update: a coworker stole my spicy food, got sick, and is blaming me

Remember the letter-writer in July whose coworker stole his spicy food, got sick, and blamed him for it? And HR was blaming him too? Here’s the (kind of amazing) update.

I ended up being fired by HR, as she said there was enough of a case to get rid of me before the top boss came back. I consulted a lawyer who sent a letter to the company informing them that I was considering legal action. The letter contained the reasons for doing so and an account of what happened.

One week later, I got a call from the guy who owns the company asking me to come back, with an apology. Both the HR woman and the thief have been “let go.” He also gave me a very generous raise, I assume to gloss everything over. I accepted and am now back at work.

As much as I hate to go based on office talk, it seemed that the HR woman and the food thief may have been romantically involved. They were seen a lot outside work together, etc. So I assume it was her protecting him. She may have even believed him and thought I was trying to frame him or something, who knows. I doubt I will get an answer now.

Right now I’m working in the previous position with almost double my paycheck, so it’s a great turnaround. The boss also opened more doors for me, offering different training courses that I’ll be paid for. It’s obviously to keep me happy and stop me from taking any legal action, but what more could I ask for? Something unreasonable happened and it’s been more than corrected. I’d have been happy with just having my job back.

I’d rather have not gone though the whole thing at all though. I just hope I never have to experience this kind of thing again. I don’t really have a support group so was on the edge of losing my apartment etc. Anyway, thanks for the advice. I had nowhere to turn!

{ 281 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Jerry Vandesic

      This is probably the first time that I have ever seen a letter from a lawyer to an employer have any real (positive) effect. Congratulations!

      Reply
      1. Winston

        It was because the person with the actual authority wasn’t aware of what happened, not because the letter changed anyone’s mind.

        Reply
      2. Crazy Canuck

        Just noting that some legal cases involving businesses also end up involving NDAs. So hypothetically, I could have had a kick-ass lawyer totally own a former business owner who repeatedly broke the law and got me a very nice settlement that I can not talk about. Hypothetically.

        Reply
        1. Database Developer Dude

          Hypothetically speaking, and considering no one here knows your real identity, what might an example of actions done be of a business owner who repeatedly breaks the law such that he or she has to settle with the former employee for a very nice settlement?

          Reply
    2. INTP

      YAAAY!

      These egregiously bizarre situations usually don’t have a happy resolution, I’ve noticed. (Remember the dog allergy person?) So glad it happened in this case, finally.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        Yes! Usually, there is no cure for crazy, but it sounds like the crazy didn’t come from the top in this case.

        I would also have loved to be a fly on the wall when Big Boss got that letter and had the HR person in to explain to him EXACTLY what had happened.

        Reply
  1. Althea

    That sounds like an unreasonable amount of stress on you, who did nothing wrong – but I’m glad it turned out so well for you, OP!

    Reply
    1. Edith

      Oh to have been a fly on the wall when the HR woman and food thief were fired… I would so love to know how they defended their actions to the higher ups.

      Reply
      1. Cheerleader Today!

        The HR person might have had the title “HR” but the actions she took make it very clear that in no way was she a professional or competent HR practitioner. I am happy to see this employee finally had things turn out right and kudos that he was able to go back to that workplace and make a positive contribution again. A lot of people would find it difficult to do that. Reading this update had me feeling a big cheering routine coming on.

        It amazes me though that this [Not really an HR practitioner] was able to create this mess as far as it went [firing] without the owner either being aware or taking action until the letter from the lawyer showed up. Hopefully this business owner will hire a competent HR person and ensure that this type of travesty can’t happen again.

        Reply
        1. Annonymouse

          Well OP was fired before boss came back from being away and HR could have easily lied about why they fired OP.

          Boss: Hi everyone, I’m back! Hey, where’s OP?
          Bad HR Rep: Oh, we had to let OP go for inappropriate behaviour.
          Boss: What? What did they do?
          BHRR: They fought with Lunch Thief and hurt them physically.

          (In reality not in that order and disagreeing isn’t always fighting)

          Boss: Really? That’s terrible! Keep up the good work BHRR!

          So I can imagine the shock, outrage and horror once OP sent the letter with the recount and reasons they were taking legal action……

          Reply
  2. AFRC

    Karma is a beautiful thing – I’m sorry you had to deal with this, OP, but I am SO HAPPY that it worked out better for you in the end!

    Reply
    1. TheCupcakeCounter

      I thought the boss backed the OP up repeatedly but was ignored by the HR lady. My take was always that HR was rolling over everyone who defended the OP.

      Reply
      1. Ellie H.

        Yes, he wrote in the original letter:
        “My boss is on my side, but HR seem to be trying to string me up. Their behavior is quite aggressive. Even if my boss backs me up, they just ignore everything he says. (As in, he would say “That’s clearly not the case” and the HR lady wouldn’t even look in his direction and continued talking.)”

        Reply
          1. Annonymouse

            It depends.
            I work for a small company and I supervise the front of house staff.

            If the operations manager (not the owner) wanted to fire someone on my team and I wanted them to stay he has that authority even though I’m their direct boss.

            Also depends on what the owner has decided HRs responsibilities are.

            Reply
    2. Mustache Cat

      We’re really quick to call managers “spineless” here, I’ve noticed, when they are less than perfect in defending their employees.

      Reply
      1. Katie F

        And in this case that’s especially weird, since the OP was clera that their boss was on their side and had done what they could to try and get HR to reasonable.

        Reply
  3. Famous Blue Raincoat

    I’d been wondering about this one for a while now. Thanks for the update!

    Sorry for the stress this initially caused you, OP, but it sounds like reasonable people won out in the end. Great resolution to a memorably bizarre story!

    Reply
  4. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

    KARMA, KARMA , KARMA–Good Karma for the OP and Bad Karma for the other two. Glad it all turned out well for the OP.

    Reply
  5. Erin

    I think my jaw literally hit the floor.

    I’m hoping that your boss is legitimately *mortified* and that’s part of the reason behind his behavior, not just that he’s hoping to avoid a legal mess.

