my manager stole a family heirloom from me and gave it as a gift to someone else

A reader writes:

I work in a small regional branch of a national company. Since I’ve have been there, our manager has run a very … I don’t know, everything just worked and everyone got along. But last year, that manager retired and recommended the daughter of a friend of his to replace him. She had just graduated with an MBA from a very prestigious university. There was no discussion of whether she was qualified; we thought that his decision must be great, and upper management concurred.

Her first week last summer was a tornado, as she changed everything we did without asking why we did it that way. And yet, she was rarely there; instead she was “networking” with other upper management types in the area, and some were receiving emails from our former manager about how we were mistreating her. We do a lot of customer business, and she reported that many of our customers felt unwelcome at our branch. I actually asked a customer who is a member of my church, and he reported that nothing seemed different. Still, we were asked to bring in lots of personal items to make our work areas more welcoming. Suddenly there were Beanie Babies and other stuff everywhere.

We returned from Thanksgiving break to find everyone’s cubicles rearranged, with all of our personal items in boxes, and many items were missing. Most things were there, and there was lots of exchanging, but my grandfather’s little cast iron caboose was gone. I was sorry to lose it, but I was sure it would turn up.

It just did. My best friend from high school was invited to the annual Independence Day party at the home of his CEO. That CEO is a real railroad buff and showed my high school buddy the cast iron caboose given to him as a gift last Christmas by my manager — with my grandfather’s initials carved/welded into the bottom.

Should I / could I pursue this? Or is it water under the bridge?


So, worst case scenario: Your manager is a thief who deliberately took this from you during her Thanksgiving reorganization (and what was that about anyway?) and turned into a gift for someone else.

Slightly better-but-still-bad scenario: Your manager didn’t deliberately steal it exactly, but came across it during her Thanksgiving reorganization, mentally categorized it as communal office property without bothering to wonder whether it was important to someone, and later decided her CEO friend would like it. (This is still stealing, but at least it would have slightly less deliberate intent.)

Unlikely but possible best case scenario: Things got lost during your manager’s Thanksgiving reorganization, this found its way into her office, she didn’t recognize it as belonging to anyone in particular, and she decided to give it to someone else. (This is a stretch. She knows that she encouraged people to bring in personal items, she knows that people did, and she knows that those items ended up in chaos after her Thanksgiving rampage.)

I repeat: Whoa.

I don’t think you’re going to get it back by going through your manager — it seems pretty unlikely that she’s going to ask that guy to return the Christmas gift she gave him, and I worry that you’d risk making a real enemy of her by calling her out on it. If she seemed like a reasonable person who made a genuine mistake and would be horrified to realize it, you could potentially go down that path (using an “I think there’s been a terrible mix-up” approach), but that doesn’t sound like it’s the case.

You also could ask your friend to tell his CEO what happened, explain the item is important to you, and ask if he’d be willing to return it to its rightful owner. But this is probably a terrible idea — it’s likely to get back to your manager and poison your relationship with her, and it could make things awkward between your friend and his CEO as well, depending on how that conversation goes.

If this were a movie, you and several coworkers would break into the CEO’s house to try to get it back, with hijinks ensuing along the way.

In real life, your best option is probably to just file it away as really valuable information about your manager: She’s incredibly thoughtless at best, and possibly/probably an outright thief who is not to be trusted with things big or small.

Updated to add: I noted this in the comments but thought I’d put it here too: I really debated on this one. Ultimately I decided that when you bring something like this to work, you know there’s a chance it could go missing, and balanced that against the likelihood of what raising it will do to the letter-writer’s relationship with her boss … but I’ve been going back and forth on it since I wrote it, and still am now. Depending on how much the letter-writer wants the caboose back, I do think she has some other options — including talking to someone above her boss, telling her whole team what happened, directly confronting the manager, or pursuing more seriously the idea of having the friend talk to his CEO … but she would need to weigh that against how much she needs this job and would need to be prepared for potential repercussions (like being pushed out sooner than she wants, having a reference suddenly go from positive to lukewarm, etc.), so it’s really a question for the lettter-writer about how much of that risk she’s comfortable with.

{ 510 comments… read them below }

  1. ZSD*

    Worst boss of the year nominee, obviously.

    And I’d like to request an update on the off chance that hijinksy burglarizing does ensue.

      1. Josh S*

        There needs to be a giant newspaper that we can use to smack bad managers on the nose with. Like a naughty dog.

        Bad manager! BAD!

        1. charisma*

          Yes, and upon opening, there would be a full page ad warning all to steer clear of said manager!

    1. socrescentfresh*

      Agree. On the off chance hijinksy burglarizing ensues, please consider including me on the squad. My skills include climbing through windows (though sometimes I need a boost), avoiding the squeaky spots in the floor, and squeezing under the bed when the target comes home unexpectedly.

      1. Minion*

        Congratulations, we’re ready to send you a job offer, but we’d like to contact references first. Please send us the names and contact information of at least three of those whom you’ve burgled as they are in the best position to offer an honest assessment of your skills as a burglar.


            1. OlympiasEpiriot*

              Did you see The Guard? Funny movie with Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle. There’s a great exchange between Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong…

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I’ve been thinking about this, I’d like to toss my hat into the ring. I have a lot of MacGyver-esque skills and exceptional reactions.

        You can count on me to be the one saying “I remember the Secret Service being tougher.”

        1. SheShouldBeInJailForCommitingACrime*

          Im more along the lines of McGruber… I bring my own celery to the dance

    2. MommaTRex*

      Nominee, perhaps. But it will be tough to beat the boss who forces you to sign-up for kidney donation or be fired. Even if you are pregnant.

    3. Vicki*

      1) Look for new job
      2) get new job
      3) visit CEO along with HS friend and get memento back

  2. Leatherwings*

    I would immediately begin searching for a new job, and then once you found one ask your friend to tell his CEO what happened. Your manager is a loony incompetent thief and you should escape ASAP.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I think this is the way I would go, too. I am totally steamed just reading about it, but I think the writing is on the wall (and the caboose) that this manager is problematic and isn’t going anywhere. I’d want the caboose returned on principle, and I would probably push for it.

      1. Amadeo*

        Yes. I have things, little pieces of my grandparents, bits of my grandad’s WWII uniform. Though they don’t live on my desk at work, if they did and this happened, I would absolutely insist on getting it back and leave the job in the process.

        1. Rafe*

          I was just thinking, it does seem a family heirloom might be an exception to usual workplace advice. I mean, my first thought was to call the police, actually, because that’s certainly what I’d do if the theft of the same heirloom occurred outside the workplace.

    2. TuxedoCat*

      I came here to write this.

      OP, if you trust your coworkers, you might want to warn them about this too.

      1. GreenTeaPot*

        Yes. All of it. Then explain what happened without letting on that you know where the item ended up.

        Worst boss story I’ve heard here. Not only is she stupid, she’s a dishonest smarmy thief. Start looking.

        1. Michaela T*

          That would be my first step. “Where did all of your stuff go?” “You know, an heirloom from my grandfather went missing (describes in detail) and I just don’t feel comfortable having personal items out in the open anymore.”

          1. JessaB*

            Yes, I would have been in the very moment I looked at the boxes, been very vocal to EVERYONE that this was missing, was an heirloom and I’m TICKED and FURIOUS that if the company was going to pack people’s stuff they didn’t take very special care to make sure every damned paperclip was boxed properly. I don’t care if it was an heirloom or it wasn’t. If the company is packing stuff, they have a special duty to make sure that it’s done by two people per area, that every damned thing gets in the box labelled for that person, etc. OR they warn people provide boxes, and tell them take their stuff home. BEFORE moving anything else. Offices don’t suddenly decide to move things with ZERO look at what the end result is going to look like.

            Every single employee should have been right on “here is a list of what I’m missing,” everyone check your boxes, company if x isn’t replaced you owe me $$. Company y cannot be replaced so you better damned well find it now.”

            Seriously this should have and gods forbid if it ever happens to anyone else, been handled exactly in the moment, as a group of all employees. With people emailing group lists of what they’re missing.

      2. Christopher Tracy*

        Absolutely, though then the manager might start trying to steal the clothes off OP’s back. You never know with the thieving types…

    3. INTP*

      I think the manager just took this job because it was available through personal connections, and isn’t actually going to stay very long herself. Hence the spending her time networking for another job instead of actually doing this one. OP might be able to just wait her out – I think it’s actually worth the gamble to have the friend approach the CEO before quitting the job. (Or contact the CEO herself, or contact a higher up at the organization.)

    4. stevenz*

      I agree with this. There’s an old saying: “You’re judged by the quality of your enemies.” I don’t think there is much downside to poisoning your relationship with her.

  3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Honestly, I think having your friend talk to his friend the CEO might be the best course — but leaving the accusations out of it. Something like-

    “Hey, I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation for this, but I’m pretty sure that item belongs to a friend of mine. See the initials on the bottom? It went missing a while ago, and it’s really special to her. Would you be willing to let her have it again?”

    In other words, have your friend pretend like obviously there’s a totally innocent story here, they don’t even know it, maybe the boss-we-know-is-a-thief picked it up at the thrift store where someone else dumped it! It is a mystery. But it sure does belong to you!

