‘Right to steal’ repeal eyed

The public will be able to weigh in on Thursday at a hearing on House Bill 26, which would repeal the so-called “right to steal” law that was passed last year without a peep, but became a big campaign issue among those who now have control of the Legislature. Last year’s law changed the definition of “gross misconduct” in state employment law by replacing the phrase “dishonesty” with “theft of an amount greater than $500.” Supporters of the repeal say it gives those stealing $499 a free ride. In reality – even under the new law – workers won’t be able to collect benefits for being fired for plain, ordinary misconduct, including theft of the smallest amounts, such as using the company copier for personal use. At issue is whether that time you spent working for the employer you just stole from would count in determining future benefits if you are laid off for a legitimate reason in a future job. Supporters of the law – who include state Department of Employment Security officials – argue that these workers could be denied benefits from a future job for a relatively minor offense, and the standard for gross misconduct should be a felony — in line with other offenses mentioned in the definition – “arson, sabotage, felony, assault which causes bodily injury, criminal threatening.” That’s why there is a $500 threshold, the same threshold that changes a misdemeanor into a felony. But opponents claim that employee theft contributes to about half of what businesses have to write off as “shrinkage,” and any loosening of standards on employee theft is a bad idea. The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee will hold hearings on the bill beginning at 2 p.m., Thursday, in Room 307 of the Legislative Office Building. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEWS

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