    Either way, happy ending! And now you have a great story to tell at cocktail parties.

    Reply
  6. AFRC

    Also, reading the comments from the original post, a bunch of people wondered about a relationship between the thief and the HR person. Looks like they were right! I also wonder how the OP’s boss feels about this/whether he’s said anything or was questioned about the ordeal. And this HR woman had WAYYYY too much power at this organization.

    Reply
    1. Fortitude Jones

      And this HR woman had WAYYYY too much power at this organization.

      Right? She was able to fire OP with no intervention from OP’s actual manager. What kind of insanity is that? It sounds like my last workplace.

      Reply
    2. Observer

      Or maybe she didn’t have as much power as she thought. Notice that she claimed that there was enough evidence to act without the big boss. It sounds like she knew that she really didn’t have the authority and was trying to keep the OP from pushing back.

      Also, she GOT FIRED. Even in the face of a lawsuit, it’s not so common to fire the HR person, because it doesn’t sound like what she did was egregious (I mean from the LEGAL point of view, not of decency and common sense!) But, if she overstepped her role, that would be a whole different thing.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yep. My guess is that she actually didn’t have the authority, but was going off the rails in acting as if she did. Given that the LW got invited back (and a raise!) and she got fired, my guess is that she actually was not allowed to terminate people without some process, and was hoping that ‘better to ask forgiveness than permission’ would see her through. (That, and/or what TVTropes calls Refuge in Audacity–doing something so blatant that nobody quite knows how to react and so you get away with it.)

        Thank goodness that in this case it didn’t work! Although I’m sorry that the LW had to go through it at all–even with a happy ending, that week of being fired because somebody stole something from you can’t have been enjoyable.

        Reply
      2. Lissa

        Yeah, I also bet there was a lot going on behind the scenes that the LW wouldn’t have any way of knowing! (which makes sense but is sad for my gossip-brain, I want to knoooow!)

        Also this is a case where I’d have no qualms about returning to work and taking the raise, as it seems like both offending people were dealt with! But I still feel like we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg here, can only imagine what the fly on the wall would’ve seen…

        Reply
      3. Honeybee

        This is what I was thinking – she knew she didn’t have the standing so she did it while the owner was out, perhaps thinking if she could act fast the owner wouldn’t bring OP back because they’d figure it was already done.

        Reply
      4. INTP

        She might have had the authority to fire against a manager’s wishes and without the approval of the big boss in a situation where one employee was ACTUALLY trying to poison another, as concluded by a serious investigation, since in that case you would want the poisoner gone ASAP for safety reasons. That wouldn’t be terribly weird. What she definitely didn’t have the authority to do was unilaterally declare one employee to be trying to poison another and proceed as though it were true, in the face of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

        And it makes sense that she got fired, since if you can’t trust an HR person to actually conduct an investigation instead of running some kind of perfunctory farce of one for paperwork and siding with the person she likes better, that HR person is pretty useless to the company.

        Reply
        1. sstabeler

          if nothing else, the point of HR is to protect the company from liability when punishing someone by investigating what happened and having said investigation documented. If there’s no investigation, HR is of no actual benefit to the company.

          I think in this case, though, the HR person got fired because -while I’m not sure- she may actually have opened the company to legal liability. (while you can fire someone for any reason, if you have a dismissal procedure, you DO have to follow it.)

          Reply
      5. Gandalf the Nude

        I dunno. I hope I’d get fired if I were involved with an employee and inappropriately using my HR power to their advantage and the company’s liability. That’s pretty serious stuff.

        Reply
      6. AFRC

        Very good point – maybe more that she was able to get away with too much. I just recall from the initial post about “HR” in general, and it made it sound like she was either in charge of an entire HR department, or had somehow convinced everyone in HR that this was a horrible situation. It just sounded like it was more than one person making this decision. But she clearly knew that the big boss wouldn’t like it, so she tried to push it through quickly. Amazing.

        Reply
      7. Annonymouse

        I think HR lied about what happened with OP (see my comment further up) and put this small company in danger of bad publicity and a lawsuit they wouldn’t be able to win.

        Plus it sounds like HR wasn’t the best at her job. Add it all up and you get fire.

        Reply
  7. abankyteller

    This has been one of my favorite updates. Something great happened to you, OP, after that ordeal, and the crazies got what was deserved. Perfect!

    Reply
  8. OhNo

    Oh, OP, I am so happy for you! Your letter was one of the most ridiculous situations I’ve ever read here, and it sounds like it only got more ridiculous after the fact. I am so glad it worked out well for you in the end!

    Reply
  9. Lil Lamb

    So glad everything worked out! When I told my coworkers this story they thought it was insane. I’ll be happy to give them an update

    Reply
  10. Hermione

    I’m so glad this had such a satisfying ending, OP. Sorry that you had to deal with that nonsense, but sanity prevailing and you getting a great raise is so, so gratifying.

    Reply
  11. Lily in NYC

    Wow wow wow! What a story. But it still sucks that you had to threaten legal action – unless the owner wasn’t aware of what happened until he got that letter. And congrats on getting a huge raise! What happened was ridiculous but at least they are trying to make up for it (even if it’s only to cover their own butts). I’m really happy the HR person and the lunch thief were fired. I would have loved to eavesdrop on all the conversations that were going on in your office about this. Juicy.

    Reply
    1. MK

      My read was that the big boss was away and these two people’s plan was to have the OP gone by the time he got back, so that they could present their own version of events to him. And it may well have worked if the OP hasn’t pursued the matter.

      Reply
      1. Gadfly

        And a lot of people would not have followed through. So it wasn’t a huge gamble on their part. People tend to believe that authority figures are in the right and that they wouldn’t win anything worth the fight if they did fight it.

        I am so glad the boss ended up being sane and they lost without a big fight.

        Reply
      2. Turtle Candle

        Yes, it sounds to me like the HR person and the stealing coworker were intending that since the big boss was away, they’d get rid of LW and then be able to present whatever story they wanted once the boss came back. Getting a lawyer involved was in that case a smart move, and I am also hopeful that the LW’s direct boss stood up for her as well.