    Beyond that, I feel like you and your coworkers en masse going to the manager and confronting her about removing personal items (!!!!!!!) might be a good thing to do. As they say, she can fire one person, but it’s a lot harder to fire the whole department…

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      (Alternatively, do something like make up a Craigslist ad for a missing item that your friend can then show the boss, like “Hey, I saw this, and I think that’s the thing you have…”)

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I thought of the same thing. It’s not the most direct route, but might work if there are no other options. If the CEO is really *really* into this kind of ornament, you could advertise on specialty websites or in local hobby stores etc and he might just see it without the friend having to get involved…

    2. Bigglesworth*

      I agree with the Countess. If you feel like your friend is savvy enough to pull this off, I don’t see any harm in asking them. They still have the option of telling you that they don’t feel comfortable saying anything and you’re still in the same boat as before.

      Also, you may want to talk to someone above your manager about this (but only if you have a close working relationship). If I was her manager, I’d want to know.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s definitely true re: someone above her. If there’s a reasonable person about the manager, the OP could approach that person from the stance of “I have an awkward situation and I’m hoping for your help.”

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        YES, YES, YES.

        Losing a treasured family heirloom is not something I think I could let go. But OP needs to protect herself from retribution.

      3. Michele*

        I think also emphasizing the personal significance of this item (in that it’s a family heirloom) is key.

        1. INTP*

          I agree, and it’s also how she will make it clear that it really is her item if there’s any doubt (the initials in the bottom).

    3. A Girl is No One*

      I don’t know, it seems like that’s really putting the friend on the spot. I hope it’s a super good friend! If it was me, I’d do it, but then back off the friend status to casual friend. (and I know I don’t get to decide this for the OP, but I don’t bring anything valuable to work…)

      1. Sadsack*

        This seems strange, who downgrade the friendship? This isn’t OP’s fault and it’s pretty clear there are few good alternatives that wouldn’t out her job at risk.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Yeah, that doesn’t make sense to me either. She wouldn’t be asking you to rob a bank or hide a body – she’s just asking you to ask the CEO to give her her stuff back. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable, say so and move on friendship intact.

      2. fposte*

        They were friends enough for the visitor to recognize this as the OP’s personal heirloom, so I think that’s pretty close. And I think this is one of those “doesn’t hurt to ask” things.

        And honestly, I would consider contacting the CEO directly if the friend wouldn’t, but that’s “I” meaning really me as I am right now jobwise and rank-wise. I wouldn’t necessarily have made the same call thirty years ago, and I have no idea where the OP is in her career (or just how attached she is to the heirloom, for that matter).

        1. Shortie*

          Yeah, doesn’t hurt to ask. And the OP could give the friend an out to avoid putting them on the spot…something like, “I think this would be the smoothest way to handle, but I totally understand if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, so please don’t feel obligated. If you can’t, I’ll {insert plan B here}.”

    4. AF*

      I’m NOT a fan of waiting until the OP has a new job for her friend to say something to the CEO, or not take any action. It’s entirely possible that this could come up in normal conversation – that the friend could say that she saw it, became suspicious, wanted to confirm with the OP that it was, indeed, hers (which is what it sounds like actually happened). I bet the CEO would be horrified and say he got it from the new manager. It might be a bit late to inform coworkers that stuff is going missing and that they should watch their belongings, but I’d be curious to know whether the OP is the only person who “lost” something. I’d also love to know what the manager told the CEO about where she found this one-of-a-kind gift!

      The fact that the manager asked people to bring in personal items, and then “finds” the caboose and doesn’t even think to ask whether it belongs to someone in the office before re-purposing it for a gift is outrageous. And that it just happened to end up at the home of someone who is a train buff – I feel like that’s too big of a coincidence to ignore. Like she found out he likes trains, and then goes snooping for a train-related gift. (Or maybe I’ve been watching too many Law & Order reruns).

      1. Mickey Q*

        I would go straight to the manager who stole it and say “My caboose is missing. Have you seen it?”

      2. Mander*

        My money is on this scenario. It seems like too much of a coincidence that the manager asked people to bring in personal things and then went rummaging through them and “just happened” to find a perfect thing to give as a gift. I’m sure the OP is not the only person this happened to.

        Not to say that the entire thing was a setup but that the manager spied the caboose on the OP’s desk, decided she wanted it to give to the CEO, and orchestrated the chaos in which this happened. She might even have been devious enough to ask people to bring things in hoping to find goodies that she could disappear, but that might be a bit too much of a conspiracy theory.

        If I were the CEO I’d want to know this kind of thing was happening in my company, and if the manager is trying to schmooze with the CEO of a different place as part of her “networking” I’d sure as hell want to know about this behaviour before she was hired to work for me.

        If I understand it right the CEO is at a totally different company and just happens to know the manager, presumably through family or friends, right? So the CEO here doesn’t have direct power to fire the OP. I guess I’d want to know more about the relationship between the CEO and manager first but I am feeling short-tempered right now and I think I would contact the CEO and explain the situation. In a friendly, I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation kind of way, but if the item were important to me I wouldn’t let it drop.

      3. Sas*

        Second paragraph, absolutely. I work doing a lost and found and sometimes it involves things that were bought at a store nearby and left. We can’t “take the sh– home and claim it for ourselves.” How great that would be!!!!!!!!!!! (eye-roll at you scandalous work thief). Is your Boss actually a man, OP? Does he have the name B–is? THat’s my ex, man he’ take anything that would move itself away from him.

    5. MC*

      If the friend can include “it was stolen out of her office at work” there might be a follow up question like “Oh, where does she work?” which could lead to an interesting conversation.

    6. Master Bean Counter*

      Imagine this:
      The CEO gives the train back with out a second thought. OP gets her train back, brings it into work and places it prominently on her desk. Manager then walks by and does a double take. OP takes the train home with her at the end of the day. Manager is left wondering about the train.

      1. OhBehave*

        I love this scenario! Even better – find a replica (even a cheapo) to put on display.

    7. ss*

      If you have an office email list, I would send out an email blast (making sure CEO is in the list of people) and ask the office to “keep an eye out” for a family heirloom that went missing from your desk during the reorganization in case someone sees it sitting in a corner somewhere in the office. Totally ‘innocent’ email not pointing any fingers and treating it as an important item that simply was misplaced during the move.

  4. AMG*

    Everyone has their triggers. Mine is when someone takes something from me. Which is why I personally would get the CEO’s contact info, get the heirloom back, have a serious talk with the manager, tell HR, and then go home and start my new job search.
    Getting your FAMILY HEIRLOOM back is a very reasonable thing to do!

    1. Hlyssande*

      Yeah, this. I could theoretically let something like this go as having accidentally been thrown away (though there would be a lot of bitterness there for sure), but finding out that it had been gifted to someone else? Flames. Flames on the side of my face.

      1. Jdubs*

        I’m shouting! I’m shouting! I’m shouting!

        Best movie ever. +100 to you for quoting the best line ;)

      1. AMG*

        Same. I had to water down my original post. I’d have to go for a long walk and pop a Xanax before I could deal with the situation.

    2. anonderella*

      I came here to vote for this action as well. The manager had no right to remove anything she wasn’t sure was company property, especially after (weirdly) asking people to bring in more personal items — then rearranging everything while people were away?? I would hope a good manager would have the foresight to realize the potential problems that could cause, not to mention it looking weird in general. Not saying it would never ever make sense to do, but the whole thing is odd.
      Also, it makes no sense to me to let that go (I have an inordinate amount of jewelry and other trinkets from my great-grandparents and grandparents, and they are all valuable to me) – if the relationship with manager is to be soured by calling attention to this ‘mistake’, then either manager didn’t do it intentionally and is embarrassed and taking that out on OP (bad – and she should be embarrassed!) or she did do it intentionally and is upset that she was found out, and taking *that* out on OP (also really bad).

      My grandfather was a trucker for many years, and gave me a little model (not toy) set of a rig he drove. It’s missing a wheel or two, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be pretty upset if I realized that someone had taken it.
      [good grief, I’d be mad if my GIANT print editions of my great-grandfather’s books that I kept went missing, and that huge print makes my eyes hurt so I can’t even read it. But I spent a lot of time with him and they mean something to me]

      1. stevenz*

        Yeah, this isn’t about a trinket, it’s about something irreplaceable and highly symbolic of a close family relationship. Ya gotta get it back.

    3. MK*

      Frankly, I wouldn’t bet on getting it back. If I was approached by a stranger claiming one of my Christmas presents was their property, I wouldn’t just hand it over.

        1. MK*

          If so, great. But even then the CEO will probably contact the manager first to find out what happened.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah. It’s also worth noting that in some back and forth I had with the letter-writer, he said of his friend, “I don’t know if the CEO even knows who he is. My buddy is already retired and is a volunteer coordinator who schedules other retired volunteers.”

            1. Mustache Cat*

              I feel like that’s extremely relevant. I’m not sure I’d feel personally comfortable asking my friend to talk to the CEO in that case.

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Oof, yeah, that’s relevant. I’d misunderstood the relationship as closer, the way the OP described it in the letter.

            3. LouG*

              So the friend is retired? This is relevant, imo. I would be more likely to ask my retired friend to have this potentially awkward conversation with his/her former CEO on my behalf than if they were currently employed there and could face repercussions from bringing it up somehow.

      1. Grapey*

        I feel the exact opposite. OP isn’t a complete stranger – she works for the company that the manager worked at. It’s not a stretch. Plus if such a ‘stranger’ could identify the initials on something obviously handmade that was gifted to me, especially if I know they never looked at it in my presence, I’d be hard pressed to find a reason that DIDN’T make me look like a huge asshole.

