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HR 101 – Trapping and Entrapment – Part 2

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Legislation and Best Practice.

Last week we had a look at what is considered legal (trapping) and what is considered illegal (entrapment).

Just to make sure that you are really clear on the difference (because it is really easy to get confused between the two), I am going to tell a story, so let’s bring in the protagonists. Mike owns a small retail stand outlet in a busy square and George is one of the sales staff. Mike’s store sells sweets and cold drinks as well as biltong and dry wors and some burgers and sandwiches type fast food. Mike is experiencing a huge shrinkage problem that only started when George started working at the stand. Mike suspects that George is either giving stock to clients without ringing it up or helping himself to stock for his own consumption or taking it home. Mike hires a new staff member, let’s call him Tim who is an ex-policeman. Tim will pose as the new employee and who will ‘keep an eye’ on what George is doing and will ‘learn’ from him.

Tim watches what George is doing and thinks that he can see that stock is sold to clients without being rung up on the till. Tim also watches to see if George consumes biltong, dry wors or sandwiches and burgers without paying for them. Tim, still pretending to be ‘learning from George’ asks George to show him how to serve the customers without putting it through the till. George refuses. Tim then makes himself a burger and also one for George and does not pay. Both men eat the burgers. Tim then reports this to Mike and George is disciplined for theft and summarily dismissed.

In this case, Mike (through Tim’s actions) had set up a situation where George was pressured into eating a burger that was not paid for. You see although George may have helped himself to a burger without paying for it, by himself – without Tim’s encouragement he may not have taken it at that time. Mike would be found guilty of ‘entrapment’ in this case.

Trapping an employee is, however perfectly legal. In the above case, if George had agreed to show Tim ‘how to’ serve a customer without putting the payment through the till and even shown him how to do it with the next customer that came in – this would have been considered as legal trapping, but because Tim helped himself to the burgers and ate one himself that the line has been crossed.

Actually it reminds me of a TV program that I once watched where a policeman was under ‘deep cover’ in the mob and he was called upon to “kill” someone by the mob boss (as a token of his loyalty). He was in a really bad space because if he did kill the person anything that he (or the police) tried to pin onto the mob boss would be considered ‘entrapment’.

So be clear on what it is that you are doing when you set the trap up for the employee as the lines can often be quite blurred and if you are in any kind of doubt, seek professional assistance.