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How to find out if your cleaning lady is stealing from you

Updated on July 3, 2012

Do you suspect your house staff is stealing from you?

Whether your house staff is live-in or part time here you will find short and sweet advice on how to confirm your suspicions if: The dog food may seem to finish sooner than usual. Clothes and dishes detergent need to be bought more often than before you hired your current help. You could have sworn you had leftovers from yesterday. Jars seem to disappear only to reappear later on. You can´t find your favorite T-shirt. Less food containers? All these are signs that your house staff may be stealing from you.

As always, some of the best advice comes from Grandma

What to do

So, something in the back of your mind tells you someone is stealing. Sometimes we feel bad because it may be food, it may be clothes, small amounts of household items and it seems silly to complain about the small losses. Petty theft is what this is called. And it truly is petty.

You know? it is not about the things that are missing but the principle. Stealing is wrong and if you don´t stop the person you become an accomplice, and if they steal from someone else guess what, you would have to share the fault.

Anyway, in my family we have used house staff in every generation. Live-in, live-out, once or twice a week, etc. depending on our financial situation. So I got trained by my grandmother (the wise woman in the picture) who used to have at least one live-in person and sometimes two. I have found out, on my own, another technique and here I am sharing them both. It is actually pretty simple.

It´s pretty simple

If you have live-in staff

Usually live-in staff have meals included in the deal so we will not worry about food. Usually, live-in staff take clothes or other smaller items. It has become less and less common to steal jewelry as this could be prosecuted. We can not compare the value of a used T-shirt or jeans to that of a heir-loom necklace.

Often, live-in staff come from far away, a different City or even State. If this is the case it is easy to find out if they are stealing. What my grandma told me to do was, on the day the staff will be leaving for a short vacation home, or if they are traveling home for the weekend or if they are leaving for good, all you need to do, once they are ready to go is, suddenly, need one last chore. Ask them to go to the supermarket, pick-up your child from school, go to nearest convenience store or pharmacy for one last thing to buy for you. The moment they are out it is time to go through their suitcases. Is this allowed by the law? Worry not, no one will ever know you did it unless there is a thief. And of course the thief will never reveal what happened.

It is at this key moment that you are able to recover everything they may have been thinking to take home with them. You quietly recover your items, leave everything as it used to be and, as soon as your staff comes back home you offer to take them and their suitcases to the train station, bus station, airport, etc. They will only find out what happened once they are unpacking... or:

It is up to you how you want to handle it. In my grandma´s case she simply didn´t hire them back and of course would not provide references. It was only mostly clothes that she found.

Once or twice a week staff

The "Avocado" technique

Who doesn´t love avocado! Ok, I know who, Indians, but that´s another story. Actually if your cleaning staff are from India you will have to substitute the avocado for something else that is also on the expensive side and is typical from India.

In my experience cheese is to mice what avocado is to ... some cultures. Ok, I will be honest. I´m also Mexican and I know all of us, latinamericans, LOVE avocado. So the best way to catch a ... actually, the best way to catch anyone is through their stomach!! Instead of counting how many tuna cans you have, or cokes, or weight the dog food or detergent just do something very simple. Leave a super tasty looking avocado (here is where you have to decide what will be most appealing to your staff) easily accessible at the counter. Actually you may want to leave a couple of them and maybe one that has already been cut but that still has some more meat to eat.

If your house staff has been stealing before it won´t be an issue for them to do it again. They will take one avocado or maybe just a bit from the one that is open already. Usually staff that is not live-in does not have the meals included, so if they have no problem taking even a little bit of food they may not have problem taking small amounts of other stuff. I am not a millionaire and I am not poor either. I am well to do enough to be able to hire staff, however, this doesn´t mean I want to give away stuff and especially I will not contribute to a bad habit to continue. They may start with food who knows what they may take next...

What if the above fails?

For once or twice a week staff

I have been living in the Mayan Riviera for the past 4 years. When I arrived I found out of something truly horrific, in my opinion. At the end of each day all the hotel staff had their purses/male purses checked... yes, to make sure they were not taking anything home. I got the following idea from that procedure. It is a bit drastic and it may not be for everyone provided you even will be at home to do it. You could tell your staff-to-be, before hiring them, that you are looking for a long term, reliable employee and that you do not want to have a bad experience and that, due to that, if they don´t mind, you would need to check their belongings, at the end of each day. If the person is really in need for a job and they are honest they will agree, although they may not like it at all. I know this goes against all advice regarding empowering your employees and such, but once you have been bitten you do not want to be bitten twice. Or as the saying goes: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice...