        1. MK*

          I don’t think that makes all that much sense. Since the OP works for the gift-giver, it’s not actually out of the question that she had seen the item at some point before it was gifted. Not to mention that the OP’s friend has seen the item recently.

          From the CEO’s point of view, it looks like this: A professional aquaintance (who he likes very much for all we know) gave him a gift. A year later, one of her employees contacts him, directly or via a friend who is his employee, and tells him that the item belongs to them. Maybe they offer evidence, but, unless it’s ironclad (no, the initials aren’t), the CEO can’t know what the heck happened here. Did the aquaintance stole it from her employee? Crazy story. Was there a mistake? If so, why isn’t the aquaintance handling this? Is this employee the crazy one? The first thing any reasonable person would do is to contact the OP’s manager and have them handle the mess.

          And, that being so, I don’t see why the OP shouldn’t go to their manager directly first; their relationship will be shot to pieces anyway, so she stands a better chance to resolve this by going to the manager and telling her she found out what happened to her property and that she plans to contact the CEO if it’s not returned.

      2. Amadeo*

        I expect it would depend (at least for me) on the way I was approached. I don’t think I’d respond well to a full out demand and a hand held out already waiting, but if someone contacted me and explained what they think happened and described the item down to the initials, even if they weren’t totally apologetic, I’d like to think I’d give it back, no fuss.

        1. MK*

          Oh, if I was convinced that the story was true (I don’t think knowing the initials on its own is much evidence), I would give it back to. But you bet there would be one heck of a fuss for the person who made me a receiver of stolen goods! Reallistically, this isn’t likely to be resolved with a friendly chat with the CEO.

      3. TheVet*

        I can’t imagine someone telling me I received their stolen property as a gift and my reaction being, “Tough turkey.” Especially if they have evidence (the initials in this case) that it is theirs.

        1. motherofdragons*

          And if they have a direct connection to the person who gave it to me, like the OP working in the same office as Horrid Manager.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          For me, it would depend upon whether I believed their story and whether their tone was demanding and accusatory or polite and sympathy-inducing. I wouldn’t hand over anything to someone whose tactic was to attempt to bully or bulldoze me out of the object, even if I thought it was theirs. Okay, if they were just mildly abrasive, I’d give it to them and be exasperated at their behavior, but for any behavior more aggressive than that, I’d pretend I didn’t know what they were talking about and ignore them forever. If they were kind and polite, I’d gladly hand it over immediately.

        3. MK*

          There is some distance from completely dismissing the story and just handing over the item. The first thing I would do is not launch an investigation, but contact the gift-giver to find out what’s going on. My point is that going to the CEO isn’t likely to be an easy and quick solution.

      4. AnonAnalyst*

        In this situation, I probably would at least investigate further, provided that the OP was able to describe a lot of the details and told me this story.

        It would be different if it weren’t such a unique item, like if the OP came to me and said the manager stole her iPhone and gave it to me. Or if it were a well-known item, like something that had been sold at auction, where someone else would be more likely to know about it. But an old, rare item where someone has that much knowledge about it? Seems weird, and like something that I would probably research just to confirm that there wasn’t something fishy going on.

    4. AnonAnalyst*

      Yeah, this would be my reaction. I am enraged just reading this.

      There are a lot of things I might silently steam about but choose to let go because it wasn’t the hill I was willing to die on. This is not one of them.

      Having said that, I would be prepared to lose my job as soon as I contacted the CEO. I would still do it, and escalate the matter over the manager’s head within the organization, but that is definitely a possible outcome of going down this road.

      1. AMG*

        Yep. And if the manager wanted to push me on it, I could offer to get the police involved about the theft of the caboose and the other missing items. I wouldn’t burn the bridge, I’d blow it UP.

        1. Grapey*

          Seriously this. I’m sure there were some emails as documentation somewhere about all that item swapping being done, (“anyone missing a shiny orange teapot? I found it at my desk.”) since I can understand employees not wanting to come forward and outright say someone stole their things, too.

        2. Jadelyn*

          If the bridge is gonna burn one way or another, might as well make a pyrotechnics show out of it, right? I’m with you. Invoking the phrase “theft of personal property” to the higher management and/or HR at the OP’s workplace should get some kind of results.

      2. K.*

        Agreed. I was close to my grandparents (well, 3/4 of them; the other lived far away so we didn’t see him often). The stuff I have that belonged to my grandparents is sacrosanct to me, and I’d be willing to lose my job over getting it back.

        1. KK*

          This is me. I’ll lose my job over being nicey-nice to someone who I know stole from me. I do realize this doesn’t work for every one.

      1. Miss Elaine E*

        Ordinarily, I’d agree, but getting a new job takes time. The more time passes, the more difficult it may be to get the heirloom back — people move, the item might be given away/discarded etc.

    5. Robin B*

      Agreed it’s reasonable to ask for it back, especially since it was the company’s idea to make everyone bring in some “flair” for their office.

    6. The Strand*

      Whew, I am so glad I’m not the only one who had a similar reaction. If it was something that belonged to a beloved family member or friend, or was a gift from one of them, I wouldn’t let it roll off my back the same way.

    7. Sami*

      I’d pull the nuclear option here too. I’m Very sentimental. Very. There’s no way I’d be able to let this go. No matter my age, rank or serial number.

    8. irritable vowel*

      Of course what the manager did was inexcusable. But really, no one should bring a family heirloom to leave at work, unless it’s in a locked display cabinet or something (and even then). There should be zero expectation of protection for personal belongings at work, especially if they’re out in the open. An environment where there are many people with access to the area (including some who may never be seen, like nighttime janitorial staff) is not an environment to leave your irreplaceable belongings in.

      1. Anna*

        It was a momentary lapse in judgment. 90% of the time it would not be an issue. It just so happens the OP got that one asshole manager that manifested the 10% of the other times. I’m pretty sure the OP knows they made a tactical error.

    9. sstabeler*

      I’d contact the CEO, explain that you believe Manager took the caboose during the chaos, and request- politely- it’s return. Emphasise that you don’t blame the CEO- they almost certainly didn’t know- then, if the CEO is decent, they’ll probably investigate- asking the manager where she got it, for example- and return it.(I don’t think the manager is intelligent enough to lie. They’ll probably say “I saw it lying around and thought you’d like it” which would confirm the story.)

      CEO would probably deal with the asshole who took the heirloom.

  5. Hlyssande*

    I can’t really wrap my mind around this answer. I get why letting it go and keeping her head down might be a good choice for the OP, but…a sentimental, irreplaceable item was stolen from her and gifted to someone else.

    I don’t think I could let that go.

    1. Koko*

      I feel the same. I would not be able to let this go even if I knew I should. Not even that I needed to confront the boss but that I would need to try to get the item back, knowing it was still out there.

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah, this is the kind of thing I’d know I should probably shut up about but … I would not be able to. Literally everyone at work would know about it by the end of the week.

    2. KHB*

      I agree. I’ve had things stolen from my office. (Fortunately, nothing sentimental or irreplaceable.) I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I learned that my boss was the culprit. I think I’d be more than willing to make a real enemy of him over it.

    3. finman*

      I agree, this answer bugs me. You shouldn’t let something from your grandfather be callously taken from you. It sounds like this is just another item in the list of terrible things your new manager has done, and I’d go to upper management to discuss all the things that have changed for the worse since the new hire.

      1. Anna the Accounting Grad*

        Me too. While this situation does require extreme tact, extreme tact can take forms besides simply ignoring the fact that someone STOLE AN HIRLOOM. I am not a lawyer, but it’s not too hard to imagine this theft creating some legal issues for the company since it took place on company property.

      2. fposte*

        The rest of what’s changed isn’t, at least from what I could see in the letter, worth going to upper management about. She doesn’t directly manage as much as the previous manager, but that doesn’t seem to be hurting the work, and her working more directly with upper management isn’t necessarily a bad thing; she may or may not be right about customers feeling unwelcome, but being wrong about it isn’t something to complain about, and the OP’s source says nothing has changed–IOW, nothing’s gotten worse for customers under the new manager, either. Having people bring in personal items only to box them all up a couple of months later is seriously loopy, but it’s not something upper management is really going to want to be called in for. (I didn’t quite parse who was getting emails from the former manager.) That’s all just flakiness with a possible side of staff liking things the way they were before.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing that someone in HR is going to be like “Seriously? I have to deal with this? No.”

          If OP thinks upper management will handle it well, by all means. But given that CEO is now incidentally involved, I bet nobody is going to want to touch this.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I don’t think the CEO in the story is the CEO of the same company. Or am I reading it wrong?

