving his industry? Do you find that reasoning as specious as I do?

Maybe b/c of knowing so many people w/nightmare jobs, I can understand why one might want to steal in this situation but it is playing with fire. I agree w/Anonymous on these points & think Twitchh is a realist, which is a good thing.

I really don't have sympathy for abusive employers & quite frankly, they deserve what karma brings to them.

Maybe The Gold Digger would advocate murdering all the poor people–not everyone has the skills to be a doctor, manager, etc. & not EVERYONE starts in middle class surroundings. I won't even talk about the horrid pay or working conditions of beginning lawyers.

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Cavalier April 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm

He should definitely get out of there since the boss is a jerk. Anyone who responds to pay concerns with threats of outsourcing is a lousy manager. At the very least you couch it in better terms &^).

Management's jerkiness is probably part of why he's willing to steal in the first place, even if it's the company itself that being cheated. He's 'putting one over' on those he works for. It's not right, but it is understandable.

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Evil HR Lady April 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Film co lawyer, you've made my point. It's not easy to start up a business, let alone turn it profitable. The people who do it take tremendous risks. The people who don't do it are dependent upon those who do.

It boggles my mind that we think that those who take the very real risks to start businesses "owe" people more money than they are worth to the business.

Good companies pay well because it attracts the best employees, and the best employees make the best companies. I'm all in favor of companies treating their employees well. But, I'm not in favor of someone using his (or her) lower than optimal salary as an excuse to steal.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 7:23 pm

@ Evil HR Lady

Those business owners would be nowhere if they didn't have those employees in the first place. The least they owe them are fair compensation and humane treatment. It's easy to "take that risk" when you have access to the capital in the first place. Given how I've seen company after company run into the ground for short term profits, I see nothing special about those who run companies.

Good working conditions shouldn't be reserved for only the best, the brightest, the most efficient or the most productive. Everyone has a moral right to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of the economic conditions. We seem to agree here.

It's telling however that you gauge the value of an employee based on how far an employer can abuse them rather than their productivity. By this measure, those coal miners simply weren't worth the cost of the safety equipment, training and practices that would have saved their lives.

PS: The rest of us are past the theft issue. We learned when we were young that stealing is wrong, and no one here is justifying it. We're taking issue with your caviler attitude that no one could possibly ever be taken advantage of, and that if it's the case they should risk every thing they own to start a business in the worst economic mess in decades.

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Evil HR Lady April 26, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Anon 9:23,

How is it taking advantage of someone to offer them a job at $x per hour and then pay them $x an hour?

If they are not better off, they should not take the job.

Companies are obligated to provide a safe work environment, but they shouldn't be required to pay a certain salary. If a headhunter called you up and said, "We're looking for a CPA who is willing to work for $7.50 an hour," (and given that you're a CPA), you'd hang up on her.

That company would have to raise the salary until it was worth it to some CPA to take the job.

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Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm

@EHRL

First off, you ignore the fact that employers often cut wages and benefits in light of economic troubles regardless of the status of the company itself. So being offered and accepting $x/hour doesn't mean a thing. Also, you ignore other abuses such as excessive overtime and workplace bullying. Those aren't things that are advertised on Craig's List.

There's more than one way to measure wages than simply amount per hour. No one would answer an ad like the one your proposed, but that's not what I'm really speaking about. I'm focusing more on the "safe and respectful work environment" issues. The letter you posted talks about threats of outsourcing and the like, for instance.

Furthermore, you ignore the cost of leaving a job. What if health insurance is required? Oh, looks like the choice between having no life and suffering from a chronic illness has already been made. What about those on work visas who are worked to the bone lest they be deported for not having a job?

Why are you of the mind that if someone is being abused they should simply leave? Why should the victim front all the costs of being abused? Why shouldn't the victim fight back?

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Promotional Products April 27, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Sounds like the ethics of your situation of weighing down on you. Is the stress and looking over your shoulder worth the extra couple hundred you are pulling in from this stunt? Get a new job or stop stealing and do side projects.

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Anonymous April 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

"I really don't have sympathy for abusive employers & quite frankly, they deserve what karma brings to them."

But karma–in the American, non-religious, bad-things-happen-to-you-because-you're-bad way–surely doesn't only apply to employers? If there is such a thing, isn't the employee's poor pay-and everybody else's–every bit as karmically deserved? Otherwise, it's just a way to exonerate people we identify with while blaming others for their own problems.

Bad bosses suck. You still can't assault them, steal from them, or otherwise commit crimes against them without becoming worse than they are.

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Anonymous April 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm

@ Anon 3:44

Great work, no one here is defending theft and even stated that previously. Thanks for reading the thread!

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Anonymous April 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Anon. 4:05–you may not be. Others have certainly not made that statement, including the poster who considered the theft to be "karma." And again I point out that if the bad thing happened to the boss because s/he deserved it, that means that the bad thing happening to the OP–and to you–are because you deserved it. Which is the flaw in the "karma" notion that most of its adherents duck wildly.

Yes, Evil HR is a little overoptimistic about the ease of job changes in this market, but she's not wrong about how market-level value is set. We'd all like to think that our worth is something separate from what the market will pay for us, but it's not. If the OP is as good as s/he thinks and put the effort into job-hunting instead of fraud, s/he'd have a job that pays more. If nobody is willing to pay you more, then that means you're accurately market valued, mean boss or no. If you want to argue that economics shouldn't operate like that, that's a whole other discussion.

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speakeasy April 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I think that when you're at the point of stealing from your employer out of resentment, the real lesson is that you need to look for a better job or stay where you are but reevaluate your attitude.

The ideal thing to do *morally* is confess and offer resignation. You broke a rule, you broke trust, the honorable thing to do would be to accept the consequences.

However, in *practical* terms the company may lose more money in the process of replacing you and training someone else than they did from your theft. Assuming you are otherwise competent at your job, you are willing to stop stealing, and you have covered your a$$ in terms of documentation so that it is highly improbable that you'll get caught – I say just stop doing it and don't confess. You probably need the job and the company probably, in the scheme of things, doesn't want to be bothered. I'm sure that all the people stealing envelopes and paperclips cost them as much or more than a few computers.

I also agree that unfortunately the solution to an abusive workplace is not as easy as “find another job/start your own business.” In this economy the type of large scale walk out it would take for employees to make a point is highly improbable.

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mark May 1, 2010 at 11:04 am

you want to grow and expand your business, or just survive in these difficult times, you have no choice but to maintain a good accounting system. Anything less will just not do.

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