my boss keeps stealing my lunch, after I’ve asked him to stop

A reader writes:

I have a bit of a weird situation and was wondering if you had any advice on how to deal with my manager. I’ve recently been transferred to a new department, working in a new office environment, under a new manager. His diet consists mainly of fast food and take-out.

I have crazy allergies to a bunch of foods, and chemicals found in most processed foods. Some are the swell-up-like-a-balloon-and-stop-breathing kind of allergy. I make most of my food at home and bring it with me to work. I’m really open about my allergies so that people understand I’m just defective, not rude. And most people get it. Except my manager.

He eats my lunch out of the staff fridge on an almost daily basis as if the food fairy left him a gift. I resorted to packing meals that I could keep at my desk, and he started raiding my drawers when I would be in meetings or away from my desk. When I try to address the fact that he’s stealing my food, he tries to butter me up by complimenting my cooking then walks away.

Any thoughts on how I can handle this situation? Especially strategies that don’t have me going above him to complain to his manager (also, we have no HR department to turn to).

Your boss is either incredibly rude or has some kind of eating compulsion problem. Or both.

You’ve got two choices:

1. Talk to him directly. Not in passing, not off-the-cuff, but a serious, sit-down conversation that sounds something like this: “Jim, as you know, I have serious food allergies. When you eat the food that I brought to work with me, it means that I can’t eat anything that day since I can’t replace it with just anything that happens to be accessible. So when you take my food, I literally cannot eat until I go home. Like most people, I don’t do well when I’m starving. This is a medical issue for me. I need you to stop taking my food.”

If he jokes it off, repeat again, “This is a medical issue for me. If you’re going to continue taking my food, it will put me at risk of a medical problem. How can we solve this?”

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t feel 100% comfortable having this kind of stern conversation with your boss. But when you’re dealing with someone so willing to violate normal boundaries, your best bet is often a simple, direct assertion that the behavior needs to stop. I’m not going to tell you that there’s no chance of it creating tension between the two of you; it might. But you’re so clearly in the right and he’s so clearly in the wrong that it’s also likely that he’ll just feel sheepish and back off.

2. Get a locking lunchbox. Seriously. I searched online for one and couldn’t find any easily, but I did find suggestions to use a small locking toolbox or one of those lockboxes that people store money in. Get something that can only be opened with a key or a numerical combination.

But all this aside, this guy is going through your desk to steal your food, after you’ve asked him to stop. Something’s not quite right in his head.

Want to read an update to this post? The reader’s update several months later is here. And the latest is here.

{ 193 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I had a roommate who used to steal my food (and by steal I mean she would eat entire jars of peanut butter and entire boxes of cookies). I got a lightweight locking money box with a removable cash tray and took the try out for the fridge, and a locking file storage box as my “pantry”. It worked really well! (p.s. not a joke; this actually happened!)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had a roommate my freshman year of college who did this too! She once took a slice of a birthday cake I’d just made for a friend — before I’d presented the cake to that friend! I came up with all kinds of plans for traps, including one that involved a box of Teddy Grahams and a net that would fall on her, but never actually carried any of them out.

      1. Lisa*

        I had a roommate like this also! The worst part was he would eat a whole box of something (say, granola bars) and leave the empty box on the shelf so I would reach into it happy to see it was still there, then realize there was nothing in it. Augh! He even ate leftovers I brought home from a restaurant that had a fork IN the little styrofoam box that made it obvious I’d been eating out of it already… apparently getting my food was more important than avoiding my mouth germs.

        I resorted to not buying anything that had to be refrigerated unless it was something I knew he didn’t like, and hiding the shelf-stable items in my closet behind piles of laundry. Should have gone the locking file cabinet route, but I was broke.

        I will confess that I get low blood sugar and have from time to time–very occasionally–resorted to something like grabbing a spoonful of a coworker’s peanut butter or a handful of chips if I suddenly realize I’m shaking badly and I’m out of snacks in the office, but if I do that I tell them and buy a full jar/bag the next time I notice they’re looking low on peanut butter/chips. (This was in an office with no vending machine anywhere in the building, and it’s not smart for me to walk near traffic once I get to the shaky point.) So reading this I really did try to figure out if there could possibly be an understandable explanation that she could use even as a favorable assumption when talking to him, but I can’t think of one that would even in part justify eating an employee’s entire lunch every day! Or even once! Even if he was hypoglycemic and in desperate need, as a hypoglycemic person, about 2 bites of something is plenty and if it isn’t you don’t have the kind that you can control just with eating regularly.

        1. Jamie*

          “I had a roommate like this also! The worst part was he would eat a whole box of something (say, granola bars) and leave the empty box on the shelf so I would reach into it happy to see it was still there, then realize there was nothing in it. Augh!”

          One of my sons does this…I love him beyond all reason which I’ve never felt about any co-worker…but if I could get him to understand that if there is half a reason of ice cream left or less than 1 full Oreo to THROW OUT THE CONTAINER.

        2. KellyK*

          I think that if you had a valid reason, as long as you tell the person and replenish their food, it’s a whole different thing. Especially with hypoglycemia (or diabetes, or anything else that makes eating RIGHT NOW a major health issue).

          I have been guilty of accidentally swiping people’s food (we bought the same brand of yogurt, or they had sodas in the fridge that I thought were leftovers from the party that day and therefore up for grabs). But you need to be honest and replace what you took.

    1. Liz T*

      I love that first idea. Anything that puts it in terms of cold hard cash could be pretty effective.

    2. Michele*

      Bring two lunches, one of which is laced with salmonella or a very strong laxative. Repeat as necessary until Boss connects his intestinal distress with your cooking.

  2. Brittany*

    Wow this is crazy!

    If he fights you on it and brushes you off again after talking to him, it sounds like a talk with HR and his boss is in order. I cannot imagine any scenario where someone would see this being normal.

    I would make sure he found me rifling through his drawers for anything you could find, and when he catches you, just say, “Well since you search through my drawers constantly for my food, I figured your desk was fair game as well!”

    1. majigail*

      Don’t forget that the boss has the right to go through her drawers- that’s business property, so locking and not granting him access to the drawer might be a problem. But stealing her lunch is definitely out of bounds, no matter where he steals it from. PLEASE give us an end of year update!

    2. Brittany*

      Oops I missed the part about no HR. I like the “alarm lunchbox” idea, something that screams “THEIF THEIF!” when you open it.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’ve seen cookie jars that “talk” when you open them. One that looks like a pig and oinks would be appropriate in this case.

  3. Natalie*

    Does your desk drawer lock? If so, perhaps it would be helpful to start locking your desk.

    If the keys for the desk are lost or you were not provided a set, you can order more. On most desks, there is a 4-6 digit alphanumeric code stamped onto the lock. Call up a locksmith and explain the situation and provide the code, and they should be able to get you a set of keys.

  4. JoAnna*

    You should foil the Lunch Thief by making a lunchbox alarm, like Leigh Botts did in “Dear Mr. Henshaw.” (Love that book!)

    Since there’s no HR, why are are so hesitant to go above him? If this guy is brashly stealing the food of his employees, who’s to say he’s not also stealing the company’s money? If I were his manager, I’d want to know!

    1. Jamie*

      This is nicer than packing some less than fresh lunches for a while…alarms are much less felonious than food poisoning.

  5. Jamie*

    I am in awe that Alison could come up with good advice for this topic – because I was so dumbfounded by the situation I drew a total blank.

    This is seriously crazy.

