Accusations of theft or fraud in the workplace can result in consequences that go far beyond losing your job. It can lead to criminal action, with far-reaching consequences that can harm many aspects of your future if you are convicted.

It’s important to seek legal help from a qualified criminal defence lawyer to mitigate the negative outcomes that can result from these accusations.

Theft and fraud in the workplace

Under Canadian law, theft and fraud is broadly categorized into two main types:

  1. Theft under $5,000
  2. Theft over $5,000

Theft under $5,000 rarely leads to jail time and is usually considered a summary offence. However, if theft or fraud occurs in the workplace and/or other aggravating factors are present, the seriousness of the crime can be elevated above that of shoplifting.

In theft cases, if there is a breach of trust element from the alleged offender (as is generally the case with employees, who are placed in a position of trust by their employers), the accusations are more serious and the consequences of a conviction are likely to be more severe.

Regardless of one’s salary, job title or role within the business, employees are expected to display honesty and integrity in the workplace. Theft of any company property or fraudulent use of funds is considered a serious breach of this duty.

Generally speaking, “breach of trust” offences will be dealt with harshly by the Ontario courts to discourage others from indulging in such actions.

What are the consequences of being accused of theft at work?

The most immediate consequence of being accused of theft at work is a threat to your ongoing employment.

Even the suspicion that you have stolen from your employer can result in dismissal from your job — even if there is a plausible explanation for your actions and it turns out you’re innocent.

Accusations can damage your reputation and it is unlikely that you will get a reference from that employer, which can jeopardize the chances of securing alternative employment.

An employee who has been acquitted of theft in the workplace but still lost his/her job may be able to sue their former employer for the damage caused but this can take considerable time and expense.

An employee found guilty of theft at work and criminally convicted faces consequences that extend well beyond the workplace. A fine or even a jail sentence may result and the criminal record you will be saddled with can create future challenges not only with employment but education, travel, immigration status, and more.

Aggravating factors in retail theft cases in Ontario

For individuals accused of retail theft cases — stealing from a retail store at which they are employed — the matter is treated more harshly than shoplifting due to the aforementioned breach of trust.

The following factors will be considered when assessing the seriousness of a retail theft incident:

  • If there is a high dollar amount of store losses
  • The number of times the theft or fraud occurred
  • The accused’s intention for committing the theft
  • Whether the items were intended for sale to third parties or for personal use
  • The nature and closeness of the employee’s relationship with the store and his/her level of responsibility
  • The employee’s past criminal record
  • Other personal circumstances of the accused

Summary vs indictable theft cases in Ontario

All theft and fraud cases are considered “hybrid” offences, which means that the Crown can proceed either by summary conviction or indictment.

Because employee theft is generally regarded as an aggravated case of theft by the Ontario courts, the Crown is more likely to proceed by indictment.

Indictments not only lead to a potential jail sentence, but also problems with travel to the U.S. for Canadian citizens and potential immigration problems in Canada if the individual is not a Canadian citizen.

Employee theft from a vulnerable person in Ontario

Another aggravated form of employee theft is stealing from a vulnerable person. This includes deceit about payments or the direct theft of cash, jewelry or other valuables from elderly, mentally ill or handicapped people.

Caregivers, health workers, and other trusted personal care employees are often accused of this
type of employee theft. Because of the highly aggravated nature of this offence (a particularly serious breach of trust), conviction is likely to lead to jail time.

What to do if you are falsely accused of employee theft in Ontario

Being wrongly accused of employee theft (or any other crime) can expose individuals to reputational loss, loss of employment, and criminal penalties.

Whether it’s an accusation of stealing money from a cash register, taking merchandise from a loading dock or bookkeeping theft, there are harsh consequences in Ontario — especially if the amount is over $5,000.

Here are the steps you should take if you find yourself in this position:

  • Understand the seriousness of the situation — and the possible penalties you face.
  • Meet with a criminal defence lawyer to understand your rights, responsibilities, and options.
  • Assist your lawyer with investigating the alleged offense, assessing the prosecutor’s evidence to identify the main strengths and weaknesses in the case against you, and preparing a defence.
  • Consider a plea bargain: depending on the circumstances, a plea bargain may be the best option even if you’re innocent (to be discussed with your lawyer).

Statute of limitations for filing a case against an employer

The statute of limitations laws in Ontario prohibit anyone from filing a claim for civil damages more than two years after the cause of the damage occurred.

This means that if your employer fires you over wrongful accusations of theft, you have two years from the date of the dismissal to file a claim for damages. The problem is that a criminal court decision (and a possible appeal from it, if necessary) can take more than two years.

There are some notable exceptions to the limitations rule. These can be discussed with your criminal defence lawyer.

For legal advice about what to do if your employer has accused you of theft, speak to one of our criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa during a free consultation.