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She Saw a Coworker Stealing Cash

Dear Midas Jones – I work for a small, family owned, retail store that sells souvenirs to tourists here in Salt Lake City. I am one of a half-dozen employees. Also working in the store are the married couple who own the store and their teenage daughter. We have a petty cash box that is used for small purchases and every morning it has $200 in it. If one of us needs some copying done across the street, a box of cash register tape, etc., we just take some money from the box, purchase the supplies, and put the receipt and change back in the box. One of us adds up the receipts and the cash in the box every night, gives the receipts to one of the owners, and they give us the cash from the register to replenish the petty cash box. Last Saturday, “Anita” and I were working late doing some stocking for a sale. Anita didn’t notice that I was watching when she quickly knelt down behind the counter, quietly opened the cash box, took a few twenties from the box, and tucked them in her bra. I silently backed out of the room and pretended I hadn’t seen anything. I was startled and didn’t know what to do about what I had seen. We were closed on Sunday and Monday as usual. First thing Tuesday morning, Anita said she had to run across the street for some Windex to clean the counters (we had cleaned them on Saturday night). She took some money from the box, returned with Windex, and put change back in the box. That night, the petty cash count was perfect. I guess Anita needed a weekend loan but she returned the cash she borrowed with the change from the Windex purchase. I haven’t told Anita or anyone else that I saw her take the money. I feel uncomfortable about what I saw and I feel like I should do something, but I’m not sure what. What do you think I should do? – Confused

Dear Confused – I agree with your interpretation of events. It does indeed look like Anita needed a few extra bucks for the weekend and was able to replace the cash by Tuesday. There are other explanations, but they seem pretty improbable to me. First, you must realize that you are the one with the problem. Anita is happy because she successfully borrowed and then replaced the money. Your co-workers and employers are happy because they do not know about Anita’s temporary expropriation of store funds. Only you know the truth and only you are upset. This is typical. Usually the person who knows the truth is upset and those who are deluded are happy. 

The principles of Machiavellianism say that you should choose the best course of action from among all possible actions. So, what are your choices? You can rat out Anita to your employers, and she might confess or she might say you are lying because you hate her. You can confront Anita, and she might tell you a hard-luck story about needing the cash to purchase formula for her baby and beg you not to rat her out. Or, you can do nothing. How can you choose which is best among these three options? Which of these actions can benefit you most? Ratting on Anita will surely cause some turbulence in the work place, but if your goal is to get Anita fired because you dislike her or because you want to ingratiate yourself with your bosses then it may be worth the emotional stress you and everyone else will experience. However, it may well be that your bosses will come to distrust you because you did not come to them immediately. If you want something from Anita, you can confront her in private and simply say, “Hey, Anita. Just thought I’d mention to you that I saw you stealing from the petty cash box a couple of weeks ago.” If you choose this course of action, say nothing more, and do not respond to Anita’s questions about what you intend to do with the knowledge. It is better for Anita to fear you since she is certainly not going to love you after this conversation. The problem is that Anita might be the kind of personality who will then hate you, and you might be met in the parking lot by her boyfriend who quietly tells you that if you make Anita unhappy, then he will make you unhappy. You do not sound like the kind of person who could deal well with this. You can do nothing and use Anita as a case study in human nature. There is apparently more to Anita than meets the eye. It might be interesting to know more about her by observing from afar. Do not judge Anita too harshly because you do not know why she took the cash, only that she did. Your employers might well be skimming cash from the business to avoid reporting it to IRS (most family business do) and even you might occasionally speed on the freeway, so Anita is probably not the only law-breaker working there. So, if I were you I’d do nothing, except watch Anita a little more closely in the future.

Instead, take some time to think about how this job – low pay, crappy schedule, no future – helps you move toward your own goals in life. You sound like a smart woman, but you are too focused on others and need to spend more time thinking about yourself. -- Good Luck, Midas

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