        Reply
  12. Jess

    Best update ever. Kudos to the company owner for taking decisive action to rectify the crazy wrongs that had been done. It’s nice to hear when that happens.

    Reply
    1. Kai

      “Part of me wants them to have learned their lesson, and part of me thinks, ‘Keep talking. I’d really like a home theater.'”

      Reply
      1. Minister of Snark

        “That’s right. I am super cool. I am an accountant at a failing paper supply company in Scranton. Much like Sir Ian McKellen.”

        Reply
  13. EmmaLou

    Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Such a great update! Don’t you wonder what the original complaint looked like? How can it not start with “After stealing my coworker’s lunch….”?!

    Reply
    1. Wwr

      Oh, I think we’ve seen enough of “the other side” at AAM to imagine how this goes. “I really can’t work with low blood sugar, and I simply don’t have the time or skills to make my own food at home. Occasionally, I’ll nibble off of the food that’s left in the office kitchen….”

      Reply
    2. Turtle Candle

      Given the sheer audacity of getting someone fired because you stole their food and ate it, I would not be surprised if the story that HR and the lunch thief were planning on presenting was a complete fabrication–that the LW had maliciously offered him the ‘poisoned’ lunch, or swapped it out for his lunch, or something. I dunno, but it seems likely to me that they would feel completely free to just make shit up, given the rest of it….

      Reply
  14. Barney Barnaby

    Congratulations!

    My guess is that there was a lot more going on there than meets the eye. Not that the OP is being anything less than completely accurate about what happened, but my hunch is that this was not the first time HR gal threw someone under the bus to cover for her beau. A quick investigation might have revealed a lot of other problems that did not stand up to scrutiny.

    Reply
    1. AndersonDarling

      I was thinking this too. The OP actually did the company a favor by getting an attorney to write a letter. It triggered an investigation and saved everyone from this nonsense. The OP is a hero!

      Reply
  15. Venus Supreme

    I gasped when I read the title because I’ve been WAITING for an update. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that, OP, but I’m so happy for your raise and that the bad guys got the boot.

    Reply
    1. Gadfly

      Me too! Made my morning! I think this is the first update that I did remember and not have to go read the original. (I have not been a regular follower long)

      Reply
  16. Ama

    I can only imagine what the big boss’s reaction was when he came back from vacation to find the OP fired over her own boss’s objections and then got the letter from her lawyer. (I’m amusing myself now imagining a variety of my current and previous big bosses in this role.)

    Reply
  17. Fortitude Jones

    This is one of the best updates I’ve ever seen. OP not only gets fired (what?!), but then gets rehired, the incompetent HR person and the thief get their just desserts, and then OP walks away with double her pay and paid training opportunities. You won, OP. This couldn’t have ended any better.

    Reply
  18. neverjaunty

    Huzzah, OP!

    The secret of lawyering is that rather a lot can get done just by sending a sternly-worded letter. I’m so pleased this has worked out for you without you having to go to any real legal hassles.

    Reply
    1. Myrin

      Ha, I had to think of you immediately when I read that OP had contacted a lawyer since you’re always advocating for it and many people shy away from it all too often when, as in this case, it can be the key to success.

      Reply
      1. Annie Moose

        I used to read the subreddit /r/legaladvice quite a bit, and this was pretty consistent advice over there too: nobody wants to talk to a lawyer, but even just sitting down and going over your legal options with a lawyer can be a massive help! In addition to all the value of scary letters, of course.

        Reply
    2. MegaMoose, Esq

      This was absolutely the right time to get a lawyer involved- I’m so glad to hear that it got resolved so quickly and positively.

      Reply
  19. Dr. Doll

    Good heavens! Awesome update! Congratulations — I guess, since you had to go through nine hells to get this outcome. Rock on.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      Unfortunately not just this week. Bad HR is everywhere, doing too much damage to honest employees, and supporting unscrupulous managers.

      Reply
  20. Whats In A Name

    This reinforces my belief that there are people out there who will do the right thing and that people who do the wrong thing eventually get bit in the ass for it! OP I am so so happy that this worked out in your favor – I normally would say run at an offer, but with toxic folks gone this is better than anyone could have imagined.

    Reply
    1. Catalin

      That’s the thing that kills me! If the lunch thief had just accepted that eating a horribly spicy lunch was the consequence of STEALING PEOPLE’S FOOD, used some crackers and milk or a Rolaid, none of this drama would have happened. If HR lady had been calm, logical, and impartial the drama wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. Basically, if they were acting like adults, none of this would have happened.

      Reply
      1. Stardust

        Right! It was ridiculous reading the original post that the HR person’s response was so skewed to favor the lunch thief, that it really didn’t make any sense. It really makes more sense that the HR was romantically involved with the lunch thief. So happy for the OP that the Big Boss sorted all the nonsense out.

        Hooray for this update! Happy dance!

        Reply
  21. Tequila Mockingbird

    I mean, it’s great that OP is back to work and earning more money, but… this story still gives me the chills. Everything that happened to OP was WRONG and makes me angry!!

    And I’ve always wondered about the logistics of getting “hired back” at a place that terminated you for cause. How does that work? Especially in an environment where (I’m sure) rumors were flying and there was a lot of drama and toxicity.

    Reply
    1. Gadfly

      I know! Especially when the other parties involved are not fired and are still there and everyone is supposed to play nice.

      Reply
    2. Temperance

      I imagine that in this case, it was very clear what was going on between Lunch Stealer and HR Lady, so at least no one thinks poorly of LW.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yeah–if the office gossip is that the HR and Lunch Thief are in a romantic relationship, I think (hope!) that it’s likely that the tenor is pretty favorable to the LW–“can you believe what stunt she pulled to try to protect her boyfriend? what an ass!” as opposed to anything that would reflect poorly on the LW.

        Reply
        1. KarmaPolice

          Can you imagine the epic break-up that probably happened between Evil HR Lady and Lunch Thief after they both got fired? Since they’re clearly not rational people I bet they go nuclear on each other rather than accepting responsibility for their extremely justifiable firings. Dollars to donuts they’re blaming each other in addition to OP.

