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Employee Theft: Behavioral Aspects - Terms Used To Describe Employee Theft

property acts taking act

A sociolinguistic analysis of the terms used by the employee-perpetrator and the employervictim to describe acts of employee theft reveal significant differences in the way the act of theft is perceived. All but the high incident/high value perpetrators refer to their acts of taking property in more neutral terms, placing the act within acceptable work-group normative boundaries, by using euphemisms such as taking, salvaging, evening-up, compensating, borrowing, dipping, scrounging, taking out a loan, doing government work (especially for use of equipment and facilities), boss work (following the boss's example), and taking stuff for homework. Employee-perpetrators go to great lengths to avoid the term theft and having to define their behavior as theft. Describing those same acts, the employer-victims use more judgment-laden legal terms such as pilfering, theft, fraud, stealing, embezzling, and poaching. Although both are referring to the same act, each is revealing a different perception of it. Hence, what is a clear case of employee theft to the employer may be perceived by the perpetrating employee as a compensatory act that makes up for some perceived injustice or as a form of salvaging materials that would otherwise be tossed out. Often employees feel that the appropriation of materials from the work place is a job right, a fringe benefit of the job. Although the employer and employee may both agree that the theft of company property is wrong, they often fail to recognize that they may be referring to different classes of acts, categories of materiel, concepts of property, or views of ownership. It is not uncommon for employees to consider employee theft reprehensible while regarding their own taking of property as legitimate. An important element in this process is the division of property in the work system into that which is pilferable (comprising some forms of company property and property of uncertain ownership) and that which is not (some forms of company property and personal property). High incident/high value thieves cannot claim exemption from the designation thief; their acts are not legitimated in the work-group norms (Altheide et al; Greenberg; Hollinger and Clark; Horning; Terris).

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