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Employer accused me of stealing! Can I be prosecuted? Do I have grounds for a lawsuit?

San Francisco, CA |

I have been working for a company for 7 years. I was fired (asked to find money or bring in the keys and uniform). On Saturday I was closing Manager and 523 is missing from the deposit. On camera it shows me counting the money and leaving the store with my phone and a soda in my hand.

It also shows me walking through the store with another employee (driver who makes the drops) as he gets in his car I give him the deposit.

The money missing from the safe is 523. My employer kept saying maybe I took the money home, maybe its in my car. I explained to them that I did not take the money and why do they keep trying to say it like I did.
I wasnt notified of missing money until that following Friday (5 days). I feel as though the person opening is responsible. She opened the next day.

Attorney Answers 2


  1. It would be unusual to have grounds for a lawsuit under the facts you described, though more information might change my impression. First, an employer is entitled to act on incorrect, unreasonable or even ridiculous information. Unfortunately, employees and job applicants have very few employment rights, and employers have a lot of leeway in how they choose to run their businesses. In general, an employer can be unfair, obnoxious or bad at management. An employer has no obligation to warn an employee that he or she is not performing as the employer wants. It’s not a level playing field. An employer hires employees to provide work for its benefit, not for the benefit of the employees. Don't expect the employer to take care of its employees; it doesn’t have to and it rarely does.

    There are some limitations on what an employer can do, mostly in the areas of public policy (such as discrimination law or whistle blowing), contract law, union-employer labor relations, and constitutional due process for government employees. Please see my guide to at-will employment in California which should help you understand employment rights: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/an-overview-of-at-will-employment-all-states. After you take a look at the guide, you may be able to identify actions or behavior that fits one of the categories that allows for legal action. If so, an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney may be helpful.

    There is a small chance you could pursue a defamation claim, but this would require proof the employer communicated a factual statement (as opposed to an opinion) that you stole money. Note it would be a true statement to say you were fired for suspected theft, because that is what happened.

    Nothing stops the employer from turning you in for prosecution, but from what you describe, the video does not show you stealing, so the prosecutors would have to find some other way of proving the employer's allegation. Certainly they have more important things to deal with these days than the POSSIBLE theft of under $1,000 from a private business.

    Your employer could choose to sue you in Small Claims Court for embezzlement or a similar offense, but again, it will have to do better than present a suspicion. Your employer could also file against you in Superior Court, but the filing fee is almost as high as the amount the employer is trying to find, so it wouldn't make sense for the employer to do so. Still, you never know what an employer will do.

    You are probably better off to file a claim for unemployment benefits and devote your attention to finding another job. It will be awkward to explain why you lost your last job but perhaps you can do some volunteer work in the interim to pad your resume.

    Regarding unemployment: Generally, a person claiming unemployment benefits (a “claimant”) is eligible for benefits if he or she is: (1) out of work due to no fault of his or her own; AND (2) physically able to work; AND (3) actively seeking work; AND (4) ready to accept work. Details about eligibility for unemployment benefits can be found on the web site of the California Employment Development Department (EDD) here: http://www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/FAQ_-_Eligibility.htm#Whataretheeligibilityrequirements
    Your employer may claim you were fired for theft, but without proof that you stole, you should still receive benefits.

    Employment rights come from the state and federal legislatures. One of the best things people can do to improve their employment rights is vote for candidates with a good record on pro-employee, anti-corporate legislation. Another way to protect employment rights is to form or affiliate with a union, or participate in a union already in place.

    I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.

    twitter.com/MikaSpencer *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***


  2. YOu should contact an attorney who can eplore with you whether or not you have a wrongful termination action against this employer.
    Firing you under the pretext of stealing - what type of employment history do you have? You've beent here for 7 years - at the least they should have conducted a thorough investigation, invterviewed all other employees who handled the deposit/money and if so, why were you treated differently?
    Call my office on Monday for a consultation, if you like.

    This is my opinion and should not be construed as legal advise for your specific case as there are many more facts which you have not provided.