          Reply
          1. Dynamic Beige

            Enh… IMO they deserve each other. I mean seriously, a woman who finds out her boyfriend/SO steals other people’s food and has no problem with that? If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you. Sure, maybe in the beginning it might be easy to buy the tale of woe “everyone in my department is out to get me! They don’t understand me! They don’t appreciate me!” but… he. stole. other. people’s. food. Probably more than once, considering this was a problem for a while. I would put money on it that since OP was brought back, not one lunch has gone “missing”. If it was a case of his salary not being sufficient, she could have advocated for a raise, or directed him to apply to new openings that paid more — whatever was ethical within her position. I’m glad she got the boot. What would she have done if he decided to help himself to excessive amounts of office supplies or other things in the office?

            Reply
          2. wendelenn

            Hey now, Evil HR Lady is a good gal, she writes a great blog :) (Yeah, I know you weren’t referring to Suzanne Lucas!)

            Reply
    3. Moonsaults

      It depends on if it was a truly toxic, through out the entire place, situation or if the HR woman and the dbag coworker were the bad eggs. We recently got rid of a bad egg and the entire place came alive needless to say.

      I can see how this HR woman has probably harassed others but nobody had enough to stand on to talk to the boss about or she’s sneaky enough in her ways, with waiting until the cat is away so the mice can play, etc. Then this one pushed way too far and the person who wasn’t afraid to fight back.

      Reply
    4. Meg Murry

      Yes, I’m glad OP is back, and I hope her boss is good enough to stand up to any future lunacy at this place. I think the advice below to save the raise money toward an emergency/get out of here fund is probably a good one, as there could be other loons hiding in this company.

      However, OP, if you didn’t get any kind of re-hire/offer letter, you should probably get all the details down in writing, especially if you had built up any tenure there, and doubly so since there isn’t an HR person right now (or HR is down a person if it’s a whole department). Just re-read and saw that OP said she was “quite new”, so maybe this is less important than if she’d been there a few years, but she doesn’t want to put on her resume that she started working there in June, and when a future reference or employment verification comes through they say her hire date was October – that would look like OP was lying.

      If it wasn’t already spelled out, you should probably make sure you get in writing that:
      -termination is removed from your record
      -if your record shows that you left the job and came back, that you maintain your original hire date for reasons of seniority, 401k vesting, vacations, etc.

      Reply
      1. OldAdmin

        Very, very sage advice.
        Do all of the above, and try to actually see your record. Get everything repaired and documented while it is still fresh and the owner still feels guilty. Enlist your good boss’s support for this, too.
        No need to keep your head down now. CYA is extremely important after all this weirdness – there may be more lurking in the company.

        And may I add:
        Holy Moly Maccharoni! With cheese and pepperoni!
        And ghost jolokias!!

        Reply
  22. Anonymous for This

    I am so happy this worked out for you. I don’t necessarily think the big boss gave you hush money, because to stop you from suing, it would have been simple just to give you your job back, some back pay, and have you sign a release of claims (the fact that it seems the boss didn’t ask you for one says either he (1) needs a lawyer and didn’t realize he should, or (2) is just trying to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences). I’m glad the big boss took corrective action and those two employees were justifiably let go. That being said, he already took a lot of action in minimizing any liability by giving you your job back and a huge raise. I’d just be hoping that he’s not paying you too much OVER market rate, as it may be great now, but in a year that may not mesh with the budget and could lead to other issues down the road.

    Reply
    1. Andie Elizabeth

      Seriously, I hate to be a Debbie Downer but I would be job searching for sure if I were the OP. I think of it a lot like I think of Alison’s advice about accepting counteroffers, except 1000x the baggage. It took the threat of legal action to get the job and a pay bump and I bet whatever impulsiveness was happening in the owner’s when he did that will be tarnished very quickly. Take the raise with a big thank you, work hard, and quietly be job searching to get the hell out of there.

      Reply
    2. Adam V

      Yeah, I thought that too. A higher salary makes things better today, but when they take another look at it in a year and say “we can’t afford that much for someone in that role” and either force the OP to jump up a couple of levels so the salary’s more in line with the new position (potentially a position that the OP isn’t necessarily prepared for) or else ask them to reduce their salary, or else have the OP go without raises for a few years so it gets more in line… I dunno.

      I’d probably just bank all the extra for a few months, and if I started hearing anything worrisome, be prepared to jump to a new company.

      Reply
      1. caryatis

        Definitely bank the extra. Notice OP says “I don’t really have a support group so was on the edge of losing my apartment etc.” You need a budget, man! With savings! You should not need a “support group” to be able to pay rent, even in an emergency.

        Reply
        1. RVA Cat

          Exactly. Live off of your old salary or say 110-125% of it, save the rest (or pay off debt). If the raise is that much you should have a good cash cushion and a higher credit score pretty quickly.

          Reply
        2. Grayson

          I think OP meant ‘support network’, not ‘support group’. I associate it with having a group of people around you who can catch you when you fall.

          Reply
          1. Phoebe

            Yes, I took it this way, too. Family and friends who can support you emotionally through the hard times. That support is often what allows you to be able to suck it up and do the work to get things taken care of.

            Reply
    3. AnonEMoose

      The OP also mentions training classes, etc. So I wonder if part of the long-term plan is to prepare the OP for a promotion down the road, partly to support the increased salary. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to keep your options home, and I’d definitely suggest building up some savings, in case. But if the OP is reasonably happy, it might be good to stick around and see what happens.

      Meanwhile, I keep picturing the lawyer sniggering with delight as he/she typed the letter to the company. Because the whole situation was so ludicrous.

      Reply
      1. AndersonDarling

        I wish we could see the letter. The whole situation is so ridiculous that I don’t know to sanely word it!

        Reply
    4. Kyrielle

      Because of the training opportunities, I’m not sure I would. I’d polish my resume and keep aware of what’s out there (and whether it would mean a pay cut, as it might) if I had to jump – and I’d live on my old salary and sock the rest away.

