update from the reader whose boss was stealing her lunch

I know you’ve been waiting for this particular “where are they now” update: the reader whose boss kept stealing her lunch. Here’s her update:

I’m so pleased to say that the locked box idea worked like a charm. My manager teases me daily about my lunch being under “lock and key” but at least I get to eat my lunch. Another co-worker has jumped on board with the idea and has a locked box in the fridge, too. A third keeps a box at his desk.

It’s become a running joke in the office and thankfully everyone seems to have a pretty good sense of humour – even the boss! We got him his own box and added toy food. He’s constantly trying to “trade” boxes with someone else. 

I’m also pleased to say that we now have a new HR “department” (one part-timer, but it’s a start!). She questioned the locked boxes in the fridge and was pretty much speechless when told the story. There’s a nice passive-aggressive note on the fridge door now warning us against the perils of eating other people’s food. 

Thanks for responding to my pleas with such helpful advice, and such great comments from your readers, too!

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    While it sounds good, it still didn’t get to the root of the problem – the boss stealing other people’s food. After all, he still teases her about it on a daily basis, which she writes. I’m sorry to say it’s just a band-aid; I think the new HR person’s reaction says it all. The problem is still there, and it’s just a matter of time before it rears its ugly head. Hopefully the boss won’t learn how to pick locks if he doesn’t know already.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To some extent, it epitomizes the concept that sometimes you have a crazy boss but don’t want to or can’t leave your job and the best thing you can do is to find ways to mitigate the impact on your quality of life.

      That said, I’d be interested to know from the OP if this boss has other boundary violations. I’ll also be interested to hear if this new HR person, once she gets her footing, talks to the boss about it!

      1. Anonymous*

        I know what you are saying, and I don’t disagree with it. I just disagree with the entire situation, and I hope that HR person can rectify the situation, i.e. straightening the boss’s behind out on this problem!

            1. Long Time Admin*

              I still agree with Wilton.

              Insurance questions = HR person can do.

              Problems with a boss = HR person is generally useless.

      2. Crazy for TEAPOTS!*

        What would be even more frustrating (to me) would be if it was a coworker that was irreplaceable (highest sales numbers, most creative, longest tenure, bosses neighbor). A boss might figure it out as yours did but a coworker could view this as a challenge and it turns it in to a playground bully situation.

        Next thing you know HR is writing policies about lunch time rules (which would never be enforced anyways).

    2. CK*

      I agree that it’s only a bandaid solution and the fact that a couple of her co-workers have done the same thing speaks to (possibly) a culture of avoiding confrontation or tackling issues head-on. At the surface it sounds great that they’re all in on the joke and the OP can now eat her lunch, but nobody should have to go to those lengths to be able to bring lunch to work.

      1. Diana*

        First thing I thought when I read that was that OP’s lunches were the best and once they were locked up, Boss went for next best and all of a sudden co-worker gets lock box too!

  2. Dawn*

    I agree. It sounds like it worked well, but the boss still has it in his head that he can steal food. He’s probably searching for an unlocked lunchbox on a daily basis in the hopes of finding a tasty treasure to snag. Hopefully the problem is fixed, though.

    1. Anonymous*

      You know, I’d try that just to see (and have a second lunch hidden elsewhere). I’d be willing to do that for a day.

  3. Andrea*

    I’m not surprised at all that she decided to spend her own money on a non-solution. I didn’t think the OP would ever stand up for herself, which is too bad.

    1. Mary*

      That’s completely unfair! It’s clear from the original letter that she stood up for herself. He chose to ignore her!

      1. Anonymous*

        While she did stand up to him originally, she, as well as her coworkers, have allowed it to become the running joke within the office, with the perpetrator being in on it! What does it accomplish? The only thing I can think of is it is biding time until he cleverly comes up with something else to alienate these people.

        It’s a hostile environment, masked by laughter. I feel sorry for any new hires.

        1. Joanna Reichert*

          I agree completely.

          I’ve been an enabler most of my childhood and a few years of my adult life – no more, and you’d be surprised the results you can get with a backbone.

          Though I really do understand if the OP can’t find a new job – they don’t grow on trees. But for God’s sake, don’t play into this fool’s mind games.

    2. fposte*

      She’s going to know a lot better than you do what future she wants at that company and what behavior will get her there. It’s therefore completely appropriate for her to go with her solution, even if it’s not what yours would be.