            1. Leatherwings*

              Upon re-reading, I’m not sure either. Either way I think this is something HR or upper management wouldn’t want to get involved in – either it’s their boss or someone totally unrelated to them and their work and tying it into a bunch of other stuff the manager has done that’s less than desirable is going to make most upper management people get really frustrated by it.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        The answer bugs you because it ignores the other indicators.
        Manager shows all the hallmarks of a manipulator. She stirs things up at work (so she can’t be accountable) She doesn’t do any work, calling it “networking” She tells former manager that her team are harassing her (claiming victimhood status). She tells the team that they are underperforming with customers (throwing them off balance with false claims). She tells team members to bring in personal items and then those items disappear in an unannounced move.
        At some point the OP is going to get on this woman’s bad side. Not, if, WHEN. That’s why Alison’s advice is bad. It’s because it ignores the other factors. It ignore the long term view for the short term problem.
        I’d file a police report and tell the manager this: “You asked us to bring in personal items. Unfortunately, my iron caboose disappeared from my office. It is valuable, so I’ve filed a police report on it. I’ve let others know so they can be on the look out for it. If you see it, could you let me know?”
        Manager will deny. Manager will also panic. I suspect that caboose shows up with manager rebuking employee for “losing” it.
        In the mean time look for another job. This manager is not good for your.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I really debated on this one. Ultimately I decided (maybe incorrectly) that when you bring something like this to work, you know there’s a chance it could go missing, and balanced that against the likelihood of what raising it will do to her relationship with her boss … but I’ve been going back and forth on it since I wrote it, and still am now.

      1. Green*

        Something being stolen by a coworker or cleaning staff or customer and you never finding out who took it is a very different scenario from knowing where it is and who took it and having to work for that person. I just wouldn’t be able to let this one go.

        1. Anna No Mouse*


          If OP found this on someone else’s desk in the office, would you advise her to just leave it there? Or should she confront that person, even if it’s her manager?

          Just because someone else is involved, doesn’t make this one to let go, especially since the manager has likely benefited from an improved relationship she now has with this CEO, being such a big fan of networking and all.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yes. It’s a tough question, but there is a huge difference between “go missing” and “stolen”.

        3. motherofdragons*

          Right, and you know EXACTLY where it ended up! I would totally pursue trying to get it back.

        1. Ellie H.*

          It’s difficult because usually when you figure out how to react to a problem or situation you want to have an idea of what your desired outcome is, and so you have to decide if the most desired outcome is keeping the job, reporting the actions of the manager to her supervisors and hopefully having that lead to action against her, getting your heirloom back, some combination of these options (ideally, probably all of the above), etc. and then if there is any way to achieve that. It’s very difficult to determine in this situation what actions affected by what factors could lead to these outcomes and if any combination is possible.

          Additionally, sometimes you’re confronted with a situation so unethical that you are really forced to take a corrective response to it because it would be wrong to let it stand unchallenged once you are made aware of it – and this might fall into that category.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            It definitely does for me – I wouldn’t let this rest, either. The manager is a low down, dirty, thieving snake in the grass, and I could not look her in the face every day knowing that she stole from me and thought it was a-okay. I’m in agreement with the others who say they’d file a police report and would confront her with it.

      2. Cafe au Lait*

        At the very least, I think this is something she should escalate to the national office. It’s so hard; if it takes her a year or more to find a new job, the caboose could be resold or regifted.

        I wonder if this is something she could call the non-emergency police line and ask how to proceed with getting it back.

        1. Mike B.*

          I’m surprised that the fact that this is a national organization hasn’t come more into play in the responses here. This manager isn’t in an unassailable position; there’s someone above her who can hold her accountable for her behavior, and most likely an HR department as well.

      3. Hlyssande*

        I can definitely see your point with that. I do actually have a few somewhat sentimental things at my desk (nostalgic action figures) and I realize that they could possibly go missing, but I would still be angry if they did. Especially if I found out that they were straight up stolen.

        I honestly think the relationship with the boss might already be trashed though, based on the OP’s description of her actions otherwise. Not only that, but it really has to hurt the former manager’s rep with the company that he recommended someone who is turning out to be so terrible.

      4. Leatherwings*

        I really think OP has to weigh this (including the personal value of the heirloom) against their job safety, job prospects, and home situation.

      5. TuxedoCat*

        I don’t think your response was bad. Most people who have jobs need the money. Without knowing how quickly the letter writer could get a new job or how long she can survive without a job, it makes sense for her tread cautiously (as awful as it is).

        With the chance of things going missing, I think it’s always a good albeit unfortunate reminder. Working in academia, people seem to forget that and are horrified when fancy cell phones or computers are stolen from faculty offices. People think I’m nuts for locking up valuables or carrying them with me, but it would only take a minute or so to steal something and walk out of our office.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do think that to some extent it’s easier for y’all to say “rain fire down upon this boss,” whereas I feel like I have a higher obligation to ensure I’m not recommending someone do something that may jeopardize their job security, at least not without heavy caveats about that. But I’m also not sure I called this one right. I still find it really hard to answer.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            I think you gave a good answer. There is a lot to consider here. People need to consider their options and the ramifications and then choose what works best (literally and soul-wise) to go forward with.

            Your postscript is useful, too. Most of this stuff doesn’t have only one ‘right’ answer.

            Me, personally, I learned when I was in grade school that sometimes just breathing was going to get me an enemy (not just someone who doesn’t like me); so, after also learning that I couldn’t change their enmity, just deflect it or outlast it or fight it, I just rolled with that issue — and I’ve got a variety of skills and contacts where I’m cool with just saying ‘f- it’ if the “it” is big enough. But, not everyone can. You’re absolutely right to answer in a way that reflects that reality.

          2. Katie F*

            Yeah, I understand your reply/advice completely. I have to admit my response would be, as in my comment, quite a bit more fiery – but this is a tough call and really depends on whether or not the original letter-writer is going to have to stay in this job for a long time or is willing to torpedo their long-term in order to get a family heirloom back.

          3. Newby*

            Letters like these are why I like this website. In an ideal world, the letter writer would get her train back with no repercussions. In the real world she may have to choose between the train and the job and that is a decision only she can make.

          4. LawLady*

            Alison, you do a great job with these answers. You’re exactly right that my immediate reaction of “vengeance must be had!” is easy to type, but probably not at the right level of nuance given that someone’s livelihood is at stake.

          5. AMG*

            Oof. I was mentally questioning you on this, but I can see why you answered the way you did. Easy for me to say that I’d blow the bridge up when I am not the one bearing some of the responsibility if things go badly for the OP. It’s a tough one but that said, I’d still go for the heirloom over the job. Your comments made me see it’s very circumstantial and that’s what the OP will have to decide.

        2. AthenaC*

          “Most people who have jobs need the money.”

          Indeed. In many situations (both at work and outside of work) the best advice can often be, “Continue to put up with awful behavior while you rearrange the pieces on the board. When you’re ready, make your move.” Which from the outside is often indistinguishable from “Bend over and take it.” Especially in the beginning.

            1. Jdubs*

              I love your name! Do you also have red hair and live in a house with green gables? :) One of my favorite childhood book series!

              1. Anne (with an "e")*

                Why thank you, Jdubs. In my imagination I do live there…. with all the “kindred spirits.” As you can tell from my name, L. M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors. “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet” is one of my favorite quotes. :)

          1. AnonInSC*

            Great point. My instinct would be to go nuclear with the flames on the side of my face like posters above…but that doesn’t mean it’s the right call. I think we may need to accept that there is more than one “right” way to handle it. But I hope the discussion helps the OP weigh all the factors.

            (off to work on that resume for the break-in team – I’m ready for hijinks :)

            1. AthenaC*

              Yes – I hope the end result in the long run is that the OP gets the heirloom back.

              I, too, would like to audition for the break-in team. I would like to be the one who is in stunningly good shape, way too young to be “retired”, who occasionally snaps and makes vague comments like “You know what I went through!” or “I told you I was done with this business!” even though I curiously never elaborate and leave the audience to guess what I’m talking about. Only to realize that something about this “business” really speaks to my soul / completes me / whatever and I would never forgive myself for turning down this one last mission. Oh – and of course my character is first seen when the main supporting character tracks me down and finds me as the only person pumping iron in some middle-of-nowhere small town.

                1. OlympiasEpiriot*

                  You know, you could recruit a team to be the back-up asset group for when your Cyrano de Bergerac sentence-feeding needs assistance.

              1. DoDah*

                oohh! I want to be the college professor who hides my beauty, charm and encrypted-file hacking criminal brilliance behind over-sized vintage cat eye glasses.

                1. AthenaC*

                  Done. And, of course, you and I cannot STAND each other for, like 85% of the operation because you think I’m just some dumb meathead with no useful (read: intellectual) skills, and I think you’re just some nerd with no useful (read: physical) skills. Until through some random event, we both are the ONLY ONES to be trapped in some booby-trapped area of the basement, where we need to Work Together at the same time using each of our respective unique skills, without which we both would have perished. Of course we both escape at the last second.

                  In the adrenaline afterglow before we rejoin the rest of the group (still accepting applications for team members, btw!), we share a tender moment (friendly or romantic, I’ll leave that up to you) and our relationship is forever changed. The rest of the group is left to wonder why we have this sudden rapport and future lifelong BFF relationship, and of course we never tell them.

        3. AnonAnalyst*

          Yes, pursuing this could absolutely impact the OP’s job, which I think is an important point. I am totally in the Get Back Your Stuff camp, but I am also lucky enough to be able to survive without a job for awhile and I work in a field where there are a lot of jobs available, so possibly losing my job over this is a risk I would be willing to take. I realize that my situation is not universal, though.

          1. Green*

            Yeah, if I was at a company with a strong non-retaliation policy and good HR/reporting system, I would potentially pursue this without having another job lined up.

            But my inclination otherwise would be to find a new job, then go nuclear. :)

      6. Bwmn*

        While I think that personally the scenario is egregious and do like the approach of asking the friend to talk to the CEO after the OP has left – I also really appreciated the letter you wrote. I think that lots of your readers are in different places in their careers and whether or not they’re in a position to leave or risk a reference varies.