    The allergies issue makes it much worse for the OP – but even without that I would feel so freaking violated. There is something really, really wrong with him.

    I know this happens all the time with pre-packaged stuff (yogurt, bottled water, etc.) where the food thieves claim it was an accident and they thought it was theirs. But home packed lunches? Your desk drawers? What’s next? He is a little short on cash so he compliments your wallet as he takes your last $20?

    The weirdest request I ever got was a former co-worker asking if he could borrow the Nivea lip balm I keep in my desk because his lips were chapped. I said no (big surprise) and threw it out anyway because I couldn’t help but wonder if he had used it without asking in the past.

  6. Christine*

    Wow…definitely one of the craziest stories I’ve read on AAM!

    I wouldn’t be too terribly surprised if it was a co-worker. But the MANAGER??

    I think Alison’s advice is spot on. If addressing it with him directly does not work, then I would absolutely go to his manager. I know, easier said than done, but there are potentially serious medical consequences to his behavior.

    Good luck!!

  7. Anonymous*

    Stealing your lunch is no different than him stealing money from you!

    Stealing is stealing, plain and simple!

    If a serious talk directly with him won’t work, you must go to his manager.

    1. Anonymous*

      I came here to post the same link. OP, talk to your boss directly one more time, then buy that AND go to his boss and show the lengths you’ve had to resort to because of his disrespect and boundary issues. You should also start invoicing him for your meals. I feel like he continues to do this because you aren’t standing up for yourself. Don’t let him brush you off, don’t let him walk away, don’t let him give you compliments on your cooking, handle this.

      1. MillenniMedia*

        Although I think that contraption is hysterical, I actually am pretty against you buying some mechanism to lock up your lunch. You should NOT have to spend more money (on top of what you’ve already spent replacing your own friggin food) to keep this guy away. If your only recourse is going to his boss, so be it.

        1. Liz T*

          Maybe she could buy it and then bring him the receipt! “I know you just can’t stop yourself, but I’m sure you feel terrible about it. This should help you out.”

      1. RKT*

        Stealing lunch every day has got to be worse (someone who makes more money than you eating the food you bought and leaving you with nothing- adds insult to injury), though the fingernail clippings story is even weirder.

    1. Joel*

      What is that, digestible thermite? If he recovers, there could be some repercussions.

      Addressing him sternly but directly is best. Preferably with a write up of the meeting afterward.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s a “concentrated food additive”.

        Look, some people *really* like their chili hot. Who am I to judge what others do in the privacies of their own homes? ;)

      2. Mike C.*

        I mean look at it this way. I like hot foods, and if some jackass is going to steal it, and then complain about all the hot sauce I used, that just doesn’t make sense. It’s different than the use of exlax because the latter is a medicine and not intended for food. These crystals are.

  8. MillenniMedia*

    I agree with the commenters who suggested that this guy could also be helping himself to cash (yours or the company’s) and who knows what else. I agree with Alison’s suggested dialogue, but I might also add in a warning that if it happens again you will consider it theft and will report it to his boss. If he tries to laugh it off and walk away, follow him! Continuing the conversation in front of the entire office might be enough to shame him into stopping…or at least provide witnesses to your warning about reporting it.

    With serious health concerns being part of the equation you have every right to take the issue farther up the chain than a normal stolen lunch victim might. Think of it this way – if you had prescription medication that you had to take daily to manage pain or prevent a life threatening condition and he was snagging those out of your desk, what would you do? If your allergies are truly that severe, its not an unreasonable comparison.

    1. KellyK*

      I think that’s a completely reasonable comparison and that the OP definitely has every right to take it to their boss’s boss. I don’t know what the dynamics are like or why they’re so reluctant to do that, but it’s definitely the sort of thing that shouldn’t be allowed.

  9. Anonymous*

    Perhaps you could take a decoy lunch to work–make it look extra appetizing, but add tons of salt and atomic hot sauce (or something rancid). See how many times he steals your lunch after that.

  10. SB*

    If a final confrontation with your boss doesn’t work, then I say go for Ex-lax chocolate chip cookies in this situation. He’ll likely eat the evidence, so there would be no way to prove it. Fellow commentors: does anyone else know if it can be proven? What if when challenged the OP simply said “What? I’m irregular, and I like my cookies. I baked them for myself, who knew someone else would take them?”

    Or perhaps a disgusting “decoy” lunch (dump an entire container of salt in your meal, or pack pickled pig’s feet or herring) and hide your real lunch elsewhere, like a file cabinet, or coworker’s desk.

  11. Jamie*

    I wouldn’t really do this, as passive aggressive isn’t my style – but if it were whenever I was investigating the theft of my lunch from my desk I was also wondering who took the $20 I had in my purse…and now they’re both gone.

    I wouldn’t want to me in the position of proving that while I was a lunch thief I didn’t steal the money…which was stolen in the same time period.

    Again, I wouldn’t do it…but it could work.

  12. Morgane*

    This is one of the MOST bizarre situations I have ever heard of. I would feel seriously violated if someone was doing this repeatedly, has he ever heard of boundaries?!?

    Does your office have a door that you can lock?

  13. Beth*

    I once had a boss that would rifle through my desk for food, change, whatever. He also was phobic about female issues. I covered everything in my desk drawers with tampons and he never ventured in the desk again.

    1. Jamie*

      That is awesome! So if anyone does this and Alison gets a letter that starts: “Dear AAM – I have a co-worker who is very competent and a joy to work with, just one little thing…she’s decorating with tampons and it’s making the rest of our staff a little uncomfortable…”

      We’ll all know from where the idea came :).

        1. Lina*


          Honestly, I don’t see why his manager needs to be in the dark. This is a completely reasonable thing to complain about.

  14. KellyK*

    Really, the only thing you can do without going up the chain is to talk to him politely and respectfully but very bluntly, or put your lunch in something that locks (and don’t leave the keys anywhere he might find them).

    Even if you *do* talk to him, I would still lock up my lunch or bring an extra and hide it because I’d rather spend 8 bucks on a padlock than go hungry for even one more afternoon.

    1. Lina*

      How about putting your lunch in a very large purse-like bag (without anything extra valuable in it)? If he goes through your purse to get to your lunch then you have an issue that needs to go to the manager ASAP. I’m not sure anyone can talk himself out of that one!

  15. Jeanne*

    Print out a generic Expense Form and fill in about a weeks worth of lunch items in detail with prices. Add his name to the form under event/meeting etc. Put a post-it note to remind you to send this to accounting before payday. Have a bunch of blank form and maybe fill out a few and stamp them, sent to accounting…etc… Leave this either on your lunch or in it. If he ignores this, actually send it to accounting! Someone, somewhere will make him stop!

  16. TLColson*

    While the idea of locking up your lunch might be practical, it doesn’t solve the problem. It pushes it off. (either the next person who’s lunch is available, or to the inevitable moment when he sorts out how to get to your belongings anyway)

    I’d take it to his manager. This is left of personal property. He may have a right to go through your desk (as its company property) but he doesn’t have a right to take anything that doesn’t actually belong to the company.

    If you’ve talked to him already – its time to go over his head. If HIS boss doesn’t see it as a problem, you now have confirmation that you are working for a company with serious management and boundary issues, and you can decide if that is where you want to continue your employment.

    Its a power play most likely. And if the company is worth working for, they will fix this immediately.

