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The sandwich thief

Employees continue to eat food from the fridge that does not belong to them even though the food items are clearly labeled with a co-worker's name!

What do you do about food theft in the office? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous

It is galling that anyone in your workplace would think it’s okay to take what isn’t theirs. In most dictionaries, that’s the definition of “to steal.” Not only is their behavior unacceptable, letting them get away with it is unacceptable as well.

If you know who the perpetrator is, the first step is to talk to him. In the conversation he must acknowledge he has acted wrongly, and he must apologize. Anything less and you should be prepared to go to your manager to report the theft. Challenge him by asking: “John, I want to talk to you about something that is very frustrating to me. My lunch is missing from the refrigerator, and it seems you have taken it. Why would you do that?” If John accepts responsibility and stops taking food in the future, then let the matter rest there as a lesson learned. If he doesn’t take responsibility and resolve the situation to your satisfaction, then be prepared to take the next step of talking to your manager about the problem.

If you don’t know who is taking the food, report the problem to your manager and be prepared to propose a course of action. As a starting point, suggest that the department or team discuss the problem at its next meeting. Hopefully, by airing the issue, the perpetrator will get the message and stop before he or she gets caught and it becomes a matter for his or her employment record. As frustrating as it may be, it might be necessary to take proactive steps to protect your food from the food thief. Consider purchasing a small insulated lunch container that can keep your food fresh without putting it in the refrigerator. Keeping the container at your desk instead of the communal fridge will foil the perpetrator. As annoying as it is to have to make such a purchase, it does guarantee that your lunch will be waiting for you at noon time.

The reality is that stealing in any form is unethical and should not be tolerated: even stealing another person’s lunch. After all, if the perpetrator is willing to steal from you and thinks he should get away with it, what else is he willing to claim as his and how deceptive is he willing to be about the work he does? This issue may well be bigger than just a sandwich.

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