Date updated: Monday 8th July 2024

Since the start of the year we have been involved in advising a number of charities from which an employee is alleged to have stolen; our experience reflects regular news reports of theft from charitable organisations. 

We set out below key employment law steps and considerations for charities when dealing with allegations of theft:

Preliminary investigation

On receipt of an allegation, an initial investigation will be required to determine whether there is any basis to suspect theft. This will typically involve securing evidence and speaking to the employee involved.


It goes without saying that theft, if proven, is likely to be considered gross misconduct and, as there is a duty to protect charitable assets, immediate steps will need to be taken. This is likely to include suspending the accused employee. In reaching a decision to suspend, the charity will need to consider whether there are any alternatives to suspension (for example home-working or reduced/altered duties), together with why suspension is appropriate. This reasoning should be set out in any suspension letter to demonstrate a fair and reasonable process has been adopted. The allegations against the employee should also be clearly set out in any suspension letter.


At this point, careful consideration should be given with regard to reporting to the police, and also whether a serious incident report should be made. 


A full and thorough investigation into the allegations should be carried out. This will involve interviewing the accused employee, and anyone else who may have knowledge of the allegations. It may be that individuals need to be interviewed more than once as information is gathered and/or the allegations evolve. In some circumstances, specialist support from forensic accountants or IT specialists may be required. 

Any suspended employee should be kept updated during the investigation, particularly if new allegations arise. 


Once the investigation is complete, if there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations, then a disciplinary process will need to be commenced. It is important that the charity’s disciplinary policy is followed, together with the ACAS Code of Practice.

Key points for a fair process are:

  • Give reasonable notice of any disciplinary hearing, this is likely to be at least five working days;
  • Ensure the employee has been provided with the investigation report and relevant evidence in advance, so they can properly defend themselves;
  • The employee has a right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative;
  • At the disciplinary hearing, the employee should be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations and put forward any mitigation;
  • After the disciplinary hearing, a decision should be made by adopting the following approach:
    • Are the allegations proven?
    • Do the proven allegations amount to gross misconduct?
    • What is the appropriate sanction, including consideration of any mitigating circumstances?
  • Once the decision has been made, this should be communicated to the employee in writing;
  • The employee has the right to appeal any disciplinary decision.


Allegations of theft can be destabilising for a charity, and we often see an initial emotional response with feelings of disbelief or betrayal. Nevertheless, from an employment law perspective it is important that fair and reasonable processes are followed to mitigate the risk of an unfair dismissal claim. 

Situations like this can often be legally complex, with legal considerations including whistleblowing and discrimination risks, as well as potential unfair dismissal claims. Often they involve other legal disciplines including criminal, charity and data protection law. 

If you have concerns about theft in your charity, or other matters of gross misconduct, do contact our HR Consultants or Employment Solicitors for support.