  4. ChristineH*

    Sorry to say but agree with you guys…he’s not taking this situation seriously. Glad to see that the HR person seems to have her eye on this though.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Yeah. It’s passive-aggressive as all hell, but it might bring the real problem out into the open.

        This guy seem to think the employees are his property. Scares the living daylights out of me.

    1. Jen*

      Wilton, my name is also Wilton- must run in the family, because I would have done exactly that. Exlax brownies, moldy tuna salad- hey, if you’re going to open and eat someone’s stuff, you never know what you might get.

  5. Anonymous from first comment on original post*

    I’m glad to hear the “band-aid” worked. I had to go through a similar situation with a roommate (who did not have such a sense of humor about it, hence the anonymity) and at a certain point there is nothing you can do–especially when it is your boss and not a roommate. Some people just do not care no matter how many times you tell them, “under no circumstances may you ever eat my food.” If people will not respond to such simple and direct communication, and if you don’t want your food eaten, a lock box is the way to go! I know most people here are big fans of direct communication, but some people just refuse to listen (like the lady who didn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom).

    p.s. I normally don’t mind if people eat a little bit of my food. The problem was the roommate was eating ALL of my food.

    1. Anon*

      I had a dorm-mate that constantly ate and drank my stuff from the communal refrigerator. The best/worst was when I came from upstairs to find him drinking directly out of my carton of juice, while clearly in front of my face, written in big black Sharpie letters, was the sentence I’d written on the carton: “JASON I’LL SAY YES JUST ASK ME FIRST.”

  6. kac*

    I remember when I lived in a dorm in Germany, most of the fridge was made of little lock boxes, and we each had a key for our fridge cubby. It made for happy communal living.

  7. The gold digger*

    Alas, I was the food eater once. Or the dulce de leche eater. When I lived in Chile, I became addicted to dulce de leche, which is a thick caramel spread that some people put on toast but I ate straight from the container. I tried to quit, but my roommate kept bringing it home. I finally asked him to stop or to at least hide it someplace where I would never find it. (Almost impossible, as I could find food in Gandhi’s kitchen.)

    I came home from work one day and found a note on the table: “GD, I’ve spit in the dulce de leche.” The container was right next to the note.

    I am ashamed to say that I scraped off the top layer and ate some anyhow. (Of the clean part, not the scraped off part.) I was an addict. That’s how we are.

    1. Anonymous*

      This story IS hilarious, but also, points to a very real problem (not sure if “The gold digger” is referencing it or not) that I myself have experienced. I was also the one that, in communal living, would eat some people’s food. I literally just couldn’t stop myself. I’m addicted to food and no matter how much someone tells me no, it’s very, very hard to not do it. It’s like having a refrigerator full of booze for an alcoholic, or just leaving tons of cigarettes around in front of someone trying to stop smoking. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, it’s just something I’m bringing up.

      Might be a long shot that this boss has a similar problem, but it’s a possibility. In which case, the locked boxes are the best solution. Some people literally just cannot help themselves.

  8. Office joker.*

    Make a delicious Ham and Laxative Sandwich, Leave it in unlocked lunchbox, whilst you eat Nando’s for lunch and laugh hysterically as all the toilet paper in the office is now sat in your desk drawer.

    Guarentee they won’t steal your food again :D

  9. P*

    I have a third-hand story about lunch stealing. At the hospital where my fiance works, one of the attending surgeons (he probably made at least $500k a year at the time) would always steal the nurses’ lunch. The nurses got fed up about it and served him a cat food sandwich one day. To this day, ten or twenty years later, he’s still oblivious to the fact that he ate a cat food sandwich, and people still tell the story.

  10. Liz T*

    I’m curious about the people complaining that this is a band-aid. I love band-aids! Sometimes my shoe rubs my heel wrong, and a band-aid helps stops painful blisters. You could argue the shoe is the bigger problem, but I like my shoes, and it’s hard to find a pair of shoes that fits perfectly–in this economy, I can’t afford to just buy new shoes when I can live with the ones I have!

    (Metaphorz, I extends them.)

    1. Anonymous*

      Given the choice though, it sounds like you would choose to have shoes that didn’t require using band-aids to wear comfortably. But, circumstances being what they are, you can’t do that.

      For the OP, given the choice, she would choose to have her boss not steal her lunch. But, circumstances being what they are, the OP got a lock box.