      If it lasts 6 months or a year and then gets rocky, OP will have whatever training came from that time plus all the (quite a lot of, it sounds like!) extra money stored away to work with.

      And if instead they promote OP into a role that justifies (or more closely justifies) the salary, well…having a nice savings account is recommended and good practice anyway, and OP can always decide to just stay on.

      Reply
      1. Fortitude Jones

        This. Jumping ship because of two bad eggs when everyone else in the story seems sane is a little alarmist to me.

        Reply
  23. BTW

    I was initially SO shocked when I first read that they fired you. Anger. So. Much. Anger! Then I kept reading, obviously. I’m sure the owner was mortified that this had happened to you.
    You did the right thing though. I would have lawyered up for such a ridiculous accusation as well. So glad this worked out for you in the end!

    Reply
  24. Adam V

    What the living hell.

    I’m glad everything worked out for you, OP, but… what the hell was this HR person thinking? Fire you saying there’s “enough of a case”… when obviously the owner came back and went straight to their office and said “what the hell were you thinking?” And being the deciding vote between two people when you’re romantically involved with one of them?

    This is wishful thinking, I know, but is there some sort of professional HR organization that all HR people join, that you can lodge a complaint to? This is someone who has no business working in an HR capacity.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      This isn’t the OP’s battle to fight. But, even if it were, I don’t think anyone needs to worry about it. She’s going to have very hard time finding another job it HR, and if she hasn’t thoroughly learned her lesson, it may well be impossible. After who in their right mind is hiring someone like this, if they don’t clearly get that what they did was beyond ridiculously bad judgement, at the very least?

      Reply
    2. Chassity

      There is! You can be certified for various levels of HR experience by HRCI and SHRM through testing and recertifying every few years. Those certifications can be lost through wrongdoing. In the HR world, it’s pretty important to have these credentials, although not mandatory. I operate my own business providing HR services to local companies that are too small to have their own HR department, so it would be devastating to lose my certifications. But in this case, it’s unlikely that the person is certified–or maybe that’s just wishful thinking that someone who’d gone to the trouble of studying for a really long test and participated in classes and seminars to keep that certification up surely wouldn’t behave this way. I’m a dreamer, what can I say!

      Reply
    3. Moonsaults

      No, a lot of people are “HR” people and have no formal training, let alone an organization.

      It may be hard for her to find a job but since the owner of the company was involved somewhat quickly, I get the feeling this place isn’t super large so her training may be subpar and she has a powertripping issue going on as well.

      She won’t have any problem getting a new job if she has enough strings to pull somewhere else and a network that will shuffle her back into the fold.

      Reply
    4. GreyjoyGardens

      I have a feeling that this is a small, or small-ish, company, or maybe one that expanded quickly, and the HR person was somebody without any formal HR training or certifications. This is the upside *and* downside of small businesses – you can wear many hats, and there is less red tape and competition in advancing to a higher position – but that means that the Peter Principle can run rampant, and incompetent people can do jobs they are not at all qualified for.

      I would be willing to bet that the *former* (Hurrah!) HR person had no certifications or formal qualifications for HR at all. She also sounds extremely stupid – having an innocent employee fired to cover up for her thief of a boyfriend? Real smart! – and I don’t think she’s going to be getting another HR job anytime soon. Karma is a you-know what!

      Reply
  25. Heather

    So it sounds like the lunch thief got his…just desserts.

    I really wish I knew how to make those csi miami sunglass icons.

    Reply
  26. Tyrion

    Let me just say that this and the “unsolicited nutrition advice at work” letter and update are my two favorites ever!

    And OP, I’m glad it worked out for you. That bit about “not really having a support group” resonated–having to deal with a lot of problems alone gets pretty old.

    Reply
    1. Be the Change

      My favorite was the one about the person who was going through a very hard time (was she surviving on cupcakes from the break room or couldn’t afford work clothes? Don’t remember) and the AAM community rallied round to help and she ended up with a good job, a husband, and got back in school.

      Reply
    1. AndersonDarling

      And I’m so happy the OP waited for the complete resolution. If she updated up with “I was fired” I would have been devastated. Magnificent resolution!

      Reply
  27. Chriama

    Hooray! Thank you for not taking this lying down and letting them know you knew your rights, and I’m glad it got you into a better situation eventually.

    One thing I’m wondering about is how and why HR had so much power. We hear about managers having to wrestle with HR to get a crappy performer fired and here we have a crappy HR person who can apparently arbitrate all decisions based on her own opinion and overrule everyone else. If I were the company owner I’d be looking at power structures in the company to make sure one rogue person can’t run roughshod over everyone else like that. In an accounting class years ago, I heard something like the person who signs the invoice should not also write the cheque. Is there something like a separation of duties for HR/personnel matters?

    Quite frankly this person’s judgement was so bad that I’d be looking through everything she touched while she was here – did the lunch stealer get any unexplained bonuses, or did anyone who had conflict with her have inexplicable payroll deductions? I might even hire an outside party to audit all her previous work, just in case something seriously bad was going on.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      I don’t think HR did have the power! I mean, they had the power in the most literal sense because often HR handles finance, and so of course they could mark an employee terminated and stop paying them their paycheck and all that – as if someone had said they could.

      But if HR actually had the right, the authority, to do this – she wouldn’t have been fired, most likely. (OP might still have been brougth back, given the threat of a legitimate lawsuit – but firing the person responsible might not have happened.)

      Reply
      1. Ama

        I could also see that HR might have some limited firing authority in particularly egregious cases (say some kind of “immediate firing” level policy like timesheet fraud or theft), but even if she lied and claimed that was what happened, I’m sure OP’s lawyer letter (plus I imagine OP’s boss was happy to tell the full story) made it very clear she abused that authority in this case.

        Reply
      2. Chriama

        I’m reading some people talking about taking refuge in audacity and that’s what I think happened here. The manager disagreed but she just ran right over him. I think the best thing the owner can do is examine his hiring practices and really investigate references next time he’s hiring.