        I recently lost an important (and valuable) heirloom – that at this point I do believe was genuinely lost by myself, and outside of work hours – which has been tough on its own. If I were to ever find out that it was stolen and/or then regifted by a superior at work, I can only imagine how hurt and angry I’d be. However, how I’d be able to respond to that based on where I am professionally, the references I need, I would likely need to find a way to let it go.

        It’s outrageous and I am genuinely mad on the OP’s behalf – but if it were me, just from where I am professionally – I’d likely need to find a way to take your advice. While looking for a new position.

      7. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I don’t think that’s always true. But then, I work in a place with security cameras all over the place, and we were told immediately in orientation that if you filch something of a coworker’s, You Will Get Caught And The Consequences Will Hurt.

      8. I'm Not Phyllis*

        That’s true. Things go missing or get stolen all the time. If that happened to me, I could probably get over it. But knowing exactly where the item is and exactly who took it would make it something I couldn’t let go of.

    5. CR*

      Agreed. This is way beyond someone in the office stealing your favourite pen. I would raise hell.

    6. Mike C.*

      Yeah, this is tough. I keep replacing the train with one of my fountain pens and I would be absolutely livid.

    7. Amber*

      Agreed, I’m a little surprised that was the answer. She shouldn’t have to let that go and honestly I doubt that anyone really could “let it go”. The OP will always see the manager as a thief, the relationship is already broken (possibly irreversibly). I say talk to the CEO and explain that there must have been a mix-up but that he has your item and any chance that you could get it back. Once you get it back I’d take all my personal stuff home and start job searching. Saving a broken relationship isn’t worth the cost of letting it go. Don’t let this one go.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do think that’s reasonable too. I think it has to be accompanied by a caveat to the OP that she’d need to be prepared for potential repercussions (pushed out sooner than she wants, reference that suddenly goes from positive to lukewarm, etc.), so it really comes down to whether she’s okay with that price.

        1. Jennifer*

          Much as it’s not fair to realize you’re running a risk of firing by bringing up THIEVERY….that is a huge risk the OP may be taking if they pursue this.

          It really sucks. It depends on whether or not the OP can afford to risk being out of work for …however long (could be years), and how do you explain why you’re out of work in this situation?

          I’d probably either let it go or think of some way to talk to the other CEO privately in some way without pointing out that the person who gave it to him stole it. If I could think of some reasonable fib, I dunno.

        2. Anna*

          My only question about the retaliation is the assumption the CEO recipient will say something. They may just chalk it up as something to take noet of about this particular person and move on.

      2. Sunshine*

        Also, not to get too manipulative, but taking all her stuff home will likely raise the attention of the manager and open the door to say “Something that means a lot to me disappeared from the office, so I’m not comfortable leaving things on my desk.” On the chance that it was an honest mixup by the boss, it gives her the chance to ‘fess up and get it back. (I’m fairly certain that won’t be the case, but stranger things have happened).

        1. Whats In A Name?*

          I like your suggestion to take personal stuff back home and give said reason.

          The “honest mishap” made me giggle – “Well, huh, I have no idea how that caboose got gift wrapped and hand delivered by me.”

  6. SouthernBelle*

    Definitely wouldn’t be water under the bridge for me. The relationship already seems to be poisoned, so I’d see no additional harm in reclaiming what is rightfully (and apparently emotionally) mine.

    I’d probably go directly to the CEO who is now in possession of it first though to cut out any misinterpretations or opportunities to “spin” the story. A detailed email down to the initials welded on the bottom should lend enough validity to get the ball rolling.

    1. periwinkle*

      Agreed. I am thoroughly non-sentimental but even I have a few meaningful objects. No flippin’ way I’d just let this go. Even though I’d probably give the manager a face-saving out (golly I’m sure you didn’t realize…) but I’d also get that little choo-choo back.

      This tale is a good reminder about personal items in the office: don’t bring in anything irreplaceable. I’ve got a calendar and some trinkets, but if Godzilla careens through our building, I can buy a new calendar and go back to Daiso for new kawaii decorations.

    2. AMG*

      Exactly. I’d be so completely done with this manager that I would have to grit my teeth just to have a civil conversation during my 2 week notice.

  7. Sunflower*

    OP- did you ever reach out to someone in the office about the missing item? Who rearranged all your personal items? I would start there. BTW- did you get an explanation as to why people’s items were rearranged?

    Nothing wrong with saying ‘After our personal were rearranged, several things went missing. I was confident they would show up but it’s been 10+ months and I have yet to find it. One item in particular was important to me and I am wondering who I should speak to about this’.

    FWIW- I would not put anything valuable in your area anymore. In fact, I would tell management you don’t really feel comfortable leaving any items, regardless of value, out on your desk considering what happened to your heirloom. We don’t have any serious issue with stealing in my office but lots of people will not leave even small, cheap items out because things have been stolen before.

    1. fposte*

      I am wary enough, in this weird case, that I wouldn’t want to alert the manager to the possibility you were on the hunt for the heirloom. It may make it disappear rather than get retrieved.

      But agreed on the not leaving things around. I suspect everybody there agrees too, and if the manager complains about bareness she can be encouraged to go buy decorations.

      1. Adam V*

        > I wouldn’t want to alert the manager to the possibility you were on the hunt for the heirloom. It may make it disappear rather than get retrieved.

        How does she bring that up with the CEO, though? “Hey, you remember that caboose I gave you as a gift? You might not want to display it anymore because I took it from one of my reports, and if she or her friends notice it, they may ask for it back”.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not assuming that she will tell the truth :-). “OMG it turns out that one was supposed to go to my brother in my father’s will! I’m so sorry and embarrassed. Here’s a china teacup.”

      2. Unegen*

        If the manager is on good enough terms with the CEO to give an interest-specific gift, and she’s social-norm-challenged enough to simply swipe the train off an employee’s desk to give as said gift, then it’s not beyond the pale to think that she might stop by the CEO’s house to chitchat (“network”?) and just plop the train into her purse while CEO is not in the room. Tracks covered, dust off hands, problem solved.

        Better to handle it with the CEO directly.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Yeah, that’s really how I would handle it, too. (Not that I’m everyone’s gift to diplomacy…)

      Saying you were assuming it would turn up is legit and shows that you had/have trust in your co-workers.

    3. Ryan A.*

      I agree with your second paragraph…the smallest action that should be taken is bringing it up to the manager, with a picture if possible, and express that the missing item is a family heirloom and is very important. Gauge her reaction – odds are good that if she knows how the caboose went missing (especially since OP mentioned that the majority of ‘personal items’ brought into the office were Beanie Babies and similar tchotchkes) and will have some sort of unintentional reaction.

      I’d also talk to the friend with the ‘this is an awkward/embarrassing situation’ disclaimer that somehow the caboose in the CEO’s home went missing from OP’s desk where manager that gifted the caboose to the CEO works. Maybe it’s a poor assumption, but anyone that claims to be a ‘railroad buff’ wouldn’t be selfish enough to keep a [stolen] mis-handled family heirloom that was gifted to them…when/if it gets back to the manager, then that’s on her to figure out a cover story.

      I wouldn’t be too concerned about a reference from this new manager since OP had a solid relationship with the previous manager. Alison’s answer to OP makes sense from a job security POV but personally, I wouldn’t write it off as an ‘oh well, my manager sucks’ thing. It’s almost lucky that OP didn’t immediately start looking for a new job or she never would have known what happened to the caboose (which may have been an better ending anyway?). This whole post makes my insides crawl :/

      1. Mabel*

        I was thinking the same thing – about the OP having a good relationship with the manager who retired – but then the letter says, “…some were receiving emails from our former manager about how we were mistreating her.” So it sounds like the former manager is inclined to believe anything the new manager says. I would worry about any reference from this company, which really sucks for the OP since she hasn’t done anything wrong!

    4. designbot*

      I don’t think I could pull this off, because the lid is going to come off this box sooner rather than later, and at that point it would become clear that when I mentioned it, I already knew the location of the heirloom.

      I do hope that someone mentioned things going missing back when they occurred (whether it was OP or another coworker) so that when this comes up they could point to it and be like, “remember how we talked about things that were missing after thanksgiving? Well…”

  8. NoWorries*

    Yeah, have your friend talk to the CEO. There’s no good that can come from not allowing consequences for this. If that doesn’t accomplish anything, you should file a police report for stolen property. THAT will get things moving.

  9. jg*

    Assuming other colleagues are also put off by the manger’s all-around behavior, this feels to me like it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads to a frank conversation between the whole department and upper management.

  10. Katie F*

    I’d start job searching and contact the CEO to let him know what happened, including photographic proof of the iron caboose in your house/desk if you have any. I wouldn’t want to keep working for someone who is so thoughtless at best or an outright thief and liar at worst.

    I’d also take all my personal items home immediately and if she brings it up, mention that the ‘reorganization’ led to important sentimental items going missing, and you’d like to ensure that doesn’t happen again. If you want to be the Good Guy, do this first and mention the iron caboose. Give her the chance to realize/admit to what she did.

    THEN start job-searching and contact the CEO and get out of there. This workplace is going to go downhill fast, and I guarantee they’ll let it slide and slide and slide and make excuses for the new manager the whole time. Especially since your old manager, who had years of experience working with your team, seems to have immediately believed New Manager’s complaints about mistreatment instead of, um, asking for clarification or just staying out of it entirely.

