So, how was work last night? Pretty bad.
July 17, 2010 7:08 AM   Subscribe

What kind of protection is there for employees when money goes missing?

I work at night in a hotel, and sometime during my last shift, someone took a large sum of money out of my cash drawer at work. After noticing, I counted the remainder to discover over $300.00 was taken.

I called security to inform them of the situation, and thankfully there is a security camera at the front desk. However, later in the day when the managers contacted me, the first things they told me was that I would have to pay back the missing sum. (However, for my convenience they can take it directly from my paycheck!)

The second thing they told me was that while there is a security camera at that location, the footage is not saved or recorded.

I don't believe my coworkers would have taken the money, with the exception of the new hire, who was fired from her last job. For stealing. But the location of that particular cash drawer would be an easy target for someone to just poke their head around the desk and grab whatever handfuls of cash they could, since it's not a cash register system that is linked to a computer terminal, it's simply a drawer with a lock and key where we store our assigned tray of cash--which happened to be unlocked. Of all the nights.

I need to talk to my union rep., of course, but can you help me find out if there's any kind of protection for employees in this kind of scenario? In a restaurant it's unlawful to charge the server if a customer runs out on a bill, right? Is there something similar for other cash handling employees when money is stolen?
posted by sambosambo to Work & Money (20 answers total)
Might be relevant - was it you that left the draw unlocked and unattended?
posted by missmagenta at 7:11 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: missmagenta: was it you that left the draw unlocked and unattended?

There have been similar cases in this workplace where the employee was not required to pay back the missing money.

I should also say that this incident happened in California.
posted by sambosambo at 7:25 AM on July 17, 2010

Well, the alternative is likely that they just fire you for the accused theft.

I can't speak to the legalities of it, but it's not uncommon.
posted by Rendus at 7:30 AM on July 17, 2010

There have been similar cases in this workplace where the employee was not required to pay back the missing money.

Not sure how that answers the question of whether it was you that left the draw unlocked and unattended. I'm not accusing just trying to ascertain the facts that might be useful to someone trying to help you.

Have you asked your employer why you're being asked to pay back the missing money when others haven't?
posted by missmagenta at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2010

Yeah, I'm not sure you have any recourse here; as Rendus says the alternative that you get when you refuse would likely be a firing. Maybe speak with a lawyer if you happen to have one handy, but I would take the $300 hit and be extra careful in the future. Why is this cash drawer left unlocked? Convenience? How convenient is it now? Always cover your ass at any job, never rely on your superiors to vouch for you or how things worked in the past. Never assume anything. Ever. Cynical? Maybe. Safe? Yes.

FWIW, telling your superiors "But, but, it's happened in the past and no one ever got in trouble" will probably just look like you covering your ass because you did steal it. (Not that you did).
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:42 AM on July 17, 2010

Meant to add, nearly this exact situation happened to my girlfriend, except it was a combo-locked safe that she and the manager knew the code to. And it was $1200. And the manager had been arrested for theft previous to working at the store, but was buddies with the owner. When they requested she take a lie-detector test but refused to answer whether the manager would also, she declined and quit.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:44 AM on July 17, 2010

Are you employed on a contract?

Probably not, so this applies to you:
In California, employees are presumed to be "at will." At-will employees may be terminated for any reason, so long as it's not illegal. Generally, employees that work under an employment contract can only be terminated for reasons specified in the contract. In California, the at-will presumption can be overcome by evidence that despite the absence of a specified term of employment, the parties agreed who the employer's power to terminate would be limited in some way.
Basically that says your hotel can fire you for whatever reason they want. If you were given the responsibility of being in charge of a cash drawer, and during your watch $300 went missing, then regardless of who took it you own the responsibility for that cash.

Here's the list of things you can't fire someone for in CA:
* Age
* Race
* Sex
* Religion
* National origin
* Disability
* Pregnancy

And it's illegal for an employer to terminate an employee:

* For refusing to break a law
* In retaliation for filing a discrimination or safety claim
* For taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
* Without following its own stated procedure or policy
* For reasons not contained in the employment contract, if one exists
IANAL nor anything of the sort.
posted by carsonb at 7:45 AM on July 17, 2010

You need to talk to your union representative before you agree to anything or even discuss anything with them. If this has happened before, and people were not punished, then they're selectively enforcing their policies. If you can prove this, there's a good chance that they may not be able to enforce it with you. Go find your union rep and talk to him/her for a good long time.
posted by Slinga at 8:01 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might want to get a mod to make this question anonymous.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:00 AM on July 17, 2010

IANAL but am perfectly comfortable saying its not legal for them to require you to reimburse that $300.

I'm also perfectly comfortable that, barring union agreements it sounds like you may be protected by, that it's perfectly legal for them to fire you.

So I'd pick my battle. Personally I think it's unethical for them to ask you to reimburse this amount rather than make a proper police report and do a proper investigation. I'd also say they bear some responsibility for not equipping that camera correctly and have policies in place about access to the drawer.

Or maybe they have that policy. You haven't said how the drawer came to be unlocked.

If you were never told to keep it that way then its really their fault for having bad policy. If you should have.... While I still think their policy is unethical I don't know that you'd prefer my belief that the right thing for them to do is eat the loss and fire you.

So can you afford to take a stand on this? The right and wrong of it may be irrelevant if the other way this will go is for you to be canned.
posted by phearlez at 9:18 AM on July 17, 2010

Best answer: You might wish to read this factsheet on deductions from pay. Excerpt: "Your employer can’t deduct money from your paycheck if, by accident or even simple negligence, you lose the company’s money, break the company’s property, or lose equipment that belongs to your employer. If you just make a mistake and the company loses money, your employer cannot collect that money from you. For example, if your cash drawer is “short” at the end of a shift or if you have an accident in your employer’s car, your employer normally cannot make you pay for it. Even though these types of losses sometimes might be the employee’s “fault,” they are part of the employer’s cost of doing business and your employer has to cover the costs." Here's a link to a government website confirming same, see answer to question 2.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:43 AM on July 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

I need to talk to my union rep., of course...