        Reply
      3. catsAreCool

        If I were the boss, and my HR person acted like this, with such a complete diregard for integrity, I’d have fired her/him even if HR had the authority to fire someone. I wouldn’t want someone who would do this type of thing to be on my staff. You give people authority because you trust them to use it wisely and fairly. If they don’t, that authority should be taken away.

        Reply
      4. Annonymouse

        I’m going with the simplest solution: She lied.

        She lied to OP about having the power to fire (if an at will state I guess it is technically true)

        Probably lied to OPs boss saying owner agreed – there’s nothing you can do (and owner “firing” OP for ridiculous reasons would make boss less likely to fight for OP. Cause “Owner” is clearly unreasonable.)

        Lied to owner about why OP left – quit no notice/physically harmed a coworker

        Reply
    2. Observer

      There SHOULD be such a separation, in my opinion, but it doesn’t mean that it actually always happens.

      In any case, I’d say it’s a good bet that the boss DID start looking at everything this person did. The firing of both people speaks volumes, I’d say.

      Reply
  28. Marzipan

    I am SO HAPPY about this! I’d thought about this ridiculous situation often since, so it’s great to have an update.

    Reply
  29. Heaven's Thunder Hammer

    Nice to hear that not only did the OP get their job back, but is getting raises and professional development paid for. Good for you!

    Reply
  30. Scotty Smalls

    I’m really curious to know if all the lunch theft stopped after this guy left. Also, I hope everyone else at work is cool with the OP. I mean obviusly the OP did nothing wrong, but this whole situation is sufficiently weird to merit some reactions from coworkers.

    Reply
    1. catsAreCool

      I hope the co-workers are on the OP’s side, since they probably didn’t like having their lunch stolen either, and this probably wasn’t the only unethical thing that the lunch thief did or that HR backed him up on.

      Reply
  31. Tennessee INFP

    From one spicy food lover to another – I’m so glad this worked out!

    This was a letter since I read it I REALLY wanted and update about. So glad it is resolved.

    Reply
  32. Marisol

    OP I am happy for you and PROUD of you for standing up for yourself! Getting a lawyer was absolutely the right thing to do, and this is the kind of hard knock that makes a person stronger and wiser, even though it’s uncomfortable at the time (for me, it’s kind of an “icky” feeling when I have to face something like this)! I think the odds are pretty much zero that you’ll ever go through this kind of thing again, so I definitely wouldn’t worry about that. Just enjoy your better paycheck and move forward! Yay!

    Reply
  33. gingerblue

    This needs to be a movie. OP, congrats on surviving an utterly ludicrous situation with what sounds like a very level head.

    Reply
  34. Emma the Strange

    I’m super glad the OP got justice, but I’m confused: what legal action could they have taken? They got fired for a colossally stupid and unfair reason, but assuming they live in the US, then employers are allowed to fire people for colossally stupid and unfair reasons as long as they don’t fall into specific categories related to protected classes or protected activities. Am I missing something?

    Reply
    1. LawCat

      So, idk what the situation is here, but colossally stupid reason or even even something that looks like a good reason can be a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

      And even if there wasn’t a legal case that would have won, once the owner saw the colossally stupid reason, he could have reasonably decided he doesn’t want colossally dumb firings to happen at his company.

      Reply
      1. Naomi

        Yes, I suspect that the letter may have been the first the owner heard of the real reason for the firing. In which case he may have taken action based on that, rather than the threat of legal action.

        The other thing I can think of–and I’m not a lawyer, so just speculating–is that HR may have claimed OP was fired for cause. Even if the company was legally in the clear to fire OP, they’d have to justify the firing to deny OP unemployment compensation.

        Reply
      2. catsAreCool

        Yeah, I’m hoping the owner learned what really happened from the letter and then dealt with the situation.

        Reply
    2. Emilia Bedelia

      Even if the OP couldn’t have won the case, the company would still have the headache of dealing with it. And of course, even if it really was completely unwinnable from a legal standpoint, letters from lawyers threatening legal action are scary- I think the letter probably just escalated the issue enough that the big boss finally had to get involved and see what was going on.

      Reply
      1. AFRC

        I had an issue with another employee bullying me, and I couldn’t get HR to return my emails or calls to discuss it. I went to an attorney, got a free consultation, and emailed the HR person to say that I’d spoken to an attorney about the issue. She called me within 30 minutes of that email. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but I got her attention immediately. That’s the purpose. And many companies don’t understand all of the laws, so any whiff of “lawyer” makes them super cautious.

        Reply
        1. AFRC

          Well actually, I quit and made the case that I was having health issues as a result of my employment (because of the bully, and the big boss who was also a bully and took her side). This was true – I had panic attacks at work and at home, and had constant migraines from the stress (had to go to the ER for one). Ordinarily, I don’t think my case was severe enough to get unemployment, but when I filed, not only did they not fight it, but my former boss (the head of HR for our branch) made the case that basically I had a health issue and they didn’t accommodate me. So I got unemployment. I don’t know if it was directly related to saying I consulted an attorney, but I am 100% certain that it helped.

          Reply
    3. DMC

      It likely would be an uphill battle for the OP, if this took place in the U.S., but yes, the lawyer would probably try to tie the spicy food into some kind of discrimination based on ethnicity/national origin (not sure what the OP’s national origin or ethnicity is, but that would be my guess). That would still be a tough case, though, unless the OP has other facts to support some kind of discrimination case (based on that or another protected category). However, for a small business, often a letter from a lawyer is enough in these situations because small businesses don’t usually have the resources to properly defend litigation. As a result small businesses are vulnerable to being bullied by plaintiff attorneys, On the other hand, when there’s a hint of a legitimate claim, a smart small business owner will try to resolve it outside of litigation, as this one did (though he probably should have consulted an attorney himself — it doesn’t sound like he did, but one can hope)! Or, it could just be the big boss talked to the OP’s boss and made the right decision outside of all that. I’m guessing the big boss probably has had issues that that HR person and probably that employee before, as well. Bad employees usually have a long track record.