  17. Lisa*

    If he likes your cooking so much and it’s the kind of office that would allow it, can you offer to make an extra lunch for him for $x/day, payable in advance? We have one employee in my office who sells tamales once a month to anyone who wants them. Or maybe say that you’re willing to take on the additional duty of providing his lunch, but that he will need to give you a raise of $X and pass the increase by accounting along with the addition to your job description?

    All I can figure here after a great deal of pondering is that he simply thinks that you work for him so it’s your job to feed him. Sexist and idiotic, but maybe you can parlay it into a workplace advantage.

  18. clobbered*

    This one is *way* crazier than the nail-clipper guy.

    How about actually asking him, since he enjoys your cooking so much, would he like to pay you $10/day (or whatever) to bring him his own packed lunch? I know that it sounds like humouring the jerk, but I think I would feel too bloody weird having to lock up my lunch – and at least this way you could make some profit off the craziness.

    1. Jamie*

      Definitely – way crazier than nail clipper guy. Rights trump options every time. OP has the right to eat lunch at work, no one has the right to groom their nails at work.

      I see where you guys are coming from with the suggestion that she take money and cater his lunch – but I think that has the potential to really backfire on her. Once he’s paying can he place orders? Get picky? Complain if he’s displeased. It really blurs a line – and he shouldn’t get rewarded for being crazy.

      In a perfect world he would be sent to a boot camp to learn boundaries and manners. I just hate when people get rewarded for being rude and disregarding social conventions.

  19. Mr. X*

    Two words: strong laxative. There’s also one other chemical (I forget the name offhand) that turns your urine red, like blood. That should up their heart rate.

    Seriously – put in a decoy lunch that’s loaded, and let the fun begin. I like the idea of using Capsaicin!

    1. Anonymous*

      There is a pain pill for UTIs that turns urine a reddish orange. Is that what you’re thinking about?

  20. Anonymous*

    I’d pack a dummy lunch with an extra strong laxative. If that doesn’t get the point across, I’d put laundry or dish shop into it.

    The point is that this is your food, and nobody should be eating it before asking permission. If somebody either gets the trots or is foaming at the mouth, he really has nobody to blame but himself.

    Be nice about it. Put a small note with it that says “please do not eat.” And then, your conscious is clear. You told people not to eat it. :)

  21. Gene*

    As tempting as a laxitive sounds, I wouldn’t do that, mainly because he quite likely wouldn’t connect the two. I DO like the cap crystals though.

    You’ve talked to him; now talk to his boss witht he following message, “Bob has been stealing my lunch from inside my desk. I’ve told him to stop, but he just laughed it off. The next time my desk gets prowled and my lunch disappears, I’m calling the police and reporting a theft from my desk.” Then follow through.

    1. The Employee*

      Heh. We work with cops! This threat doesn’t hold much weight. I’m pretty sure dispatch would laugh at me and hang up if I ever attempted to actually follow through.

      1. Gene*

        If you report a theft and the local police laugh at you and hang up, it’s time to call the local TV station investigative reporter. “Local Police Ignore Theft” “Local Business Allows Managers to Steal Workers’ Food” Heck, if it’s during a rating period they could make a week-long investigative series.

        Since you work with them, do you have a friend on the force? A quick request to do up a report might be in order. Beyond the health issues, which I wouldn’t even mention in the call, it’s Petty Theft. They take theses reports all day long and the prosecutors take them to court every day.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I strongly doubt the police would take this seriously. People taking other people’s food seems to happen in most offices; it’s not a problem that rises to the level of police (who tend to have limited resources and are often in triage mode). I really wouldn’t recommend taking up police time with this, and I do think it’s likely you’d be laughed at — rightly or wrongly. Nor would the news care about this, trust me.

            1. Anonymous*

              I think a good case of the trots would cure this guy.

              The only way the OP would get in trouble for sabotaging their own lunch is for the manager to admit he’d been stealing it.

  22. The Employee*

    Lock box. Brilliant! I don’t know how I didn’t think of that. I purchased one on my way home and I’m ready to set it up tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks for the advice!

    I have tried the serious conversation route with him. I called a meeting with him (but didn’t tell him it was about the lunch issue, specifically). As soon as I started, he cut me off by complimenting my cooking, then walked out of his own office leaving me speechless. I’ve made very blunt statements publicly to him but he turns them all into a joke. He’s got this great way of distracting an entire room and moving everyone to a new topic whenever he’s put on the spot. It’s his own little super power. I’ve even left early and told him straight up it was because I was hungry.

    A few of you have wondered why I hesitate to go to his boss. First, I hate being the one to complain about dietary restrictions. It’s the fastest way to being alienated – even when you’re so completely in the right and you know that someone will do something because they have to. I feel like this issue will eventually be reduced to the food and my need for accommodations (always is) and that isn’t the issue here at all.

    Second, it’s just….ridiculous. Try verbalizing this issue out loud and NOT sound like a 6 year old complaining to Teacher that Jimmy ate your snack at recess. Even if I frame it in terms of health or question his character, I ultimately have to ask that in order to resolve this, that he make my boss stop eating my lunch. It’s just ridiculous.

    I do love the lock box idea and can’t wait to try it. I’m too chicken to attempt the decoy lunch but now I’ve got a new fantasy land for boring meetings! Thanks for all the great suggestions!

    1. L*

      I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. Your boss sounds like a complete lunatic. Even if you didn’t have food allergies, this would still be so, so inappropriate.

      I also wonder if you’re the only one in your office who has been treated this way? Have any of your coworkers experienced similar problems, either with food theft or a general lack of respect for boundaries? Maybe they have some advice/insight into his particular brand of crazy that could help you. And I agree with everyone who has suggested that you start documenting your conversations about the lunch left with him.

      1. L*

        I also meant to say that in talking to your coworkers about this, remember that the fact that you have food allergies doesn’t even have to come up or be an issue. Your boss is stealing your lunch. That’s just weird. If your coworkers are at all sane, they’ll be sympathetic and may even have some advice or at least be able to commiserate. This is important because it sounds like your boss is already trying to brush you off and make you feel crazy.

      2. Anonymous J*

        If she works with cops, they may have a counselor/psychologist on site or available. She could take the issue to that person and run it past him/her. That person may have some ideas of how to tackle it, too.

        1. Anonymous J*

          Oops! Let me clarify: The OP could take the guy’s behavior to the counselor–in a hypethetical way–and get that person’s take on the BEHAVIOR.

    2. Cube Ninja*

      If it were totally ridiculous, though, and you had already realized that, you wouldn’t be bringing it up as a legitimate complaint.

      In my office, probably once or twice a year, an e-mail goes out from our HR manager to the entire office warning people off stealing lunches. This isn’t about dietary restrictions, it’s about theft of personal property. Your boss is doing something illegal – the fact that it’s happening in the office with someone who reports directly to him makes it worse.

      Based on what you wrote, this is also a situation involving harassment and a hostile work environment, which, frankly, is a bigger issue in some ways than skipping a meal here and there. Unless of course you also happen to be a diabetic, in which case this becomes a Very Serious Medical Issue.

      My opinion – don’t bother talking to your boss – you’ve already gone down that road and it’s gotten you nowhere. Go to HIS boss with the concern and point out that when you’ve attempted to resolve the situation directly, your boss has completely downplayed it and gone so far as to “compliment” your cooking.

      With regard to your comment about not wanting to cause trouble – why the hell not? You’re being harassed in your workplace, plain and simple and your boss is committing crimes in your workplace on a near-daily basis.