  11. Sunshine Brite*

    Whoa, I would have your friend express the sentiments of surprise and ask if you could be reunited with your heirloom. You might not get it back depending on the CEO’s reaction but you might. People sometimes love a good long lost in a move item reunited with the owner type story, especially if your friend knows any story about your grandfather that connects to the item.

    On a greater note, I would consider if there are any national level resources to reach out to about what’s happening at your branch. You know your organization best and if it would be an effective move to try.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Hopefully the CEO is less of a nutball than the manager. If I found out something that was gifted to me was stolen I’d be mortified and immediately return it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Hopefully CEO is decent.

    2. Kira*

      Personally, I get so many knick knack gifts that don’t mean much to me that I wouldn’t mind passing along one of them. If someone said, “That knick knack looks like one my friend lost a year ago” I would gladly let them have it. It’s not sentimental to me.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Especially because the CEO is a train enthusiast who clearly appreciates the value of the object, it seems to me that would make him much more likely to want to give it back. I think the majority of people would be distressed to think they had a stolen item or even an item that had been mistakenly given away by someone who didn’t have the right to do so, when the item in question is family heirloom rather than something replaceable.

    3. Purple Jello*

      >> I would consider if there are any national level resources to reach out to about what’s happening at your branch.<<

      Like an ethics hotline…

  12. Rocket Scientist*

    I definitely would NOT let this go.

    I would look for a new job and have my friend explain the situation to the CEO, asking if he could return it as the right thing to do. I would also tell my manager I was aware of the situation on the exit interview.

    Honestly, if someone stole something so emotionally valuable to me, I might consider filing a police report, after I left the company. I think Alison’s answer is very, very disappointing.

  13. Remy*

    As the child of a narcissistic mother with no concept of privacy or personal belongings, this would be VERY VERY hard for me to just “file away.” My things were never considered mine, so I am very protective of my stuff.
    I second some of the other comments: look for a new job, NOW.

    (And I would try to get back the heirloom.)

    1. Bee Eye LL*

      Agreed…this seems like someone who treats anything in the office as company property. The same kind of person who would steal your lunch out of the fridge.

    2. Temperance*

      Yep. I’m honestly anxious reading it … and I don’t have anxiety, and am not the LW.

  14. TheVet*

    The manager/employee relationship is already poisoned. The manager may not realize it, but it is.

    I don’t think I could just let this go. It could be because I don’t have much from my family-I’m 35 and just saw a childhood picture of my mother for the first time last month. I’d:

    1) Ask my friend to talk to his CEO friend discreetly. “That looks just like the caboose a friend misplaced in her office. It was her grandfather’s and she was upset over it.” Conversation ensues. She gets her item back.

    2) Go to the outside CEO as The Vet and not The Vet, Employee of That Place (in an email with pictures if she can’t get a one-on-one) and explain the situation to him.

    1. MK*

      Conversation ensues, she gets her item back? Why does everyone assume the CEO would be just hand over the item? In his place, I would ask for proof that it does indeed belong to the OP, and I would certainly ask the manager about it before handing it back.

      1. Katie F*

        That’s why I suggest photos if she has any that have the caboose in them, or perhaps scheduling am eeting with the CEO with other coworkers present who saw the caboose and can back her story up. I wouldn’t blame the CEO for wanting proof. I would also describe to the CEO the initials, their placement, how ‘deep’ they are scratched in if they’er scratched or their color if written, etc… give him plenty of details to show this really is the LW’s.

      2. Lissa*

        Yes, I think some people are framing it as choice A) let it go, don’t get item back but cause no more issues/drama than are already there and B) get item back, but cause more bad feelings, are picking B, which I understand, but I think it’s not assured that it will happen exactly this way.

        But I’m one of the few commenters who wouldn’t be totally set off this by this (though I would for sure be annoyed and WTF, I wouldn’t have the emotional reaction to it that many would) so I might well decide not to pursue it (but still look for another job because that manager sounds like a nightmare).

        1. Bwmn*

          I’m with you. While I think that the professional relationship is gravely tarnished and the OP should look for a new job – this notion that B will play out simply isn’t really that great. If someone told me that a thoughtful gift given to me by someone I know was in fact stolen by a coworker – my initial impulse would be to say “no that didn’t happen”. Not because I don’t believe that bad things happen, but I would feel awful to be apart of this and hope that it wasn’t true.

          This also depends on how close the OP’s friend is to the CEO compared to the OP’s manager, and if the friend is even willing to raise this issue. The friend may see this as causing drama for themselves and decline to be involved for their own “drama/career reasons”. If I was the friend in the situation, I can think of a few CEO’s I know where a friend asking me to have that conversation would be wildly uncomfortable. If it was a really really close friend then maybe I could be pushed…..but I think that commenters are maybe assigning a lot of positive qualities to both the friend and CEO that may not necessarily exist. The friend may not be super close, the CEO may be quick to anger, etc.

          1. fposte*

            It’s a plausible take, certainly, and I think it’s worth offering a counterbalance to those of us who really want our stuff back :-).

            I think this is a situation where rank and the ability to write a really good email could influence the situation, too–if the OP is a senior director who can make people weep with her words, she’s likelier to get a hearing than if she’s an IT tech who’d rather type command line prompts than creative expression.

            I don’t think I would finger the manager in the email, either. I’d say OMG, beloved thing missing, beloved thing seems to have turned up at your house! Venerable grandfather with career/obit link, picture of children gathered around the miraculous locomotive, possible visitation and further exploration?

            And you know, I might even generously give it officially to the CEO after I determined it was the right one and safe, and now he’ll have the story to go with it.

            1. fposte*

              P.S. And I would accept with earnest sincerity any explanation that came down the pike for how my grandfather’s heirloom got given to the CEO as a gift. If the manager says she found it in a ditch, she found it in a ditch. Manager says she bought it at Neiman-Marcus, she bought it at Neiman-Marcus, and we all just marvel at the strange ways things can happen. (And behind that, the CEO, the manager, and I almost certainly will all know the truth.)

            2. Bwmn*

              I think you’re absolutely correct that so much of how this proceeds is how the message is delivered, who is delivering it, etc.

              I do believe that there are definitely ways and approaches for the CEO to address this that could go over very well, I just think that it’s worth mentioning that the option B so many are referencing may face difficulty. Given that, I do largely appreciate what AAM’s answer was because I think the way to negotiate the “give me my stuff back!” route relies on a lot more personal judgement than letting it go.

              I do think that the OP is entirely justified in trying to get it back – I’d just also be cautious and use judgement on who all is involved.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, the human variables here will really affect the optimal direction, and only the OP really has information about those. It’s just such a weird situation that it’s hard to resist puzzling it out.

            3. BeautifulVoid*

              After reading the comments (and cringing at the letter itself), I think this is where I’m ultimately falling. A well-worded email to the CEO, assuming it even gets through to him, might give the OP a chance to get the heirloom back, and it doesn’t necessarily have to finger the manager. Maybe even preface it with “I know we’ve never met, and this is a very strange and awkward situation, but (brief description of how the friend saw the caboose, and VERY DETAILED description of said caboose)”. Not groveling, really, but more of an acknowledgment of just how odd this situation is. And I don’t think it would matter if OP mentioned it went missing from work or not. Leaving that detail out makes it easier for the other parties to pretend or believe that Manager picked it up in an antique shop or something, and it was someone else’s mistake that led to OP’s property being there.

      3. TheVet*

        Not quite sure what kind of answer you’re looking for here, but I’ll give the one that is the most obvious: because most of us aren’t disgusting enough to keep someone else’s property after learning it was stolen from them.

        No one is telling her to storm into the CEO’s house and snatch from his mantle. If someone comes to me to tell me I am in possession of their stolen property I’m not going call them crazy and to tell them to sod off because the “gift” is mine. We will discuss it and I will give it back to them if it is indeed theirs. It’s not really that difficult to understand.

        1. Leatherwings*

          The manager is bananas, but I don’t think that’s a reason to assume that this CEO is too. Yeah, they know each other but it’s prudent to go into all this assuming he’s a reasonable human being.

        2. AMG*

          And because the CEO is in a high-profile leadership position. It’s embarrassing for him and his company. Give the thing back that has no sentimental value and keep the thing that has value–your image. Nobody is going to care that much about what is to them a random knickknack when it’s someone else’s family heirloom. The CEO would look ridiculous if he kept it after that.

        3. MK*

          You aren’t “disgusting enough to keep someone else’s property after learning it was stolen from them”, but apparently easy-going enough to simply hand over the item and forget about this? Ok. Myself, I would contact the OP’s manager before I did anything else, to find out what’s going on. And possibly call a lawyer, just to be safe.

          I am not saying the CEO will refuse to return the item, assuming the OP can prove it’s theirs; he might even want to get rid of it, even if he isn’t convinced, just to avoid the hassle. But you (and other commenters) seem to assume it’s going to be a matter of having a friendly chat with him; and THAT was my question: whatever makes you think the CEO won’t kick up the devil of a fuss at being told he is in possesion of stolen goods?

          1. Sunshine*

            I don’t get the impression that the item has a lot of value (other than sentiment of the rightful owner). I don’t imagine the CEO making a huge deal to get “proof”.

          2. TheVet*

            We don’t know that he won’t raise sand. We can only guess, from our perspectives based on how we believe that we would behave over a caboose, that if OP approaches the CEO reasonably he’ll be just as reasonable and return it without involving the manager, HR, or the police. If that’s easy-going…then, yeah, I’m easy-going.