Another option is to simply choose random items and count how many you have before the staff arrives and how many there are after they leave. This is of course a lot more time consuming, but it will let you know, with certainty, whether or not they are taking stuff home.

Ok, you are sure. They are stealing. Now what?

It is up to you

So, stuff you were sure was there early in the morning is missing and none of your family members took it. You are certain, your staff is stealing. Personally I would fire them immediately and, after cooling down and recovering from the shock, I would start looking for someone new.

In my family, and my self, we never went to the police. We simply hired someone else. I believe my grandparents did tell them the reason. At least I remember this one cleaning lady that I almost caught stealing a few cents from the room I was staying at while visiting my grandparents. My grandfather told me he had fired her and did tell her the reason. I felt terrible, but then again, it wasn´t me who had done something wrong.

You can either let them know the reason or simply give them an excuse. If you tell them you realized they were stealing and they deny it you can tell them about the set up . I know the right thing to do is to tell them the truth. Personally I think it would be very embarrassing for them to hear that we caught them so I have simply told them that our financial situation has changed and that we can no longer afford to use their services.

When I hire the next person I let them know what happened to the previous one. I tell them the truth, that I found out they were taking stuff from our house and that I had to let them go because I wanted someone trustworthy, or that they were not doing a great job even after I had spoken to them, etc. depending on the reason.

They usually make sure to not repeat the same mistake the previous person had done and start out doing a great job

What got me to write about this topic

My personal experience :-/

I had already been suspecting for some time that our recently hired cleaning ladies were taking home some household items. We also noticed that the dog food seemed to be finishing too soon. We (my boyfriend and I) dismissed it as it being our imagination. Today I was getting excited about preparing tacos for lunch when I grabbed the avocado and wham! half of it was missing. Immediately I contacted my boyfriend to ask if he had eaten some and he said no. So, without planning it, I had proof that they were, indeed, taking stuff. I mean, they could or could not have been taking it in the past, ok, let´s give them the benefit of the doubt. But it was very clear they did take part of the avocado. They only spend 3 hours in our place so it´s not like they spend long hours without eating. I really feel uncomfortable with them taking stuff without asking for it. It´s not the half avocado, it´s the principle...plus all the previous times when stuff seemed to be missing.

This incident reminded me of when I was living in Toronto and the same thing started happening with our cleaning lady who was from Colombia. Knowing that avocado is a high commodity in our countries and being that it is not that cheap in Canada I set her up. I left 5 avocados in the fruit basket and told my then partner to watch what would happen. Lo and behold after work there were only 4 avocados left. This made me come up with the Avocado technique.

Oh well. I hope my advice can help someone. I know now cleaning ladies with bad habits may read this article and find ways to not get caught using these techniques. But hopefully before that happens a lot more will get caught and fired.

I guess tomorrow I will have to call my cleaning ladies to tell them that a financial situation has come up for us... It´s such a pity because they do an awesome job.

Please share with us!

Comments? Suggestions? New ideas?

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      Judy 7 weeks ago

      Mine called to see how I was doing after surgery and I told her my husband was home and I needed no service or help and she asked if they gave me anything for pain, I said yes and then she came by with flowers and candy with her two small children after my surgery and when she left my pain meds were gone too. I filed a report, but it's my word against hers.

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      Mirad 10 months ago

      Oh my goodness -- I suspect my housekeepers are stealing and it's funny because during their last service, I asked them to clean the fridge and noticed that my half-eaten avocado was gone. I was annoyed as I thought she had thrown it out. Now I know the truth!

    • Maria-Zuzeena profile image
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      Maria-Zuzeena 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Laura, Thanks for your comments. I know it doesn´t sound nice, I myself don´t enjoy having to take that posture but, what else to do? do you have any suggestions? I´m always interested in listening to others and take what works =)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      This started out awesome but went too far at the avocado thing. Also the checkin the bag thing umm nope! not funny!