How Would You Confront a Co-worker About Stealing?


Knowing that a coworker is stealing puts you in an awkward position, whether he's stealing company property, money or someone else's ideas. You don’t want to cause trouble, but you also don’t want to stand by as someone cheats the company or a colleague, or breaks the law. Your coworker's behavior could hurt you and the company, in addition to costing him his job or leading to legal consequences. By confronting him, you might defuse the situation and prevent further problems.

Say Something ASAP

  • The longer the situation continues, the worse the potential consequences for your colleague, the company and possibly even you. If you know about a colleague’s theft and don’t inform management, the company might fire you for withholding this information. As soon as you’re sure that your colleague is stealing from the company, approach him and emphasize the urgency of the situation. Tell him that if he stops now and immediately informs management, he’ll face far less serious consequences than if the matter comes to light later.

Focus on the Problem

  • Don't confront your colleague in a way that is judgmental or makes him feel as if he is under attack. Whenever possible, discuss specific incidents instead of implying that the behavior is habitual or that the offenses are part of the person’s character. For example, if you call him a thief he’s more likely to get defensive. Instead, focus on a specific incident and why his behavior was harmful. For example, tell him that when he took credit for your idea it undermined your credibility in the eyes of an important client.

Meet With Him Privately

  • Difficult conversations are usually best handled face-to-face, not in an email exchange or phone call. The other person could misinterpret your words, and the exchange could feel impersonal. Instead, ask to meet with your colleague face-to-face in a private setting. Meeting in person gives you both the opportunity to share your side of the story. Instead of accusing him of stealing, ask him questions and make it clear you want to understand what’s going on. For example, ask him if he forgot that you were the one who pitched the idea for the new slogan that your boss is so excited about.

Pick Your Battles

  • In the case of major theft, such as embezzlement, you’ll need to go to company management if you can’t persuade your colleague to own up to his misdeeds. If he’s stealing office supplies from your desk, however, it’s in your best interest to resolve the situation without the intervention of management. On the Ask A Manager site, career coach Alison Green advises being direct with a coworker who is stealing. If the colleague steals supplies from your desk, for example, tell him something like “Please ask me before taking things from desk. I need them and if they’re not there it could interfere with my work.”

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