      Reply
    4. Marcel

      Would you want to be the owner of this company in the case of a lawsuit? Imagine if the OP is a person of color, think of the negative publicity.

      “Today at 6, a local woman is facing eviction from her apartment after losing her job. Her crime? Her co-worker stole her traditional South Asian lunch and found it to be too spicy.”

      The OP’s name would trend on twitter. Buzzfeed would run wild.

      Reply
    5. AndersonDarling

      I would guess that it had to do with the OP’s property (lunch) being stolen. And HR admitted that they knew the thief and fired the victim to cover up the crime.

      Reply
    6. Candi

      Not a Lawyer But:

      Besides the aiding and abetting of theft -always fun- we don’t know exactly what laws and regs were in play here. State and federal are one thing, but I’m often amazed at the different tweaks, details, and whatnot cities and counties/parishes* put on the wider aspects of the laws.

      For instance, one nasty thing bad retail managers do is try and prevent workers from filing personal police reports when customers assault them. In my state, last I checked a few years ago, that’s “obstruction of justice” and a very tiny fine. (I don’t know if that makes legal sense; going off what I remember the site said.)

      In our county, on the other hand, the charge is “accessory after the fact”. Penalty is 90 days in jail and/or $5,000 fine. (They were talking about uping it to $10,000, but I don’t know if they did.) I know for certain** three companies around here where the conviction would violate terms of employment (not sure of the exact wordage).

      So what the lawyer tossed in the ring may have included something very region-specific.

      *Louisiana
      ** I know a lot of the clerks and other workers. Amazing what you can find out just by being friendly, listening, and going to the same places for years.

      Reply
  35. LawCat

    Sooo satisfying! In the end, though there was so much unreasonable crap along the way, it’s nice to see everyone win who should win and everyone lose who deserves just that.

    Reply
  36. MissDisplaced

    OMG! Sanity prevailed with the owner at least. Probably had no idea about any of this.
    “I ended up being fired by HR, as she said there was enough of a case to get rid of me before the top boss came back.”
    Um, yeah I’m SURE she did want to get away with this.

    God, so awful you had to go through this.

    Reply
  37. The Strand

    I am so glad you got your job back, and that you don’t have to work with those morons anymore.

    But sorry you dealt with such a super, weird situation in the first place.

    Reply
  38. DG's gal

    This is the most awesome thing I’ve read today! Alison, is there an end of the year vote for best updates? If so, this should be in the running!

    Reply
  39. Marcel

    Glad you got hired back! This story shows what happens when power, romance and a lack of accountability mix in the work place. That HR lady must have thought herself a goddess to believe that she could terminate you with utter impunity.

    Guys, think about all the other things she could have done to protect this fellow over the years. What other employees were run over? What other lies told? What else did her bae get away with? The whole process is disconcerting, it shows how a completely innocent person can be victimized.

    Reply
    1. OldAdmin

      Yes. *quiet moment*
      Hiring a lawyer has helped me several times.
      Or as my SO says “Get pro help. ‘Nuff said.”

      Reply
  40. Ellie H.

    One of the things I never totally understood is why the coworker started throwing up. I like a fair amount heat in food but I’m not a maniac about it like some people are, and my impression is that even among hot pepper maniacs, the original LW was at the extreme high end of the range. Is it typical to throw up in reaction to tasting something that hot when you are not the kind of person who can handle it?

    Also, I would love to know the immediate aftermath – like how the lunch thief communicated to the LW that it was his lunch that had caused illness, what he said to explain/confess he had stolen the lunch, if he gave any excuse about stealing the lunch, etc. I mean, with the kind of person who is capable of trying to get someone fired on this insane pretext, I can imagine he/she is also the kind of person who is somehow able to communicate to a lunch owner that he ate some of it and now accuses lunch owner of poisoning, without crawling into a hole in the floor and dying meanwhile (I wouldn’t be able to do this without the hole in the floor, and I don’t think many of us reasonable people would be able to either). But I would love to know exactly how that conversation went!

    Reply
    1. A. Nonymous

      Some people have very weak stomachs for spice. Stuff that I gobble down happily gives my wife major indigestion. So maybe he’s just sensitive? Or overly dramatic.

      Reply
      1. AnonEMoose

        He might also have a particularly strong or sensitive gag reflex. So he ate it, started gasping and coughing from the heat, and that triggered his gag reflex.

        Reply
      2. Ama

        Yeah, I love spicy curry and salsa, and my boyfriend has unpleasant reactions to both.

        I might also theorize that since he knew he wasn’t supposed to be eating it, he may have been trying to eat really quickly which made it worse.

        Reply
    2. KG, Ph.D.

      A friend of mine once threw up after he chugged a drink that had been spiked with hot sauce. (Yes, he knew it had hot sauce in it — he was trying to prove how tough he was. We were young and stupid.) He wasn’t drunk, it was really just the shock of the hot sauce hitting his stomach.

      Reply
    3. H.C.

      I have a fairly high heat threshold but I definitely suffer GI distress if I eat foods too spicy (or too much of a moderately spicy dish) for my own good. Usually on the opposite end though (sorry for potential TMI).

      Reply
    4. Kimberly

      My Sister will become violently ill if she eats jalapenos her stomach just can’t take it. Of course whe would never take another person’s lunch because she is a decent person.

      Reply
    1. Junipergreen

      I wish all updates could be like this one: OP gets a raise and wonderful new career opportunities, and the instigators are shown the door.

      Hooray for OP! May your lunches forever be seasoned to your liking and safe from theft.

      Reply
  41. Jenbug

    Oh, I was hoping we’d get an update on this one! OP, I’m glad things worked out even though it sounds like it got really stressful there for a while. I’d love to know what other people in the office had to say about the whole mess.

    Reply
  42. animaniactoo

    Woot! So glad to see that this ended up working out in your favor.

    I do still want to know how Lunch Thief was claiming to have ended up eating your food… but that’s okay, I can just imagine the various implausibles…

    Reply
  43. silvertech

    *high-fives OP*

    I’m so glad this mess had an happy ending, I was so furious on your behalf when I read your letter!

