Fraud probe | Employee narrowly avoids prison after pocketing £10k sick pay while working second job

Employee narrowly avoids prison after pocketing £10k sick pay while working second job

A council worker has narrowly avoided prison after claiming more than £10,000 in sick pay while secretly working a second job.

Samantha Harris was a youth support practitioner at Suffolk County Council when she dishonestly claimed the five-figure sick pay sum between December 2022 and May 2023, magistrates heard.

The court heard that Harris became the subject of suspicion when a care agency told fraud detectives that she was working for them, despite being signed off sick with the council.

An investigation was launched and uncovered that Harris had been working for a private agency during five spells of absence – the longest of which was two months.

The court heard Harris also exaggerated illnesses so that GPs would provide sick notes to bolster her claims of ill health. On one occasion, she shared a picture of a positive Covid test with colleagues, magistrates were told.

The probe found that Harris had been paid £10,565.25 in sick pay and employer contributions.

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She was sentenced to six months in jail, a sentence which was suspended for two years, and she must also complete 15 days of rehabilitation activity. Harris will also have to pay back a total of more than £17,000 in costs and compensation for her crimes.

After Harris' sentencing, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Bobby Bennett: "Today sends a very strong message to anyone thinking of defrauding the public purse to think again.

"The behaviour of the individual was unacceptable and the vast majority of officers would never act this way. We will not tolerate fraud and we will rigorously investigate all allegations of fraud."

Combatting employee fraud

Over the past year, we have seen numerous stories of employees sabotaging their employer.

Whether it's a finance professional embezzling money, or a retail worker stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of products, the cost-of-living crisis has caused a surge in these types of incidences - posing a new type of internal threat for employers.

The Critical Role of Job Architecture in Organisational Effectiveness

The Critical Role of Job Architecture in Organisational Effectiveness

It can be difficult to know where to start with a job architecture.

When faced with a chaotic picture of multiple job titles across various business areas and regions, the response can be to put this task into the “too hard” box or delay it for another year in the hope that it sorts itself out.

However, this approach can create issues, open organisations up to compliance risk, not to mention slow down strategic people initiatives.

RoleMapper’s Guide to Job Architecture offers practical insights and recommendations for HR professionals to design and maintain an effective organisational architecture.

You will learn:

  • The importance of a future-proofed and dynamic job architecture

  • Its benefits and the key steps to creation and implementation

  • The need for a job architecture to support job catalogue, job families and job levelling

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For example, the recent story of the Eugene Weekly – a print magazine in Oregon – gained traction, as the company was forced to dismiss its entire workforce and close its doors after it was left struggling financially when a finance employee stole tens of thousands of dollars from them. Whilst Facebook's diversity lead admitted to stealing millions from the company to fund their lavish lifestyle.

Research from insurance company Zurich found that staff are increasingly stealing from their employer to support them through the cost-of-living crisis. In fact, 500 employees are caught stealing every month in the UK, and this has been on the rise.

Economic crime and transparency bill

These figures come at a time when a new ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offence has been added to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, which is expected to be implemented sometime this year.

The Act has been described as the most significant change to the law in this area. Key reforms include directors and partners requiring identity verification, the introduction of Authorised Corporate Service Providers (ACSP), and stricter compliance and registration requirements for LPs.

Most notably, the act also introduces a new offence for directors when they fail to prevent fraud occurring in the company. In this sense, businesses will be liable if they fail to prevent staff from committing an economic crime – including false accounting.

Therefore, preventing internal fraud isn’t just of importance from a business perspective, but from a legal perspective too.

How can employers prevent sabotage from happening?

Employers can prevent sabotage by implementing various measures, including careful recruitment, establishing accountability, and using IT tools to detect unexpected activities within the network.

The recent Bill, which is likely to be implemented soon, highlights the importance of businesses having adequate authentication processes and checks and balances to ensure your employees aren’t doing anything they shouldn’t be or putting your business in danger. Here are some specific steps that can be taken to prevent employee sabotage:

Thorough recruitment process

Conduct comprehensive reference checks, a reliable interview process, and employee vetting to identify any potential concerns early on. Despite this, employers shouldn’t discriminate against those who have committed a crime in the past – just because they have previously, doesn’t mean they will do it again. However, the recruitment process, and ensuring a good candidate–employer fit, does play a part in whether staff might be tempted to commit a crime at work – low engagement and levels of loyalty can often lead to this wrongdoing.

IT tools and background checks

Probably the most effective way of preventing employee-related fraud and sabotage, because it doesn’t give rise to human error, is setting authentication and authorisation processes within the business. IT tools can set thresholds and alerts for unexpected activities within the network and conduct background checks on individuals hired for critical IT tasks to minimise the risk of internal sabotage, putting barriers in place and making the possibility of fraud minimal.

Treat employees well

Perhaps it goes without saying, but creating a positive work environment and addressing any grievances promptly greatly reduces the likelihood of disgruntled employees engaging in sabotage. Employees who feel valued and fairly treated are less likely to engage in fraudulent behaviour, as they are more loyal to the company and less inclined to act against its interests – a strong company culture that promotes ethical behaviour and openness can deter employees from committing fraud.

A major aspect of this is treating employees well even when they're leaving your company, as a disgruntled soon-to-be-leaving worker could certainly cause problems for your organisation. “Beware the wrath of a disgruntled ex-employee! Whether it’s a scathing glass door review or a confidentiality breach, the damage can be enormous,” says Susie Al-Qassab, senior consultant at Bellevue Law. “Redundancies of any kind will always hurt, but they can be done fairly and respectfully, and if that’s recognised by everyone in the process then it will minimise bad feeling. Genuine and concerted efforts to redeploy and support outgoing employees to find a new job also creates enduring goodwill.

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“Many businesses may require additional contractual assurances and protections from exiting employees, which can be achieved through settlement agreements, but again this should be approached fairly and reasonably by the employer. This is perhaps the most important lesson yet that a transactional and dehumanising approach to your people can have devastating consequences. Dignity at work is priceless.”

By implementing these measures, employers can reduce the risk of employee sabotage and protect their business from potential harm. It’s not an employer’s fault if they were deceived and betrayed by a member of their team. However, because there are things you can do as an employer to create checks and balances within the organisation, if you do face sabotage, you don’t want it to be down to your own negligence.

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