Q. I've just discovered that my PA has been using our corporate account to pay for personal taxi journeys. If it was anybody else, I'd sack her for misconduct - but she's worked with me for years and I can't do without her. Would a stern warning suffice?
Jeremy says: Your PA has stolen money from your company. She is a thief. Casual workplace pilfering can seem different in kind from bag-snatching. There's an insidious sliding scale of offences that makes it hard to determine where exactly the line is and when it has been crossed.
Millions of people have pocketed an office ballpoint or used the franking machine for a personal letter and thought nothing of it. It's easy to see how people get very gradually corrupted. But by charging up personal taxis, your PA has defrauded the company of substantial sums of money.
You need first to examine your own behaviour. Have you sometimes encouraged her to take a taxi home on the company after working late? Because she has worked with you well for a very long time, have you turned the odd blind eye? In other words, could she have persuaded herself that the occasional personal taxi was all part of the deal?
Once you are certain that there are no significant mitigating circumstances, there are two things you must do. You should confront her with the evidence and get her agreement to repay the company for any indisputably illegitimate claims she has made.
And, before doing so, you must tell someone senior in your company exactly what you know, what you propose to do about it and get their formal agreement. If you keep this knowledge to yourself, you become an accomplice, and should your PA's transgressions ever became public knowledge, that would lead to serious consequences for you.
However personally painful you find it, if you can't obtain such an agreement, you have no choice but to sack her.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems on firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.