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I caught a coworker stealing – am I a tattletale if I report her?

Q. I found evidence that one of my coworkers is taking money from the petty cash fund. It’s not much, but it’s still stealing. The question is: Do I tell management? I want to be honest, but I don’t want to be labeled as a tattletale.

A. Your discomfort about being a “tattletale” is understandable. However, if you saw your coworker confiscating funds, it’s probable that others in your company have as well; they are just as confounded on how to deal with this situation as you are.

Let’s look at your choices:

•    You can inform your boss of what you saw. Will this option cause turmoil in the workplace? Sure. Your coworker may or may not confess. Your employer may choose to set up a trap to catch the employee “in the act,” which would provide more solid proof that this employee or another is the thief. Either way, this is scenario puts you knee-deep in the quagmire.  

•    You can confront your coworker, who may or may not deny the accusation. If you broach the subject with her, do it in private where you might say, “The other day I saw you taking money from the petty cash fund.” Leave it as an open statement and see where the conversation goes. Do let your coworker know that if she doesn’t inform your supervisor of the theft, then you will be obligated to do so. This will more than likely end any collegial working relationship and may escalate into a your-story-versus-your-coworker’s-story situation that involves the entire office. However, your candor offered her an opportunity to make good on her behavior before being accused of a crime.

•    Or, you can do nothing. If you choose this option, keep a close eye on her from now on. This has ethical as well as practical consequences: if your employer later finds out you knew, you may be in trouble as well.

How can you choose which is best among these three options? Let’s remember Luke’s Gospel and the parable of the unjust land manager charged with the oversight of his master’s wealth. He was able to broker a deal between the rich landowner and the tenants so that his master received an equitable return on his land and the tenants paid a just tax. Perhaps your role will be to broker a similar deal between your coworker and your employer by helping them to settle their differences.  

May your job bring you joy.