Q. One of the employees I manage stole some office supplies from the company. I talked to her about it, and she returned them. I don’t want to get her fired, but am I obligated to fill out an official report?
A. You handled the first step well. But your question reveals three points of confusion.
First, you acknowledge that she returned the supplies. What else would she do? Offer to split the loot with you? Be not confused about her character. She stole and it’s probably not the first time. Is this the kind of person you can trust and count on to be a credit to your company?
Second, you don’t want to get her fired. That’s commendable. But don’t let your sympathy muddle reality. How can you get her fired? Only her actions can get her fired. That’s reality. Let sympathy take a back seat to objectivity.
Third, you wonder about your obligation to fill out an official report. It’s deeper than that. Your obligation is to justice – to three parties in this order:
- Your employer. If you owned the company (and the supplies) you could handle it as you like. But you don’t, so you can’t. To fail to report the theft to the owner actually increases the deception and further violates the rights of the offended party.
- Your subordinate. Would shielding her from facing the music be a service to her? Protecting her from the consequences of her stealing undermines her already defective conscience. As painful as disclosure might be, it will help her to be truer and wiser in the future.
- You. Be true to yourself. Justice is an internal virtue that consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due. (CCC 1836) And courage is a virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. (CCC 1837)
Because you’re a kind person, you might want to give her the option to self report and apologize for her theft. It could increase her chances of keeping her job, and will be good for her soul. If you think this tactic comports with company protocols, require and confirm that she discloses quickly and accurately – telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So be brave and do the right thing. In the end, all three parties will be well served. You have the enviable opportunity to, in a small way, advance righteousness in your workplace and nudge another soul closer to God. This is precisely the stuff by which Catholic laymen and women fulfill their apostolate in the world.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).