An occupational crime occurs when an individual takes advantage of his legal occupation in order to commit an illegal act. Theft, for example, is considered to be a form of occupational crime when one takes advantage of his employment to steal from his employer. Occupational crimes generally fall into the larger category of white collar crimes. White collar crimes are almost exclusively financial in nature and are generally committed by those with respectable social standing. Both are generally nonviolent and aimed toward personal gain rather than harming another person.
There are two main traits that characterize almost every occupational crime. Occupational crimes almost always result in financial gain to the person committing the crime. Such crimes also harm the perpetrator's employer, usually through the loss of finances or assets. An occupational crime may be as minor as the theft of office supplies or as major as large-scale embezzlement of company funds.
Occupational crimes are closely related to both workplace crimes and occupational deviance, but there are significant differences that separate the three forms of crime. Occupational crime almost always involves a desire for financial gain or at least an attempt to avoid financial loss. The term "workplace crime" is usually used to refer to standard criminal activities, such as assault or rape, that are committed in the workplace. The opportunities provided by the nature or location of employment do not necessarily contribute to the crime in cases of workplace crime. Occupational deviance involves inappropriate workplace behavior such as sexual harassment or drinking during work.
The ability to commit occupational crime is not dependent on one's position within a company, but some crimes can be more easily committed by people with significant status. A waiter, for example, could misreport tips or pocket money instead of putting it into a cash register, but he likely could not embezzle significant amounts of money, as an individual with access to a company's corporate accounts could. Greater crimes, though, have greater stakes; an individual who steals millions of dollars will suffer a much greater penalty than one who steals office supplies.
The consequences for occupational crime vary greatly based on the employer and the extent of the damage to the company. Minor crimes such as petty theft may not even result in termination from work; they could simply result in suspension. More significant crimes resulting in greater damage to the company can result in termination, fines, or even prison time.