Legal Dictionary

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Employee Theft

Employee Theft is the fraudulent taking of an employer's property by someone who has been entrusted with that property. Employee Theft, also known as Embezzlement, is prosecuted in California under Penal Code section 503. An employee could also be charged with Grand Theft (Penal Code 487) or Petty Theft (Penal Code 484) depending on the value of the property taken and the circumstances surrounding the theft. Some of the most common Employee Theft scenarios include:

  • Taking money from a store's cash register
  • Using the company's credit card for personal employee purchases
  • Using the company's checking account to make personal purchases or pay for personal expenses
  • Stealing merchandise from the company store or warehouse
  • Giving unauthorized discounts to friends and family for company merchandise, and
  • Transferring money from a company account into an employee's personal account.

To prove a defendant guilty of Employee Theft or Embezzlement, the prosecutor must prove the following elements under Penal Code section 503:

  1. An owner entrusted property to the defendant;
  2. The owner did so because he or she trusted the defendant;
  3. The defendant fraudulently converted / used that property for his or her benefit; and
  4. When the defendant converted or used that property, he or she intended to deprive the owner of its use.

The crime of Embezzlement differs from standard theft crimes like Petty Theft and Grand Theft. In Embezzlement cases, the employee must have occupied a position of trust with the owner (employer) of the property before it was stolen.

Employee Theft or Embezzlement can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the property taken and the defendant's prior criminal history. The punishment ranges from six months in county jail to three years in state prison. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a criminal case. If you or someone you know is being investigated or charged with Employee Theft or Embezzlement speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney before you speak to anyone, especially law enforcement or your employer.