This changes things. If you have a union, then you're in a much better position. Talk to your union before you talk to anyone else and get your rep to come to whatever meeting you have with your managers. I am troubled that your managers say that there's no video record. They are either lying or they are really, really incompetent. If they were so careless as to not record their video feed, then they have an incentive to get you to pay up rather than to have to explain to their managers why there's no video record. You should also keep in mind that if you give them $300 they'll probably fire you eventually anyway.
posted by rdr at 9:47 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay wait...there is a security camera but they don't save the footage (which is stupid). So theoretically someone is always watching a monitor - like a security guard. Shouldn't s/he be able to tell management what happened?
posted by radioamy at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have a union rep., then you're in a much better position than I was when a similar thing happened to me. I lived in Missouri, also an at-will state, and my choice was: pay if they asked me to and keep my job, or refuse to pay and be fired. I gathered from the internets that it was (technically) illegal for them to fire me for refusing to pay, because that would be firing me for refusing to break labor laws, but practically that wouldn't really matter; they could find another pretext to fire me easily if they wanted to. IANAL a lawyer, though, so before you assume it's illegal you should DEFINITELY talk to your union rep.

(The shop changed safes so that nightly deposits could only be accessed by the general manager and owner, rather than every shift supervisor. I forgot the first night, because I'd been doing it the same way for years--and of course, the money went missing. Luckily, they found out that the money was taken by a family member of the owner, and I didn't have to choose between my job and my principles. It was sort of my fault, but I probably would have quit, since I was already fed up; they had an also-illegal policy of requiring employees to make up a short draw with their tips, something that I'd resented and refused to do for a long time. Especially since they had shoddy security and shared draws.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2010

OP: You didn't actually answer whether it was you who left the cash drawer unlocked and unattended. It's important because, regardless of the legalities, I'd say you have an ethical obligation here if you did leave it unlocked and unattended. If you did, just pay back the $300 and learn from the mistake.
posted by Justinian at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your union contract probably outlines what can and can't happen in this situation (and I imagine gives you some better protection than the basic protections offered by the state), but regardless, this is straight from the California Department of Industrial Relations labor law website:

Q. If I break or damage company property or lose company money while performing my job, can my employer deduct the cost/loss from my wages?

A. No, your employer cannot legally make such a deduction from your wages if, by reason of mistake or accident a cash shortage, breakage, or loss of company property/equipment occurs. The California courts have held that losses occurring without any fault on the part of the employee or that are merely the result of simple negligence are inevitable in almost any business operation and thus, the employer must bear such losses as a cost of doing business. For example, if you accidentally drop a tray of dishes, take a bad check, or have a customer walkout without paying a check, your employer cannot deduct the loss from your paycheck.

There is an exception to the foregoing contained in the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders that purports to provide the employer the right to deduct from an employee’s wages for any cash shortage, breakage or loss of equipment if the employer can show that the shortage, breakage or loss is caused by a dishonest or willful act, or by the employee’s gross negligence. What this means is that a deduction may be legal if the employer proves that the loss resulted from the employee’s dishonesty, willfulness, or grossly negligent act. Under this regulation, a simple accusation does not give the employer the right to make the deduction. The DLSE has cautioned that use of this deduction contained in the IWC regulations may, in fact, not comply with the provisions of the California Labor Code and various California Court decisions. Furthermore, DLSE does not automatically assume that an employee was dishonest, acted willfully or was grossly negligent when an employer asserts such as a justification for making a deduction from an employee’s wages to cover a shortage, breakage, or loss to property or equipment.

Labor Code Section 224 clearly prohibits any deduction from an employee’s wages which is not either authorized by the employee in writing or permitted by law, and any employer who resorts to self-help does so at its own risk as an objective test is applied to determine whether the loss was due to dishonesty, willfulness, or a grossly negligent act. If your employer makes such a deduction and it is later determined that you were not guilty of a dishonest or willful act, or grossly negligent, you would be entitled to recover the amount of the wages withheld. Additionally, if you no longer work for the employer who made the deduction and it’s decided that the deduction was wrongful, you may also be able to recover the waiting time penalty pursuant to Labor Code Section 203.

Q. What, if anything, can my employer do if I experience shortages in my cash drawer?

A. Your employer may subject you to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. Additionally, your employer can bring an action in court to try to recover any damages and/or losses it has suffered.

posted by Menthol at 4:00 PM on July 17, 2010

Proper cash-handling procedures:
1. You and the cash manager count the drawer together at the beginning of your shift.
2. No one else has access to your drawer during your shift. There should be some sort of physical/technological lock that ensures this.
3. You and the cash manager count the drawer together at the end of your shift.

If your company doesn't follow these procedures then your company is dumb (or more likely, the cash manager is violating company policy) and you should seek other employment.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:55 PM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another facet of the taking money from your paycheck issue is that it may be illegal for another reason- that you *may* end up having been paid less than minimum wage for that time period.
posted by gjc at 6:37 PM on July 17, 2010

I'm in the UK, so things may be different, but if someone has stolen $300, why on earth would you not report this to the police?
posted by pandini at 5:15 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses, especially to ClaudiaCenter and Menthol. I think I have the information I need.
posted by sambosambo at 4:16 AM on July 19, 2010

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