With the arrival of the holiday season on Thanksgiving Day, Woodward & Lothrop will begin paying $1,000 rewards to employes who turn in co-workers for stealing from its stores--double the customary bounties.
"It's an offensive-type program but it buys you protection," said Lewis Shealy, Woodies' vice president for asset protection.
Woodies has paid out $20,000 this year to employes who tell on a co-worker, he said. During most of the year, the reward is a minimum of $500 plus half of what Woodies recovers if an employe is found dishonest and the episode results in termination or prosecution. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Woodies pays a minimum of $1,000. The informers remain anonymous through the process.
Shealy added that Woodies' policy is to prosecute any employe found stealing, and to publicize the theft and apprehension in the company newspaper. Although the name of the thief generally isn't published, his or her store, department and job is.
The program is one of many put in place by the Washington area department store chain and other stores in the last decade to cut down on a growing problem of employe theft. Other programs at Woodies include:
* Intensified screening prior to employment. (More than 50 percent of employe thefts are by employes who have been with the company less than 90 days).
* Designation of certain doors for employes to enter and exit the building, and the right to inspect the employes' packages, briefcases and handbags, which is made a condition of employment.
* In-house training programs to acquaint employes with the consequences of stealing.
* Closed circuit television and surveillance programs employing tags on clothing that set off detection equipment at store exits. The tags are normally removed by clerks when articles are sold.
Woodies' employe theft has gone down as a result of the programs, even with the recession and unemployment--conditions that ordinarily would have resulted in an increase in theft, Shealy said. "Over 95 percent of the employes are honest," Shealy emphasized. Of 8,000 employes, "less than 3 percent a year are apprehended now for dishonesty," he added.
Giant Food Inc. is another local company that also has a "tip line" and rewards employes whose tip results in an apprehension or prosecution.
But other companies seem reluctant to set up any kind of informant program. A spokesman for Sears Roebuck, where employe theft is up, said the chain has begun installing cameras in ceilings in its stores "right out in the open" and places the monitors in obvious places.
"They are not hidden; the employes and customers know they're there," he said. They have helped, though. "Where we've had this camera system in for more than a year, it's very effective. It cuts down on shoplifting and theft," he said.