    Reply
  44. Troutwaxer

    Hey OP, thanks for currying flavor with us by providing an update. My morning has been peppered with laughter and happy thoughts on your behalf.

    Reply
  45. addlady

    Maybe this is the same HR person who once fired an OP for using the bathroom too frequently. At any rate, congratulations!!

    Reply
  46. Pennalynn Lott

    If Alison hadn’t said, at the outset, “Here’s the (kind of amazing) update,” I doubt I would have read further than the first sentence, because it seems so typical. [“A horrible thing happened to me, and then my toxic workplace fired me because I was the victim of a Horrible Thing.”] Thank goodness for Alison’s heads-up, because this is an awesome update!!

    Reply
  47. Susan

    I wish you didn’t have to go through all of this, but a part of me feels vicariously gratified, as if all my previous food-snatchers have also been put in their rightful place.

    Reply
  48. Gandalf the Nude

    OP, are you a folk hero around the office now? The lunch thief is gone thanks to you! I’d be writing ballads to commemorate the occasion!

    Reply
  49. Elizabeth West

    As much as I hate to go based on office talk, it seemed that the HR woman and the food thief may have been romantically involved. They were seen a lot outside work together, etc.

    I KNEW IT!!!!!

    Reply
  50. Milton Waddams

    Welcome to my world, once again. This type of petty aristocrat behavior from poorly trained HR staff is so common that it becomes hard to convince others that this can be so. Part of it is due to the lack of growth opportunities now that HR has been walled out of the executive track at most organizations due to poor training. This places HR staff in the role of 3rd world bureaucrats — their career plateaued in terms of money and influence, they simply use what they have to become lords of their little domains.

    In many organizations, HR is tasked with being the oversight, the watchdog, when to be perfectly frank modern HR is the last group you want in this role. The training isn’t there, the candidate pool isn’t there, and I say this as someone who was trained in HR myself (at least as far as one can claim anyone has been trained now that HR no longer has a basic research branch).

    Don’t rely on a SHRM or HRCI cert to mean that your HR staff has any idea what they are doing — if you aren’t providing the training, they don’t have the training. Hope that they will strive to be their best selves, but don’t be so starry-eyed that you don’t provide oversight. This time, someone got caught — how many other times have those in similar positions not been?

    Reply
    1. ArtK

      That kinda stood out to me. I can imagine the scenario when the boss came back:

      Boss: Where’s OP?
      HR: I fired her
      Boss: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?

      I can tell you that if our HR fired one of my employees without building a very strong case for it, there would be blood and not the employee’s. I’d probably start with “where’s the letter from legal saying that this had to be done before I got back?” “Why didn’t you call me while I was out?” “Who the blankety-blank do you think you are?”

      Reply
  51. tink

    I am SO SO SO SO happy that this ended up with a positive ending, and that you didn’t actually lose your apartment (I’ve been in that situation–it’s terrifying and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.)

    Reply
  52. Klem

    I’m so happy for you!! Congratulations on the raise and all the additional opportunities since you’ve been back. Your boss obviously values you and may just be a good person who is horrified that someone who worked for him was treated so badly.

    Reply
  53. Candi

    Yay! Best of the best!

    I read once -and lawyers, correct me if I’m wrong- that the point of a thinking about a lawsuit is to make the plaintiff(s) whole. (And I know it’s definitely not to get your own McDuck bin.) In this case, it seems the owner went above and beyond that.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the fruit of the grapevine is right. Rather sad, in a way. It’s always a cross between aggravating and mournful when emotional immaturity gets in the way of reasonable behavior.

    Reply
  54. Archive of Anxiety

    The best thing that happened! YAY!

    But man, such drama. If my boyfriend (in the same office) stole food and was caught, my reaction definitely would have been NOT trying to fire the victim. What is wrong with that HR lady? What ever happened to telling the dude to say sorry and promise such idiotic things won’t happen again? Geez.

    Reply
  55. Justanotherthought

    Like so many others, I just had to add how happy I am that this worked out well for OP ad how frustrating it is that she got fired in the first place! But knowing that she not only got an apology, her job back, and a raise, but that the HR rep and lunch thief were fired is so great to hear. Her company is sane after all!! OP, best of luck. Thank you for updating us. We were all behind you!

    Reply
  56. NotADramaQueen

    I have to say this was the best possible outcome of a rotten situation (OP gets job back at double pay, Evil HR Lady & Food Thief get fired). Woo hoo, OP! But why did they do it? I think FT was convinced that OP (perhaps at the instigation of his colleagues whose food was stolen) set him up, wanted revenge, & got his HR girlfriend to do the dirty work. Of course it was nothing of the sort, & thanks to OP getting the lawyer to write that letter & the boss being a decent sort, justice was served. Good to hear.

    Reply
  57. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    I don’t know if my comment of yesterday made it through – but – if OP *hadn’t* sought legal counsel, she’d likely STILL be fired.

    Usually back-room settlements do not offer a re-hiring scenario, so this is unusual. When litigation could be forthcoming, it’s almost always (or as I said “stuff you see in the movies”) a “payoff and you do not talk to anyone about this.”

    I did mention – in my field, IS/IT – sometimes a firee is called back – usually when the company finds out they cannot live without the fired employee!!!

    Reply
  58. Clarissa

    Ok, ok, so great update and all, happy tears, but let’s get to the important question:

    What were you eating for lunch? I’m picturing Thai or Indian. :D

    I’m soooooo hungry right now and spicy food sounds soooooo good.

    Reply
  59. Sonja

    This was the story that lead me to AAM in the first place! OP, I owe you thanks for helping me find such a great resource. I’m so glad this story has a happy ending, too. Very satisfying.

    Reply
  60. LiveAndLetDie

    Oh wow I’d been hoping for an update on this one! I’m glad to see things worked out in your favor, OP, but that had to be one heck of a stressful time for you regardless! I’m sorry you had to go through it. And I’m glad to see that karma worked so swiftly this time around!

    Reply

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