      If you speak up for yourself, the worst that happens is that boss’ boss tells you to take a hike and you’re no worse off, plus you then have the knowledge that you’re working for a company that you don’t want to work for.

      If you don’t speak up, the chances of it getting better are zero.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think it’s harassment or hostile workplace in the legal sense (although certainly in other senses!), since the behavior isn’t singling her out based on a protected class (religion, race, sex, disability, etc.). Actually, I suppose it’s possible that disability law could be coming into play here somehow; can you say more about what you’re thinking in that regard?

        1. L*

          Totally NOT a lawyer, but I wonder if the OP disclosed her food allergies to HR, would that offer her some recourse the next time he stole her food? Then again, she’s understandably hesitant to be the squeaky wheel about her food allergies, so that probably isn’t a road she wants to go down anyway.

        2. Under Stand*

          harassment does enter into it because he is not taking food from everyone, just her. And she can make the argument that she is being singled out because she is “a weak, little woman” with a medical condition which he is knowingly aggravating. Playing on sexist stereotypes? Totally. Playing on on ADA? Sure. But the fear of DOL sure does work wonders. Don’t get me wrong, they will surely decide that she is a total pain in the rear, but they will NOT put her on a cut list and will most likely promote her to “prove” that they are not discriminating against her.

          1. Under Stand*

            I forgot to say, they would basically have to run with the defense that he is just an overall Jerk rather than a specific one and it will make the company look like crap. In such a case, it is cheaper and better PR to kick him to the curb and roll over backward than to fight the DOL, trying to argue that she is making a big deal out of nothing. Could it be a case where this was not harassment? Yeah, but the company would not win the PR battle trying to prove that they just hire jerks who rob their employees.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No competently managed place is going to promote someone just to prove there’s no discrimination. The most likely outcome is that they’d simply speak to the manager and put a stop to this, as they should (at which point there’s no case, because she reported it and it was dealt with).

            Simply being a woman wouldn’t suffice to prove sex discrimination. She’d have to prove it was because she was a woman that it happened, and she sounds way too sensible to argue something like that!

            1. Under Stand*

              The point is, you make it inconvenient for them. Because if they try to discipline her after the complaint, that is prima facia evidence of a retaliatory action. Sometimes the threat of legal action, is enough, even if it is not provable. Because it is hard for them to prove that she is not being singled out by him BECAUSE she is an easy mark because of her sex/ medical condition. They would have to say “yes she is being singled out, but it is because we choose to hire jerks and make them managers and we turn a blind eye to them breaking the law”. That is something DOL would find interesting. They admit their employee breaks the law, but then want DOL to believe that he would not break THAT law.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s overkill though. There’s almost definitely not going to be a need to take it in that direction, and it would be far preferable to get the situation fixed while preserving the relationship with the employer, rather than going scorched earth.

                There are all kinds of subtle ways to retaliate against an employee that can’t be proven but which can harm a career nonetheless, and there’s just no need to take it in that direction.

              2. Kimberlee*

                There’s also the issue that when you start throwing around discrimination complaints, most policies that prohibit retaliation only do so when the accusation is made “in good faith.” If it’s patently obvious that the discrimination complaint was trumped up to deal with another issue, she’s not protected from retaliation, and would probably be in a good place to lose her job. If she wants to go the legal route, she could probably pull up something ADA-related, but honestly I prefer the approach mentioned above: Tell the boss and HIS boss that this is outright theft, it will not be tolerated, and that you will call the police if it happens again. In my experience, if you call the police about something in earnest, they will not laugh in your face… if they do, they’re pretty shitty police and should probably themselves have a convo with their supervisors.

              3. fposte*

                That’s not an *illegal* retaliatory action, though. To put it another way, it’s legal to harass, it’s legal to make one’s workplace hostile, it’s legal to retaliate against employees reporting problems–save for a few circumstances where the law intervenes. This doesn’t sound like one of them.

        3. Cube Ninja*

          Well, as L noted below, if the food allergies were disclosed to the employer, that could make it a medical issue, but since I’m not the lawyerly type, I think there would be a lot of “ifs” associated with that one, mostly hinging on exactly how serious the allergies are. For instance, I think there might be a bit of a legal difference between “I get a little itchy when I eat shellfish” versus “I die when I eat peanuts”. :)

          The example I used of a diabetic or someone who is hypoglycemic could potentially be a huge ADA issue for the employer. If another employee were to nick a lunch and the lack of immediately available personal food supply resulted in a seizure or insulin shock or something similar, I’d guess the employer could be on the hook in a pretty big way.

          As far as harassment/hostile environment, I wasn’t necessarily talking in the strict legal definitions regarding employment law, but more as a general concept – I should’ve been more specific on that point.

          At the end of the day, though, apart from any other concerns, this is still theft and any halfway competent employer is going to wonder why one of their management staff is being accused.

          1. Under Stand*

            Considering the OP stated “the swell-up-like-a-balloon-and-stop-breathing kind of allergy. I make most of my food at home and bring it with me to work. I’m really open about my allergies so that people understand I’m just defective”, I would say that OP has pretty effectively communicated a possibly life threatening medical condition. This would put this in ADA range. And since the Manager has not only NOT attempted to steal her food but has been actively seeking her food out as evidenced by his going through her drawers when she is in meetings or away from her desk and has laughed off her complaints about taking her food, this would put this in the range (arguably) of being an attack upon her where she was specifically targeted. SO, if she argues the point with management, they would have to prove that she was NOT targeted for being a female or because she was an easy mark because of her medical condition. That would look really bad for them when they try to tell DOL that one.

            1. Cube Ninja*

              I’m with AAM on the discrimination based on gender point. It would be awfully difficult to prove any sort of discrimination based on gender here, I’d think.

              Insofar as the allergies and dietary needs being “clearly communicated”, since the manager in this case hasn’t been interested in hearing it and OP hasn’t spoken with anyone higher up in the organization (and has stated a hesitation in doing so), it’d be an uphill battle and ultimately somewhat of a moot point since the real issue here is theft of personal property.

              As I noted before, I’m not the lawyerly type, but I believe burden of proof falls to the employer in cases of retaliatory behavior, not in cases where the employee is alleging treatment based on a protected class.

        4. Long Time Admin*

          What it is, is bullying. And “Employee”, this is causing you stress, which is not healthy.

          I understand your reluctance to talk to the Big Boss, but if the lockbox doesn’t work, or causes the Food Thief to act in a hostile manner, then you really do need to talk to Big Boss.

          Frankly, I would be looking for a new job if nothing changed.

    3. Anonymous*

      I’d be tempted in putting that on an expense account.

      Company: “Why are we paying for your lunchbox?”
      OP: “Because I was forced to buy it with my lunch being stolen practically on a daily basis – whether it is in the employee lounge fridge or in my desk.”
      Company: *crickets* *hands over check*

    4. Natalie*

      “Second, it’s just….ridiculous.”

      Except it makes him look ridiculous, not you. It’s ridiculous that he would steal from his employees in the first place, and it’s extra ridiculous that he would continue after you asked him to stop, and it’s extra extra ridiculous that he would do all of this to someone who is less able to just buy something at the vending machine.

    5. Lisa*

      It sounds like he might be embarrassed and perhaps a compulsive eater. If that’s the case, the locking lunchbox should stop him.

      Now that you know that the way to this boss’s heart is food, you could try positive reinforcement by bringing snacks for the whole office (but setting them near him) when you’re happy with how he’s treating you. Train your boss like a dolphin?