      The bad-aid, as with your shoe metaphor and the OP’s lock box, is a temporary solution that addresses the symptom and not the problem directly, but neither of you are in a position to change the problem.

      1. Liz T*

        Exactly. Which is why it’s silly to *criticize* the OP for finding a workable solution after trying many other things.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, especially because it did address the problem directly for the OP. I get that some people posting saw the problem a different way than she did, but it seems like she’s getting grief for only solving what bugged her and not what bugged them.

          1. Anonymous*

            If the OP believes that her only problem at the office is her boss stealing her lunch – which if we recall is specially made due to her allergies – then she did solve it by purchasing and using a lockable lunchbox.

            However, with her and a few coworkers having this sort of lunchbox and making a joke out of it, while including the boss in on the joke, it is masking the fact that he is a thief. If it’s lunches first, and he can’t get to them, then what will be next? He needs money so he goes into someone’s wallet and “borrows” $10. His cellphone battery dies so he goes into the OP’s purse and takes hers for the day and drains her battery?

            It’s a band-aid. Simple as that. Until he seeks help with his stealing, he might be tempted to continue to find another vulnerability. It’s not that “she’s getting grief for only solving what bugged her and not what bugged them.” It’s showing how this can still be a major problem which will rear its ugly head sometime again in another sort of situation.

            1. fposte*

              But that’s in the commenters’ heads. It’s not in the situation. It may be in the situation in future, but that wasn’t what she was addressing.

              And it’s extremely common for people to limit their breach to something they can rationalize, like taking lunches or office post-its. It really doesn’t mean that they’re going to move onto stealing money, any more than speeding means somebody’s going to commit murder.

              Don’t get me wrong–I definitely think he’s a jackass with a problem, but that’s a problem for his superiors, not the OP, and I think people blaming her for not doing what they wanted her to do are out of line.

            2. Lanya*

              I strongly disagree that the food stealing habit would transform into a money stealing habit, or other stealing behaviors, over time. This is a completely food-centric issue for the boss, who sounds like he may have a food addiction.

              1. tcookson*

                I agree. One professor where I work is an absolute gentleman, except that he loses all his manners (and all his self-awareness regarding his loss of manners) when free food is involved. We could leave a pile of money out on the counter and he would have too much integrity to touch it, but he becomes a mindless boor when free food is around.

                1. Koko*

                  I have a friend who grew up with 8 or 9 siblings who gobbles down communal food or drink. When we have wine, she fills her glass to just below the brim while the rest of us fill ours to the normal pour level, about halfway up. Every time she sees someone refilling their empty glass, she picks up the bottle next and tops hers off. It’s a leftover habit from her childhood where if you didn’t aggressively take your share of the food or you waited until you finished one glass to pour another, it’d be gone. But because her adult friends aren’t like her childhood siblings, she’s responsible for about twice her share of every wine bottle! (Luckily wine is in abundance and none of us particularly care…but we don’t share anything with her that we’re not OK with her having a generous portion of).

    2. Anonymous*

      Our OP has someone who was stealing her lunch, and the band-aid was the lockable lunchbox. The problem is potentially much bigger in which someone needs to address it and the boss in order to make the work environment not hostile.

      As for your shoe situation, that was your own fault in purchasing shoes that do not fit properly and create those painful blisters. Shoot, I’ve done it myself (and may I make a suggestion – buy those Dr. Scholl’s heal protectors which you stick onto the inside of the shoe in the back – you can cut them to make them fit). But anyway, it’s not like someone is stealing your good shoes to make you wear the uncomfortable ones.

  11. Phyr*

    i’m… amazed at how many other people got a lock box also. that makes me thinks he is stealing more then just lunches. just… wow.

  12. Anonymous*

    OP, did you ever get any repayment of any kind from your boss since he ate a lot of your food? I would bring up that point to him because screw that guy. Food can be expensive.

  13. Anonymous*

    If they really want to make him stop then they could booby trap some of the food with milk of magnesia or something that will really teach him a lesson. A friend of mine in college had a roomie who kept stealing and one milk of magnesia milk shake did the trick! He can’t get mad at you for tricking him if he steals the sabotaged food. It’s not the high road but it’s effective!

  14. Emily*

    I understand why you “band-aided” the situation. But now that you do have someone in HR, I think you and your fellow lock boxers should complain to her formally about this, because your boss’s attitude stinks.

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