Illegal activities are not uncommon in the workplace. In fact, internal threats have increased greatly over the past few years but in 2020, only 56% of organisations carried out an investigation into their worst incident. This shows a lack of response to illegal activities, with data theft, fraud and asset misappropriation increasing every year.

To know how to spot and respond to illegal activities, companies will need to know all the types of threats their business could face and the red flags that can indicate this is taking place in their business. 

Types of illegal activities

The most common illegal activities businesses face every year include:

  • Fraud
  • Asset misappropriation
  • Bribery
  • Corruption
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Confidentiality breaches
  • Data theft or misuse

Each illegal activity has its own waning bell. For example, employees who are committing fraud may refuse to share tasks, may constantly introduce new customers at an unrealistic rate or they might be making multiple claims against funds. 

Red flags of asset misappropriation include higher budgets than normal, lost workplace equipment and inventory shortages. 

Bribery and corruption can go hand in hand. They usually show up as employees trading with suppliers that offer higher prices, or products that the company doesn’t use. They may also show up as a drop in the delivery of products or missed deliveries. Bribery and corruption can be a cooperation between internal and external parties. 

Harassment and discrimination are a huge issue in workplaces today. Harassment and discrimination are considered illegal if the actions of an individual physically or mentally hurt another person. Not only do they count as illegal activities but also as unethical activities. The best way to detect harassment and discrimination is to build a culture where employees know they are valued, cared for and encouraged to share problems they’re facing. Staff will then come forward with anything they might have experienced or observed. 

Confidentiality breaches are becoming more and more common as more people and companies are now willing to pay for leaked product designs, internal information and future partnership details. Employees may also share confidential information without receiving payment for it to friends and relatives if they think the information released will affect the stock price. 

Employees within a company may misuse customer data for personal gain. Misuse of customer data generally revolves around scenarios that customers didn’t sign up for. This could include stealing the data and sharing it with a third party for their own purposes. 

illegal activities

Responding to illegal activities

Illegal activities by employees can have big consequences depending on how severe they are and hence, it’s important that they are taken seriously and responded to as quickly as possible. Here are three things to remember:

  • Be fair
  • Be consistent 
  • Be certain

Before you take any type of response, be certain as to what happened and refer to the employee handbook to ensure a fair and consistent response. A fair response will show employees that even though the disciplinary action that follows is harsh, the employers are treating everyone equally. 

Start with these:

  • Take away employee access
  • Speak with those involved quickly
  • Separate employees if required
  • Determine whether a suspension is needed
  • Start an investigation
  • Employ a case management system
  • Report the incident to external parties
  • Take disciplinary action

Take away employee access

Depending on the nature of the illegal activities, the company may need to take away employee access to sensitive data, bank accounts, employee profiles as well as other assets. For example, if the employee is committing credit card fraud, then the organisation will need to close that card to ensure that they are not using it for personal gain against the interests of the company. Quick action in this instance will ensure that no further funds are lost and there is a higher chance of fund recovery.

Speak with those involved quickly

If an employee has reported the illegal activities undertaken by a colleague, then it’s advisable to speak to all parties included in the report one by one. First, speak to the person who reported the crime and then to the accused employee. In sexual harassment cases, there may be more victims involved, so it’s important to identify all those affected so the situation can then be managed. 

Separate employees if required

Whether that is because employees are scheming together or due to harassment allegations, separating employees during work hours can be beneficial. In a harassment case, this could mean getting the victim away from the harasser. Even if an investigation hasn’t been finalised, it will assist in lowering tensions preventing situations from escalating. Don’t be accusatory. Stress that this decision is for the benefit of all parties. 

Determine whether a suspension is needed

Separation may not be enough in some cases. Especially if an employee is acting alone, the organisation will need to consider whether suspension is necessary. This usually depends on how severe the illegal activities are. If the business decides to suspend an employee, they will need to communicate with them in a written notice:

  • Why they are being suspended
  • For how long 
  • Whether it will be paid or unpaid
  • What this means for their position
  • Next actions

Start an investigation

The best response to suspected illegal activities is to start an investigation to figure out what exactly happened. The parties identified in previous steps will play a key role in building a timeline of events and recognising sources of evidence. Devices that were used for fraudulent activities may be confiscated, and witnesses may be called forward to provide their own account of events. 

This is why the interview stage is really important. Without a strong interview strategy, it might not be possible to establish credibility among the accused and the person making the report. Some things you might want to consider are:

  • Who to interview and in what order
  • Appropriate location
  • The right questions to ask
  • What attitude will you adopt going into the interview

The more information the investigator is provided with during the planning stage, the better the decisions will be during the upcoming stages as they will know what to expect

Employ a case management system

A case management system is the best friend of every investigator. They assist investigators with fast-tracking the investigation process while also ensuring that a fair outcome has been reached. Case management systems like Polonious can be used for online interviews, evidence storing and overall workflow improvement. Our clients get to focus on their core tasks while we take care of all the boring bits like paperwork and compliance. 

If you are looking to improve your case handling, get in touch for a demo!

Report the incident to external parties

Illegal activities may require the company to notify the relevant authorities about what happened and give any relevant evidence. If that’s required, another investigation usually follows the one the company completed to gather additional details and facts. In extreme cases, the accused may need to go to court and can face serious consequences such as fines, inability to leave the country and potentially prison. If the case needs to be referred to lawyers or law enforcement, Polonious’ simple Brief of Evidence builder can significantly reduce the time it takes to build a detailed case report and brief.

Take disciplinary action

If the incident doesn’t need to be disclosed to authorities, disciplinary action is the next step. Verbal or written warnings are not adequate for responding to illegal activities. The employee may need to be suspended without pay following the investigation or be demoted from their position. The company will need to consider all available options, including firing the employee if necessary. It is advisable that if the company decides to keep an employee, they build a regular training schedule to educate them on the impact of illegal activities. 

When an employee commits a crime, however small that is, it can greatly affect those around them. 

Always striving for prevention

The best scenario when it comes to illegal activities is not to have to deal with them in the first place. Focus on creating a culture of inclusion and trust, where employees are treated with respect and accountability is expected. On top of that, if policies are continuously enforced, all these factors will contribute to discouraging illegal activities and encouraging ethical practices. 

Are you investigating illegal activities?

If you clicked on this article, you are probably looking for the best ways to respond to illegal activities. At Polonious, we are ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certified, meaning that we prioritise the delivery of a high-quality and secure case management system. If you want to automate manual tasks, save money and time and achieve a more efficient investigation, reach out! We will be happy to show you all the benefits our system offers.