    6. Anonymous J*

      This man definitely has issues. I’m so sorry you are stuck working with him. Please, please be careful. He really sounds potentially dangerous to me.

      Is there any way you can get a transfer?

      Congrats on the lock box. I hope it works out!

    7. Anonymous*

      Does your boss’s boss use the same fridge? If so, when he asks why there is a lock box in the fridge you can matter-of-fact-ly say that it is because you have had serious problems with someone eating your lunch, and said person refused to stop when confronted. (And make sure your boss is in ear shot).

      Passive aggressive? Yes. But also utterly hilarious to watch your boss squirm uncomfortably? Also yes. (besides, the direct approach hasn’t worked)

    8. JessB*

      Man, this is crazy situation, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with it!

      Just wanted to quickly say that I think if you do go to your boss’s boss, you might want to do it with an utterly amazed attitude, which would be harder to interpret as whiny. I do see your point that this could come off like that, but I don’t think it would.

      All the best!

    9. Anonymous*

      I really think this sounds like workplace bullying. The fact that he just got up and walked out of the meeting you scheduled seems to indicate that he knows how blatant and rude his behavior is, and he doesn’t care. You’re beneath him, and he’s getting away with whatever he can. Like someone else said, it’s absolute a power play, and he is testing your boundaries. It’s best to stop it now, or it really could get worse.

  23. Anonymous*

    Dear OP – remember to document (date, time, who, converstation etc.) your discussions regarding the lunch theft with your boss.

    It may help when/if you need to talk to his boss about the issue.

    Please let us know how this turns out.

  24. lee*

    ON a serious note, I have several food allergies myself and if someone at my office did this I would lose my shit on them.

    Your boss is a bully and bullies only understand aggression and usually back down when challenged.

    Bring your food as always.
    Wait for him to take it.
    Grab it from him and say

    Yeah it is scary to do that because of the possible repercussions but sometimes bullshit needs to be called on someone.

    If you are called in to discuss this and you feel negative consequences are going to come up, remember this phrase, “I cannot continue this conversation without consulting with my attorney.”
    Scares the shit out of them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree 100% except for the last point, about the lawyer. When you’re dealing with something where legal issues aren’t really coming into play (and often even when they are), threatening to consult a lawyer is likely to just get you marked as a pain in the ass. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever consult a lawyer — but you should just go ahead and do it, not use the prospect of it as a threat. Because any experienced manager will just say, “That’s a great idea. I encourage you to consult a lawyer” and then forever afterward consider you Trouble.

      Ideally, you’d handle this situation in a way that solves it but doesn’t scorch the relationship. You don’t want to protect your lunch only to end up at the top of a cutbacks list later on.

      All that said, I completely agree with Lee about the way to deal with a bully and love the “do not ever take my food again” approach.

      1. lee*

        Re: the attorney, it definitely depends on the culture of the company. It worked for me because of the atmosphere of the company and the absurdity of the issue. but your mileage may vary.

  25. Under Stand*

    Talk to your managers manager. Use words like Hostile work environment, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Department of Labor. Hopefully, while po-po may not strike fear in the boss, the DOL might. Do NOT do the laxatives or capaicin. As you have reason to believe that he will be eating your food, he could have you arrested for poisoning, and even if he did not, odds are you would end up with a pink slip.

    1. Dan Ruiz*

      I agree, if you know he’s going to eat it, putting something in it will make YOU the bad guy.

      This happened at a company I used to work for years ago. Someone got tired of food being stolen and brought in Exlax brownies. A couple of people got really sick and the company went all out to find the cook. They no longer cared about the theives, they wanted to fire the person putting poison in the company fridge.

      1. Jamie*

        I assumed everyone was kidding with references to putting something in the food. Once you have a reason to believe someone will eat it, you would be liable.

        The less funny – but only responsible thing to do is to escalate this to his manager and/or lock up your lunches.

        Dan’s right – the second someone got sick it goes from crazy guys stealing lunches to the crazier person who poisoned him.

  26. Carolyn*

    My roommate did this! She had earlier classes than I did and would wake up and eat my food in the morning while I was still sleeping. This continued for a few months, despite leaving polite notes asking her to stop or flat out writing my name on EVERYTHING. I dragged her before the RA and we signed a contract. Still didn’t quite solve the issue. But finally, in my second semester with this person, she finally admitted that she struggled with eating disorders and would binge on my food (since she often only had vegetables in the fridge or oatmeal). So, protect your food first (mark it, hide it, etc), write down everything he takes and the price, and monitor his habits (going to the gym too much as a purging method, drinking too much water, or when he’s overstressed). It’s possible that an eating disorder is causing him to ignore those boundaries.

    1. Grace*

      Our department (in a large law firm) had this problem of lunches being stolen by an unknown thief. Memos and meetings were had about scores of missing lunches over many months, to no avail. Finally I walked in to the kitchen and caught the managing case partner eating my sandwich and holding my paperbag. I told him to give me $20 for me to buy my lunch since he was eating mine. I told the entire department that to go to him if their lunch was missing and ask for $20 cash. It turned out he was a self-centered alcoholic and didn’t care about anyone but himself.

  27. Tex*

    Since you just transferred departments, I would informally consult with your old boss to gauge upper management’s feelings towards bizarro manager. Is he well liked by upper management (super star performer or brown noser?), by his peers (practical joker who pushes the boundaries or a real jerk?). Is he oblivious and management looking to fire him?

    Knowing how your boss is perceived through the rest of the company is going to allow you to frame the conversation you need to have with his boss. If the big boss is a frat boy friend of your boss, you might not get anywhere and should stick with the lock box. If the big boss is a normal person and has no idea how your boss is acting, you could go in with a “This is a really awkward and bizarre situation that I am not sure how to handle, this is what’s been happening on a daily basis …. This is what I did to address it….. but I’ve been brushed off and it keeps happening.” And be sure to tell the big boss that this severely hampering your ability to do your job since you have had to leave early in order to go home and eat. If he doesn’t care about productivity, I don’t know what to say.

    Do not, under any circumstances, put anything in the food for him. As tempting as that may be, as someone pointed out above, it may backfire on you.

  28. Anon y. mouse*

    If you’re going to start bringing decoy lunches and poisoning them, might I suggest birth control pills?

    Okay, that one would probably have criminal repercussions, so not a good idea. And your boss wouldn’t realize his mood swings were a direct result of stealing your lunch, but after he breaks down crying in the middle of the work day a couple of times he probably wouldn’t be able to bully people any more.

  29. Wilton Businessman*

    Two simple solutions:
    1. keep a cooler in the car
    2. lace your food with exlax or phospha-soda and let him have at it.

  30. Anonymous*

    Since the OP has severe allergies – facial swelling and can’t breathe – I’m sure she has an epipen, which is obtained via a prescription. She should definitely make sure she has some sort of medical documentation – perhaps even bringing it to the jerk. I would also keep a very close eye on any medication so that doesn’t go missing either. If he’s having fun with the food, I wouldn’t put it past him to have some sick fun in hiding the medicine.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have that much faith in jerks; when he is going through her desk, whose to say he wouldn’t take anything else.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      “If he’s having fun with the food, I wouldn’t put it past him to have some sick fun in hiding the medicine. ”

      I agree. Once upon a time, I worked under a boss who had had a stroke, and his behavior was very bizarre. He thought all kinds of unacceptable things were funny. It was scary, actually.