            Could this be a caboose that reminds him of the one his great grandpappy George lost before the war and he’s totally enamored with it and doesn’t want to return it ever? Of course. Could the manager be the next best thing to Jesus in CEO’s eyes and he not believe OP? Most Certainly. He could very well call OP a lying liar who lies, toss her out on her ass, and call the manager to inform her that her employee is a fabulist who needs to be terminated. None of that changes that he potentially has property that was removed from someone’s office without their permission and given to him by a party who works in said office and did not have permission to have that property in their possession. I’d rather believe that most people can be rational and would do the right thing.

            However, I’ll modify my advice just for you.

            3) Call the police and have them sort it out just in case the CEO is a jerk about it.

            1. Patrick*

              Not to be a Debbie Downer but I am seriously confused about all the people saying “let the police sort it out.” Maybe it’s just because I can’t imagine the police where I live taking this very seriously, but I would expect to be told to work it out myself – from the outside this could easily be interpreted as an interpersonal disagreement between adults who all (kinda) know each other.

              Also while I am not trying to tell OP what’s best for her or minimize how awful this is, when people talk about a nuclear option getting the cops involved is as heavy as it gets really – I would caution against going to the police before trying to resolve person to person or within the company. Again, not saying it’s not within the OP’s rights to do so but it also makes it a lot easier for the boss to spin it as OP being aggressive or malicious.

              1. fposte*

                I think it’s just that people would like to think that somebody is there to help when a wrong has been done. It can be really frustrating to realize that something is against the law but no repercussions will occur. (And I’m with you–I think the cops would tell the OP that this is a civil case at this point.)

              2. Christopher Tracy*

                Yeah, the police in my city wouldn’t investigate this. Still, filing a report, and telling the thief about it, could be enough to scare her into getting it back. Or not. (Probably not – this thief seems to have no shame.)

                1. Anne (with an "e")*

                  I don’t know if the police would investigate, or not. I think it might depend on how much the heirloom is worth. A theft has obviously taken place. That is a crime. Aren’t the police there to solve crimes?

                  The reason I suggested that the LW might want to involve the police is that
                  I am reminded of an incident that happened to my sister. Long story short. She passed out at a restaurant. Her friends called 911 and an ambulance came to collect her. She and her friends proceeded to the hospital where my sister was treated. One of her friends took care of my sister’s coat (leather)and purse (designer). Well, several weeks later the police showed up at my sister’s house and said that a random woman from the restaurant whom my sister did not know was claiming that in all of the confusion her leather coat had been stolen by my sister and her friends. Well, my sister was able to prove that the leather coat was hers because she had the receipt and she also had photos of her wearing it before the incident. So, no my sister and her friends did NOT steal a leather coat while in the middle of a crisis at a restaurant. But, the point is, the police were investigating this incident. This occurred in a large metropolitan US city, not Mayberry. My sister said that two detectives came to talk to her about the coat. So, if the police have time to investigate a leather coat, then they have time to investigate a heirloom from someone’s grandfather. Also, my sister was interviewed several weeks after she had passed out. So, a significant amount of time had passed.

                  The heirloom was stolen six months ago. The LW thought is was missing or misplaced until recently. Now he/she knows it has been stolen. The amount of time can be easily explained.

                  I still recommend caution though because going to the police *could* jeopardize the LW’s job.

              3. Jerry Blank*

                I’ve been wondering who on earth has such a rosy view of the police that they’d go to them over a missing caboose and expect to be taken seriously.

      4. Mike C.*

        For one thing – it’s an incredibly specific item that otherwise has little value to anyone else. I’ve never been called by someone out of the blue that some trinket I was given actually belonged to them, and I know of no one else who has a similar story. Further more, the exact details surrounding the toy are highly specific.

        Sure, there are things like cons and social engineering, but there’s so little to gain here. It’s not cast in gold and encrusted with diamonds, it doesn’t hold the codes to nuclear weapons or the 13 secret spices to make decent fried chicken. To the average person, it’s just a toy.

        I mean look, you believe the OP, right? You’re hearing the exact same thing that the OP would tell the CEO, more or less. Why would being a CEO change your judgement?

          1. BeautifulVoid*

            But as people have pointed out, there are ways to have the conversation that doesn’t accuse the manager of any wrongdoing, or even mention her at all. If OP decides to have a conversation with the CEO, she can go from “item went missing” (doesn’t even have to mention from where) to “heard it was in your possession, here’s a very detailed description of it in the hopes you don’t think I’m making this up” without connecting any dots for him.

  15. Friendly poster*

    Option 3, if the item matters to you: create a “missing” poster/flyer/email/post looking for the item. Share it with many people, including your friend. Note that the initials are on it. Your friend can then share with the CEO, under the guise that he is an oficiando of this type of stuff and might be in a position to know or recognize it in a store, garage sale, etc. Then wait and see if the dots are connected on their own. This allows you to save face, because you aren’t assuming theft or wrongdoing; you are simply taking the reasonable step of looking for it. It also allows the CEO and your manager to come up with a face-saving story to return it to you, if they are so inclined to do the right thing.

    1. Leatherwings*

      If I’m reading the letter right, this happened almost a year ago at this point, I don’t think the time is ripe for something like this. This also seems like a really passive aggressive way of handling the situation and I bet it won’t lead to a resolution, only make things really awkward.

      1. A Bug!*

        I agree that this strategy as presented would be a bad idea. Since the friend has seen the train, it wouldn’t be effective for him to play dumb to the CEO with a “you’re a train fan, maybe you’ve seen a train like this” story. But with some minor adjustments, it could be just the thing. Instead of posters, a Facebook post:

        “A family heirloom went missing some time ago; we’re not sure how but at this point we think it might have mistakenly ended up in a box bound for the thrift store. When we realized it was missing we were devastated. We’ve spent the last few months turning our house upside-down and reached the unhappy conclusion that it’s not simply misplaced but gone. As our last hope I turn to you, my Facebook friends and their friends.

        I know this is a long shot, but if you spot a small cast-iron train at a thrift store or an antiques shop, or if you’ve got one sitting on your mantle that you’ve obtained in the last year or so, we ask that you check its underside for the initials “XX”. I’m willing to offer a reward for its recovery, and if you purchased it I’ll reimburse you what you paid. We just want grandpa’s train back.

        Anybody with information can contact Jane Doe on Facebook or by phone at #*. Shares to your own timeline would be hugely appreciated.”

        If OP happens to have any photos at all which have the train in it, she could include the picture in the post. Just make sure that the post’s privacy settings allow for public viewing and shares. Then the friend, if he’s willing, can go to the CEO with that story, which genuinely leaves the manager with the plausible story of having found it at a thrift store.

        Rather than the friend going to the CEO with an implausible cover story about seeking advice from a train fan, he could print out the Facebook post (or share it to the CEO if they’re FB friends), and say “Hey, didn’t you show me a little cast-iron train like this at your house?” And then the friend can leave it at that.

        It doesn’t guarantee that the CEO won’t simply stick his head in the sand over it, but it seems like the strategy that’s got the most favorable risk/reward conditions for all involved.

        *If your number isn’t listed, I’d recommend maybe getting a temporary number for this, like Google Voice or something. A public Facebook post will end up getting indexed by search engines.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, I like this strategy. In terms of social engineering, the framing you want is for the CEO to be able to look like a hero.

        2. Leatherwings*

          I still think this is passive aggressive, and puts the friend in a bad spot given that they don’t actually know the CEO. I think it’s possible that this will come across as really transparent – the friend shares a random facebook post about a caboose with a CEO they don’t actually know right after the CEO showed them this caboose? He’s not going to be that dense.

          I also think this risks getting back to the manager. We don’t really know how close manager and CEO are, but I imagine lots of scenarios in which it would come up. It’s a really weird way to go about it, and carries most of the same risks that Alison’s original advice in how to address it does.

          1. A Bug!*

            It’s passive, but I don’t think it’s necessarily passive-aggressive. People do make these kinds of pleas on Facebook; the intention is that it see as many eyes as possible in the hope that someone will recognize the object and help reunite it with its owner. In fact, there was a story just last month in a New Zealand paper about someone who succeeded in recovering a sentimental item (a blanket, I think) thanks to a shared Facebook post.

            If the friend’s not comfortable doing it, then it would be inappropriate for OP to put pressure on him, but I really don’t think there’s anything inherently suspicious about a person seeing a Facebook post by an acquaintance, connecting it to an object he saw at another acquaintance’s house, and simply bringing the post to the latter’s attention. Especially if the OP happens to have any photographs with the train in it to attach to the plea. If I learned that one of my flea market finds was actually someone else’s treasured family heirloom, I’d want to see it back where it belongs. Forwarding a Facebook post would give the CEO the chance to decide the same for himself.

            And it does risk getting back to the manager, but in a relatively-safe way. There’s no reason that the CEO has to know that OP has any connection to the manager, so the CEO isn’t likely to assume foul play in the manager’s acquisition of it. So there’s not really any reason that the manager would find out that the train went back to OP as opposed to some rando from Facebook who lost their train and has it back now. OP would be smart enough not to bring the train back to work or to bring it up unprompted, and if manager brings it up to OP then OP plays dumb.

