When you work at a college or university, you can have very different experiences than other employees in other fields. For instance, it can be very fast-paced, and people's futures depend on your ability to get things done on time. You are in charge of helping real people achieve their dreams while also managing your own career goals and expectations. Unfortunately, this kind of pressure can lead to college and university employees behaving in unexpected ways.
If you or someone you love is a college employee and has been accused of committing a theft or property damage, Lento Law Firm can help. Call today.
What Is Property Damage and Theft Exactly?
Property damage tends to refer to an injury, either to land, structures and minerals ("real property"), or anything else of value that someone can own, whether that item is intangible or physical ("personal property"). When an item of real or personal property is harmed, university employees usually have to report the damage or risk being liable themselves.
For instance, at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), employees are required to report any property damage to UCLA owned items to help mitigate departmental liability. According to their faculty handbook, if an employee violates any of the required policies and procedures, they may be sanctioned.
To determine whether sanctions are appropriate, the administration will work with the Academic Senate to review the issue. Sanctions cannot be imposed until the employee has a chance to defend themselves in a formal hearing.
And theft is usually defined as intentionally taking someone else's property without permission. At Suffolk University, employees are supposed to report any stolen property to the Risk Management department to find out if the university insurance policy covers it. If it is not reported, the university may make unnecessary assumptions of who is responsible for stealing it.
The Suffolk University Staff Handbook states that any theft of university or a co-worker's property is considered inappropriate conduct and thus subject to disciplinary action. Before any disciplinary action can be imposed, Suffolk University employees have an opportunity to defend themselves against such accusations.
Defenses to Property Damage & Theft Allegations
To properly defend yourself from an accusation of theft, you must be prepared to show that you did not intend to take or defraud the university (or a person on campus) of their personal property. And for a property damage accusation, you must show that it was either an accident, the property was not owned by the university, or that the damage was necessary to physically protect yourself.
For example, at the University of Pittsburgh, if an employee is suspected of theft or property damage a complaint must be submitted to the employee's immediate supervisor. The supervisor will meet with the complainant to review the complaint. If the complainant is not satisfied with the response the supervisor initiates, they can appeal it to the next appropriate supervisor or the Formal Complaint Review Committee.
The Review Committee will organize a hearing to review the accusations. During this hearing, the employee will have an opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony to support their side of the story. If Review Committee determines that the employee is responsible they will impose sanctions, which range from a warning, to suspension, or dismissal.
Examples of Property Damage & Theft
There are several examples of situations that could give rise to property damage and theft allegations, such as:
- Stealing electronics from campus and reselling them
- Redirecting financial aid funds for personal gain
- Abusing purchasing authority to defraud the university of money
- Losing a student's financial aid
- Accidentally dropping coffee on the office computer
- Damage to office furniture
- Moving computers to a new office and accidentally dropping them
How Will Your Employer Handle an Accusation of Property Damage or Theft?
Colleges and universities create specific policies and procedures that they expect their employers to abide by. These policies and procedures regulate how accusations against college employees must be handled. While the exact procedures vary, universities tend to follow the steps below:
- The university will contact the employee and notify them of the accusations.
- The university will set up an interview with the employee to discuss the allegations.
- During the interview, the university will ask the employee to explain the facts surrounding the incident.
- The university will review the interview and determine what preliminary sanctions should be imposed.
- A secondary hearing will take place to allow the employee to submit evidence and witness testimony to better defend themselves.
- The committee overseeing this hearing will determine whether the college employee did, in fact, commit the offenses and what sanctions should be imposed.
Many times, employees will have an opportunity to appeal this decision. When this happens, they will be expected to make the appeal on a particular ground, by a specific date, and to the correct office. The directions for an appeal are usually found in the determination letter you will receive from the committee that oversaw your hearing.
Appeals are your last chance to make sure the university hears your side of the story, which makes them quite important. If the idea of filing one seems overwhelming, an attorney-advisor can help ease some of that stress.
What Consequences Do Employees Face for Alleged Property Damage & Theft?
Every college and university will handle employee property damage and theft differently, but they will all have clear protocols for how to handle such allegations. Some of these protocols may include:
- Written warning for the behavior
- Disciplinary probation
- Suspension from their position, with or without pay
- Termination from their position, effective immediately
Other consequences for this behavior will occur as ramifications for the protocols above. For instance, some employees may find their mental health has been greatly affected by the accusations. This may impact how they relate to their loved ones, causing further stress. When an individual's mental health suffers, so does their ability to protect themselves. The protocols may also cause a loss of income and difficulty finding another job because of harm to the employee's reputation.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have spent years helping college employees defend themselves against property damage and theft accusations made by their employers. They understand how important your career is and how damaging these kinds of accusations can be to your reputation. They will work tirelessly to ensure you are not being subjected to any unnecessary punishments. You do not have to suffer through these complicated procedures alone. Attorney Lento can help. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation, or visit us online today.