      1. Anonymous*

        While I feel sorry that he had a stroke, if it affects him in that manner, then perhaps he shouldn’t have been working, at least there anyway. It can happen to older people as well, stroke or not.

        If I were the OP, I’d just start thinking about how else he can affect me and what else he is possibly stealing, hence why I mentioned the medicine. Protect myself and document. If you can beat them, join them, and beat them at their own game.

  31. Karen*

    I am just amazed that people can feel OK about taking someone else’s food. If I accidentally ate someone’s food (not sure how that would happen, but stay with me here), and then I came to find out, I would be SO embarrassed. Not to mention apologetic. I’d probably buy them a much nicer lunch than what they had in the refrigerator. I mean…oink oink, people! How embarrassing to gobble up someone else’s food, leaving them with nothing to eat for lunch. And yet it happens in offices everywhere!

    And when you add the fact that you have food allergies and need to pack a special lunch, AND your boss was callous when you brought it to his attention, you’ve got a real nut on your hands. Was this guy raised by wolves?

    1. Lesley*

      I did that once–I thought I grabbed my frozen lunch from the the fridge, but it was someone else’s, and they had a diet restriction and couldn’t eat mine. I felt so bad–I took her out for lunch the next day.

  32. Rose*

    Have you considered a polite note to your boss copying his boss? Something like “please stop taking my lunch from inside my drawer and my purse. I need to spend money on a daily basis on two lunches and it makes me very uncomfortable to have you go through my personal belongings. I have tried speaking to you verbally about this in the past but you brushed it off as a joke. It is not a joke to me. Please stop immediately.” notice no mention of allergies, but does mention an ongoing, daily problem, him rifling through staff’s purses, and that you have spoken to him like an adult with no response.

    1. Lina*

      I would probably do the email CC’d to the manager’s boss.

      Also, as I set up a meeting with your boss or the big boss, if the secretary asks what the meeting is about I would say point out, “Bob has been stealing my lunch out of my desk/purse”.

  33. Snow Hill Pond*

    If you value working there and want to see the company succeed, then you should report the guy to his boss. It sounds like you work for a small company (since there is no HR). Small companies need good people at every position. If I were the owner of this business, I would want to know if one of my managers is a thief.

    If you’re indifferent to working there and don’t mind that your morale (and possibly the dept) is being torn down day-by-day by these little acts of moral decay, then bring the lunch lockbox.

  34. Anonymous*

    As others have pointed out, putting medicines in the food is foolish – toxicology would pick it up very quickly, and they’re obviously things which shouldn’t be in food. A much wiser course of action would be to develop a taste for things rich in red kidney beans, but not cook them (assuming the workplace has adequate facilities) until it’s lunch time (remember: boil for ten minutes). The key problem with this is that the OP has already complained, and thereby creating an unfortunate paper trail. As I’m sure AAM would point out, this is why it’s always best to be proactive in address problems, instead of requiring attention from management.

  35. Z*

    I told this story to my husband, and he asked, “Is the boss trying to get rid of her?” Could this be the worst, most passive-aggressive way possible for a manager to try to get rid of an employee he doesn’t like?

  36. LCL*

    The lockbox should work for you. It has worked for me where we have an ‘anonymous’ raider. I know who it is, because I saw them. I bought two softsided packing cubes and some luggage padlocks. Easy, fits in the fridge.

    Some confrontations aren’t worth the battle. You could do retaliatory actions, but what would it get you? We have a very proactive HR department at my job, but I would never consider going to them with something this weird.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s not so much the weirdness of someone stealing another person’s lunch. The OP is dealing with food allergies so it’s not like she can just eat any food left out for everyone. It is noted that she has this medical condition, and therefore, she should consider going to someone of authority to put a stop to this.

      1. LCL*

        It’s exactly the weirdness of the boss. He sounds like he has many problems, of which the lunch thing is but a small part. The food allergy is irrelevant to everyone but the OP-the boss shouldn’t be stealing anyone’s lunch. But in the corporate world, you got to pick your battles, because any time you get in one of these fights some of it sticks to you. Everybody who is advocating confrontation/retaliation is assuming the boss will react like a normal person-he has already proven he isn’t normal.

  37. Anonymous*

    I’m amazed no one has mentioned Ross of Friend’s fame screaming when the boss ate his special sandwich.

      1. Lina*

        Yeah, don’t go down that route. Ross ended up on tranquilizers and a year-long sabbatical. Less than ideal.

        Funny though.

  38. Anonymous*

    I have to say what I say for most of these posts. How is this person a manager? If they are stealing (which is what this is) from an employee, what are they taking from the company? This is a person with a feeling of entitlement and they are letting there position balloon their ego.

    I had a manager that did this. I agree with approach #1, it worked for me. He basically used to come to my office and when I would eat lunch he would help himself to whatever he wanted. Finally, one day I told him “That’s not yours”. Now, I know that isn’t the best way to talk to your boss, and we were totally by ourselves (I would never say that in front of employees) but man, did it solve the problem, good luck!

  39. Malissa*

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned a locking mini-fridge for under the desk. The keys would have to be in the employees pocket, but it would be the easiest solution.

    1. Anonymous*

      But why should the employee be going to the extra expense? She’s in the right; the manager’s in the wrong.

  40. Ted*

    1. Bring an extra lunch for your boss.


    2. Put your lunch in a paper sack, staple it shut, staple a note on the bag that says “Jane’s Lunch. Please do not take. My allergies require that I eat only this food. This is a medical issue for me.” If he still takes your lunch, and you can retrieve the empty sack, then put it on display with a note to everyone “Please don’t take my lunch. This is very important to me.” Perhaps the thought that everyone in the office would disapprove would shame him into stopping.

    1. Samantha*

      Bring an extra lunch for the boss? Seriously? Why should she have to provide food for someone else?

  41. JustMe*

    @Anonymous – yes, this stuff totally happens, and it demonstrates that some people have a total lack of boundaries about what is acceptable and what isn’t.

    When I first came to work at my current job I used to keep a variety of snacks in my desk for the afternoon munchies. Every single time that I was out of the office for vacation, training, etc. my immediate supervisor would go through my desk and eat everything she could find. I would come in the next day to find my snacks missing and sticky notes on my desk that said things like “I owe you a sleeve of Ritz crackers.” or “I ate your box of Wheat Thins.” Of course she never, ever replaced anything, and even once complained that a box of crackers I had was stale. It got to be tiresome and ridiculous that she never asked for anything when I was in the office, instead she always took it behind my back. Finally when it was clear she was never going to replace anything or bring her own snacks, I stopped stocking my desk and brought whatever I needed in a lunch box or my purse. By the way, I also have a medical issue – which she knew about, and that still didn’t stop her from taking my food.

  42. Joanna Reichert*


    I’m very picky about my food anyways, but I cannot possibly imagine being passive about this – even though I have no medical issues as far as food is concerned.

    I would raise my voice above the “inside voice” realm and state, with as much authority as I could possibly muster, “Excuse me! You’re going through my personal belongings and eating my food! That is TOTALLY unacceptable and needs to stop immediately. If it happens again, I’m billing you for my food.” That is for the first offense, straight up. Then an email to his boss outlining the situation – unemotional, just facts.

    If it ever happened again, you’d better believe retaliation would be in order – in the form of those capsicum tablets (or whatever form they come in), or pull a Lloyd from “Dumb & Dumber”and sabatoge my lunch so that he’d spend the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom. Nothing can be proven, and if worst comes to worse – he accuses you of deliberately messing with your lunch because . . . well, because he’s socially inept and a jerk and eats it?? – then you can simply feign innocence and say, “Goodness, I don’t know, it just must not have agreed with you. At any rate, I’ve told you before that you cannot steal my food – we’re all adults here, and I’m not telling you again.”

    Also – how does a company exist without an HR department? Doesn’t matter how high you have to climb – must be someone, somewhere, who cares that they have a thief in their employ.

    1. Andrea*

      Yeah, I agree. There’s no way I’d be passive or even say “please stop.” There’s no reason to use “please” here at all; there’s no way in hell I would “ask” someone to stop stealing from me. I would tell them to stop, and I would tell loudly, and then I would stop it from happening again, and I sure would not spend my own money on a lockbox “solution.” There’s nothing to negotiate here. The OP’s belongings are being stolen. It doesn’t matter that it is food; the allergies aren’t the issue. It sounds ridiculous because it is–but that’s not the OP’s fault. He is taking advantage of the employee…apparently because he can. There is no discussion that needs to happen with this ass–the only thing that needs to happen is a laying down of the law (so to speak; I’m not suggesting getting lawyers). I agree with the previous suggestion of talking to the former boss in order to gauge your approach, but either way, the approach has to be direct, forceful, and definite. This guy is a bully. He needs to be called out and stopped. Scheduling meetings with him and “asking” him to stop is not going to cut it. Explaining your allergies (though legitimate, the issue is that he is stealing from you and bullying you) is not going to cut it. OP, it’s time to put on your big girl panties and stand up for yourself.

      1. Joanna Reichert*


        What happens at the dog park? A dog runs around, being a nuisance, stealing toys and treats, barking and biting until another dog calls his bluff, then he’s off to find his owner with his tail between his legs.

        Naturally, dogs are not humans, but so much of what is true in pure, animalistic behaviors is still true in homo sapiens – body language and tone is powerful stuff!

        1. fposte*

          The parallel doesn’t entirely work, though, because the slinking-away dog doesn’t have the ability to then fire the dog that faced him down. That’s unfortunately something that the employee has to keep in mind, especially as there’s no indication that such a firing would be illegal.

      2. Long Time Admin*

        Andrea, you are right on about the boss being a bully. You can bet the rent that he’s getting his jollies taking her food and then telling her it’s her own fault because she’s such a good cook (blame the victim – “you made me do it”). Classic.

      3. Samantha*

        And you can’t stop a bully in an one on one meeting where he can get back the power.

        You need to do it publicly and loudly (not shrilly just not soft spoken – think firmly and on topic) and with witnesses. You need to get the power and keep it and don’t let it go. It’s tough but it can be done.

  43. Rachel*

    Clearly you are all better people than me. My solution to this problem would involve the contents of my cat’s litter box and some home made ‘chocolate fudge cake’.

  44. Phyr*

    If the boss is throwing this in the OP’s face and has no qualms stealing food… then what else could he be stealing that no one has noticed yet? If it was me, I would approach his boss about the whole situation and get locking lunch box. Or keep the lunch in their car.

    but I would confront his boss about it.

  45. Cassie*

    Though the boss may have the right to access the employees’ drawers, does the OP have a drawer that she can lock (like where she puts her purse)? Even if the boss has a key, it would be an extra step for him to get to her food.

    I would leave the lunch in the car (if possible), or hide it in some drawer. In a lateral file, behind some folders or something. I mean, if talking to the boss point-blank doesn’t work.

  46. What the?*

    What about killing with kindness??? For example, start bringing 2 lunches to work and drop one off at his desk. Tell him that since he enjoys your lunches so much, you brought 2 – except his lunch will taste like absolute crap – make something with tofu and sprouts and all sorts of weird shit that would make most wince. Remember, nothing fancy – put like a slab of plain tofu in a flaxseed bun – no dressing – no flavor and what the hell, throw in an avocado for desert and let him figure it out. I’m not kidding, if this were happening to me, I would seriously do this. If he asks about the food, just mention you’ve had to modify your diet a little bit more and so you’re cutting out xyz and doing this for the next month. Keep lowering the bar each time with more unpalatable food and hopefully soon your troll of manager will stop his nutso behavior – just be sure to keep a tight leash on your lunch. Good luck!

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – the OP shouldn’t be out one dime for this.

        Not for the locking lunch box, not for food…not one dime.

    1. Anonymous J*

      Yes. Im a vegan , and it can be really fun to mess with people this way. :P

      Keep stale bread just for his sandwiches. Get condiments without salt or sugar, or just skip condiments. Get weird veggie cheeses. Don’t use Tofurkey–it actually tastes good.

      Meanwhile, you’ll be eating your own meal, which of course is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum!

  47. Deirdre*

    I am curious (and I didn’t see anywhere else but could have missed it). Does he do this to anyone else?

    My initial reaction was to leave your lunch in the car but what a dysfunctional way to have to behave.

  48. Anonymous J*

    To me, this goes beyond a simple boundary violation and feels more like an act of aggression: He not only steals your lunch, he does it every day. He not only steals it from the fridge, but FROM YOUR PERSONAL WORKSPACE. He thinks it’s funny. He is in a position of power OVER you. This man is sick!

    I have to wonder if he beats his wife/girlfriend/whatever, too!

    My advice would be what others have suggested: If you can, leave your lunch in the car. If you can’t, simply stop bringing lunch at all. I’m not sure what you can do for food for yourself, but I feel it’s important that you remove his ability to continue to do this to you.

    I also feel you are very lucky this is all he is doing to you. He has some serious issues!

    Finally, if you can, I’d try and find another job and get out. This feels like it goes beyond dysfunctional to potentially dangerous! What a creep!

    1. Anonymous*

      People with those kinds of allergies need to bring their own food. Sometimes, they can’t rely on how restaurants or take-out places making the food in a clean way (free of cross-contaminating food…not so much making it dirty but not having it touch what she is allergic to). I used to know someone with major food allergies, and he wouldn’t even cook his food in the communal microwave because he didn’t know what was in there before him. So, basically, she has to bring her own lunch!

      1. Anonymous J*

        Yeah, I did think of that. Sometimes, restaurants can be really good about accommodating, but then again, I’m a vegan, not someone with allergies.

        I would just not keep it in the office. I’d leave it in the car in a cooler or something.

        Her situation sucks.

    2. Shamrocky*

      I work in Domestic Violence, so I admittedly come to this topic with a bit of a bias. But I have to agree with the above poster: this situation has Power and Control dynamics written all over it. I don’t want to creep you out, but another thought that came to my mind when I read this was, “Does her boss really want to be closer to her, and this is how he manages it?” The greater point is, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY HE’S DOING IT. His reasons are his own and they are irrelevant. WHAT MATTERS IS THAT HE STOP DOING IT. And he is the only one who can control that. So, a few thoughts:

      1) Read “The Gift of Fear”, by Gavin DeBecker. One of the things that I love about this book is that it isn’t just about the extremes of DV or stalking (though those issues are certainly covered). It’s a very good book about the more subtle ways that people try to exert control over others, and ways to deal with it safely. In particular, I was nodding my head when I read the “Dont. Ever. Touch. My. Food. Again.” suggestion above. That is almost word-for-word the advice DeBecker gives for how to give one final warning to a stalker before you start pursuing more proactive measures.

      2. Please, please, please, OP, for your own sake, get out of there as soon as you possibly can. Please. This situation is worse than dysfunctional — it’s unhealthy, in every sense of the word, and it’s approaching unsafe. I know the economy is awful, but start looking — TODAY — and don’t give up until you find another place to land. It really is that important.

      1. Anonymous J*

        Thank you! I’d forgotten about _The Gift of Fear_. It’s supposed to be an excellent book!

        You put this so much more eloquently than I was able to. I was a psych major in college, and though I did not ultimately enter that field, it remains my first love. I learned a lot, and I tend to be very sensitive to these kinds of dynamics (I was interested in criminal psych/forensics.)

        There are so many cues that a lot of people don’t see. I really hope the OP just puts some distance bewteen herself and the offender.

  49. Anonymous*

    Another way of looking at this issue is that it is no longer about your lunch or your allergies, but about the fact that your boss has brushed off all reasonable attempts to resolve the situation.

    I understand that it feels awkward and ridiculous to complain to the boss’ boss “Boss is eating my lunch and it causes problems with my allergies”. However, maybe a more empowering way to frame it is say to boss’ boss “I have an issue with Boss and he refuses to address it so I now seek your advice on how to resolve this”?

    I recommend the book “Crucial Conversations” (can’t recall the author, sorry). They make the point that once you have addressed an issue with someone and they have ignored it, the issue between the two of you then becomes their failure to deal with it, not the original problem. Perhaps that is what is happening here? If so, they have great ideas for handling it and I recommend the book highly.

    I must say I fail utterly to see why someone should have to lock their lunch away or buy a mini-safe to put under their desk when the actual problem is of a boss who does not listen, take the employee seriously, and is apparently allowed to continue behaving in this bizarre manner without any sanction whatsoever.

  50. Mario*

    I have something against all the suggestions to sabotage the lunch and leave it to the thief to screw himself up. It is not the consequences for the guy that bother me, after all he kind of deserve it, but the consequences to OP. The boss will most probably realize that he was pranked, will not touch the lunch for a while, and then he will sabotage you with who knows what. That a childish situation that only tends to escalate. Addressing it directly is the adult way to go.

  51. Samantha*

    Personally I don’t see what the issue is about going to the boss’s boss about this. This man is stealing someone’s lunch. He’s not borrowing her pen (work pen) off her desk. He’s stealing her lunch that she brought from home for her own use. There are so many boundary issues there it’s not even funny. Add to the fact that she keeps her lunch at her desk and not in the communal fridge makes it obvious that this isn’t a case of mistaken lunch identity (however plausible it may or may not be).

    Personally I would go to the boss’s boss and explain what has happened in the past – it started with him taking your lunch out of the fridge, you started keeping it in your desk, he started taking it out of the desk when you were away, you asked him not to, he brushed it off. I don’t think it looks like you (the OP) is being ridiculous or whiny at all. Sure the work desk is work property but it’s still your lunch. If they won’t do anything about it then I would tell them they are paying for the lock box that you had to buy.

    However – personally – I would use the anti-bullying tactics (hands off my lunch) first. No way would I let someone treat me like that. I don’t care if they can fire me.

    Honestly the fact that you don’t want to go to his boss or confront him more openly (not that I’m saying that it’s easy because I know it isn’t. that’s how they keep doing it) allows him to keep bullying. And I would put a stop to it now. And I would also look for another job.

    But that’s just me.

  52. Wilton Businessman*

    I would get about four or five lock boxes that I could put one inside each other. Then I’d wrap each one with locks and chains. When it became time for lunch, I would make a big production of going to fetch the lunch and opening it up. Would be funny for a day or two and maybe shame him into changing.

  53. Shayna*

    I found the solution to your problem at ThinkGeek of all places. Bring your lunch in this and the whole office will give your lunch a wide berth. You’re welcome.

      1. Anonymous*

        Those are from the same day this went live on AAM’s blog. The OP has yet to return with an update as if she took AAM’s advice and/or how it went.

  54. Andrea*

    I can guess that the update is that she has still refused to stand up for herself and that he is still stealing her lunch.

  55. Peachy*

    I feel your pain. I, too, have serious allergies to preservatives/chemicals in food. These are the kinds of allergies that have caused me to go into anaphylactic shock several times. I have to carry epinephrine with me at all times. The allergies come up as an issue a lot, especially when I have to explain why I cannot eat in restaurants and have to carry my own food around with me all the time etc etc. However, most people, if curious, are pretty good about accepting these issues after awhile.

    Do you see a medical doctor who’s an immunologist/allergist? If people I meet have problems “believing” that I have the allergies, I take out my epinephrine pen box (there are two EpiPens in there!), which includes the information of my allergist from the issuing pharmacy, and show it to them. This usually solves the problem.

    Allergies like these are a serious and life-threatening medical condition. DO NOT let your boss make you feel afraid or embarrassed to stand up for yourself. Only you can protect yourself, and his behavior is way out of line. Perhaps a medical certificate or letter from an immunologist/allergist, presented to the head of the company (in the presence of your boss) would do the trick, along with an explanation from you that you MUST have access to your own food at all times or you risk death. That is not a joke and only the most messed-up people will not take that to heart.

    I hope you can resolve this situation. It is not one I would like to be in and it is, quite frankly, unacceptable. Best of luck!!!

  56. dpc*

    I once garnished a sandwich by rubbing the OUTSIDE of it with finely minced habanero pepper (prepared wearing plastic gloves), never mind the mouth on fire and burning hands, next time he went to the restroom…

  57. Joe*

    I was thinking ipecac, rather than a laxative… But I wouldn’t actually do it, just giggle at the thought of it. On the other hand, if your thief won’t stop when confronted, he does kind of deserve it. My hesitation would be less about the morality (I think it’s completely justified), and more about the consequences (would he fire you for it?).

  58. Anonymous*

    Let’s look at this another way, people. If, instead of stealing her lunch, he were stealing her money to buy lunch (say five bucks a day), would this even be an issue? Would we be discussing ways for her to lock her wallet away?

    Food isn’t free. You use your money to buy food for *yourself*, and he is stealing it. Period. The fact that it is food being stolen, rather than the money used to purchase that food, is a non-issue. This is *theft* plain and simple. You need to go to his boss. Clearly, you are not going to get anywhere by talking to him. If his boss also refuses to address the issue, it is time to find a new job.

  59. Mariza*

    I didnt read all the comments on this post so I am not sure if anyone has suggested this. My boss likes to EAT. I keep food in an unlocked drawer for days I didnt bring lunch or I feel like munching. He discovered this drawer before too long and started eating my food.

    At first, I was annoyed but is really cause for me to be upset? My solution was easy. I brought extra food/goodies. Now he asks if I have any goodies vs. taking them. Four years later, I am very happy at work and at worst he gives me some cash to replace the goodies in the drawer. Easy solution. No hassle. Thats just what I did though.

  60. WRM*

    I caught a boss of mine one time eating my very expensive “health food” . I was embarrased for her. I am sure they were quite embarrassed too. I had to kind of “laugh it off” because I just do not deal with confrontation easy and I guess I wanted to “safe face” for my boss. Also a roommate of mine did this too. I had to say something because I could not afford to buy my food over and over because they were eating it.

  61. Marc Meltzer*

    I actually sympathise with your manager . he must be working long hours and hard. I think you should have a serious discussion with him and ask what can you do to ease his cravings. Perhaps you could buy him apples and other snacks few times a week. He will appreciate it and stop eating your food

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