            “Oh, it ended up with you? That explains it! I thought I had brought it in to work but wasn’t sure; it probably got orphaned in the big upheaval last year? I’m so happy to have it back, but I’m glad in the meantime that it was in the care of someone who appreciated it. Thank you.” Transparent for sure, but the manager is likely to recognize that OP’s throwing a bone, and take it for what it is – that OP’s just glad the train is home and won’t be pursuing the matter any further.

            I mean, this is all just a suggestion that I offer because OP’s clearly very upset about the situation. If OP can bear to let it lie, I’d recommend doing that, same as AAM. But in the event that’s not something OP can do, the Facebook route might be a safer option.

    2. Sara*

      Or approach the boss and ask her if she’s seen the missing item and see what she says. It gives the boss the opportunity to recognise and admit the mistake, if it was one. If she doesn’t own up and do something to rectify the situation at that point, I see no reason not to go to the CEO letting them know they have your property, don’t know exactly how or why, and would appreciate its safe return.

  16. Me2*

    I would not let this go at all. I would get the CEO’s info and contact him directly, leaving the friend out of it. Just say it has come to my attention that you were given an item in error, it is mine, I can prove it, there are initials on the bottom, etc. Let the CEO draw his own conclusions. I would also report manager to their boss, stealing is indicative of other things being mismanaged to say the least. Yuck!!!

  17. Bend & Snap*

    I wouldn’t let it go either. I’d a) get the item back and b) find someone higher up to report all this damaging nonsense to.

    In what world is someone fresh out of an MBA program qualified to run an organization? Unless she had previous management experience.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      One of my coworkers recently completed her MBA, and she is currently interviewing for management roles. She has no management experience. It’s sad.

      1. Unegen*

        True, but there’s the conundrum of how to gain management experience without getting a manager role. It would be nice if jobs just naturally led to being groomed for management and eased into it, but in reality everyone has to cut their teeth somehow. Hopefully your coworker either finds a way to ease into management via increased responsibility at work, or else doesn’t screw things up to badly for the poor sods who hire her.

  18. Gwensoul*

    Why are the bosses this year all trying to outdo each other for Worst Boss of the Year? There are so many we may need categories this year…

    I honestly don’t know what I would do. any idea how the CEO might react to finding this out? There is no good option here. Maybe file a police report?

    1. periwinkle*

      It’s been a bountiful Horrible Boss year, to the point where this thieving MBA wouldn’t make the medal podium and might not even make a top 10 list.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Like someone said in an earlier post, 2016 is being written by George R R Martin. All authority figures are awful and everyone’s favorite people keep dying.

      1. Mononymous*

        He really needs to stick to his day job (his super-delayed ASOIAF novel, specifically) and leave the rest of this year alone! Ugh!

  19. Bee Eye LL*

    First off, go ahead and update your resume because you’ll probably be looking for a new job soon.

    Second, let the truth out. Something got taken from you and ended up being regifted. Let the truth land on whoever it lands on, and definitely notify HR.

    What you mentioned about the manager rearranging everyone’s desk and throwing all their stuff in boxes shows a lack of respect for other people’s property, combined with what sounds to me like a serious control freak issue. Not just you, but your company has a problem with this manager being there and this may happen again if not addressed.

  20. Anna No Mouse*

    Would this be something to go to HR about? Stealing personal items (and gifting them to someone else) seems to be the kind of offense that would warrant that, especially if OP has to be concerned about retaliation for calling the thief out on it.

    I don’t think this is a “let it go” scenario. I’m usually right on AAM’s side, but this seems like OP is being encouraged to allow someone to not only steal from her, but to benefit from it. If this manager is so into “networking” than this gift to this CEO benefits her career, which she was able to do by stealing from OP. Not cool. Not even a little bit cool.

    If it were something small and insignificant, like a run-of-the-mill pen or something, sure. Let it go. This was an antique and a family heirloom. I’d work to get that thing back.

    1. Jennifer*

      Good question on HR. I…don’t know, but I wonder. It depends on what their HR is like, I guess?

      1. OhBehave*

        If they have an HR department, then it may be worth a conversation. Of course, it all depends upon how the HR is run.
        I also don’t think this should be a “let it go” scenario. This manager stole from her. Said manager ‘happened’ to know someone who is a railroad buff? Hmm.
        Involving the retired friend of CEO seems to be the thing to do here. Even if they are passing acquaintances he can still make a point of asking about the object. This may be the time to quit pussyfooting around the subject and just come out and say that it was taken from her desk during the holidays.

        I REALLY look forward to an update on this one.

  21. VA Anon*

    Do you have a picture of it that your friend could show the CEO? Friend could say, “This is going to sound strange but, a friend of mine is looking for a caboose she recently lost. It looks similar to the one I saw at your house. She said it has the initials ABC engraved on it. Could you check to see if you see them on the one you have?”

    1. Green*

      I like the approaches that treat the CEO as a reasonable person who would be embarrassed and appalled to find that he has been gifted something stolen from someone else. Also, we only know that he has it based on the description from a friend, so assuming that it is very likely it’s the same caboose (but not 100% certain) is fair.

      1. Grapey*

        Especially when that ‘someone else’ works at the same company as the person that gifted him the item!

        1. RoseTyler*

          And say “you can reach my friend at“, so the CEO can connect the dots that (OMG!) he was given the train by someone who also works at the same company….who is probably a thief. It implicates the manager w/o the OP or her friend having to do anything.

  22. SubwayFan*

    I wouldn’t let this go either. My husband is also a really avid railroad hobbyist and has tons of quirky things, but if someone let him know an item in his collection belonged to someone else, you can bet he’d want it back with its original owner.

    I like the idea floated above of putting out a “missing item” flyer and having it passed on to the CEO, because it involves no part of the manager. I think the manager should certainly be reported to many people–especially the old manager who recommended her for the job!–but I wouldn’t do anything involving her in the return of the item in order to ensure its return. If she knew OP were trying to get it back I bet she’d do everything possible to scuttle the plan, because obviously it would reflect badly on her.

    And just because we’re imagining movie scenarios, I’d actually take this story, illustrate it in powerpoint and then print it out as a booklet and leave it all over the office plus email it to all her managers.

  23. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I may be in the minority here, but I would 100% say something. No matter what the reason was, this is something that was passed on to you by your grandfather – it isn’t something that you’re going to be able to replace.

    I had a CEO who decided to do something similar – went through the whole office with her husband (!) on a weekend and boxed up anything she thought was “clutter.” Nothing was missing, luckily, but it still felt like an invasion of our spaces and just … I don’t know … a bizarre thing to do?

    1. BadPlanning*

      Now I’m intrigued. Did she dump everything in communal boxes or did she at least box things up per office? Did she just pick up things sitting on desks or did she pull down photos/posters/comics/etc from walls?

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Communal boxes that we would find hidden on strange shelves around the office (like at the top of the coat closet). Pulled stuff off the walls, and the cubicle walls, etc. It was just very strange. I also heard she went through peoples’ desks (for what, I can’t imagine) but mine was locked so nothing went astray from my desk personally. I’d never heard of anyone (a CEO, no less) doing that before but evidently I’m not the only one! At least in my CEO’s defense, she didn’t steal anything … but it did take a while for things to get back to normal because things that she thought were clutter were actually things we used – like charts and phone numbers and email addresses, etc.

        1. Katie F*

          My old Psycho Ex-Boss went through desks regularly. He was looking for things he could use to get people fired, actually, in his case – or rather things he could use to -threaten- them with firing. For instance, I had a coworker who used to od the crossword every morning. Turned out Psycho Boss was taking the crossword out of the recycling bin after Coworker finished it. He did that, every day, for six months – then called HR and told them Coworker wasn’t doing his job “because he shouldn’t have time to do crosswords” and that he should be fired for it. HR basically just laughed at him.

          He was caught on our in-office camera several times, but he seemed to believe he was the only one who knew how to watch the tapes. I pulled him into HR one time about him going through my things at my desk and he was utterly and totally baffled that I knew how to watch the camera. That I sat in front of everyday, and had been doing so for over a year at that point.

          When he was eventually fired (months after I quit to get away from his insanity), they found pile upon pile of paper in hi desk. Just notes other employees had written that he had taken. Newspaper articles he’d copied and written angry notes about in red pen. Letters he’d written to try and get people fired. And, yes, random objects he had taken from various employee desks over the course of nearly 15 years of managing employees.

          It was creepy as hell.

  24. Lisa*

    I would not let it go. you need to go to first ask your manager what happened and if they can’t come up with an explanation and get your item back then go to HR. If it was innocent then they should be horrified and willing to do it. If not then go to HR. Since this is a national company I would go to the national HR person. I’m not sure why people are willing to brush off theft (including the lunch thefts we see all of the time). Theft is a huge red flag as who knows what else they are stealing from others or the company. If HR watss to brush it under the rug go to the CEO yourself.

    1. Tex*

      Yes. This ^^. Her reputation to the higher ups is what matters to her and where she is most vulnerable. I think this incident would be a good way to alert national into keeping a better eye on what is going on regionally.

      (But, as was pointed out above, the CEO of the letter is not the CEO of the company. So getting the caboose back is a separate operation, out of HR’s hands.)

    2. Tex*

      To add to this, if it is a very large corporation, there are sometimes corporate ombudsmen or ethic lines that can be called.

  25. BadPlanning*

    Whenever the demands to personalize your office comes up, I always think of the show Better Off Ted. But in that show, when they decide the worker bees would work better with personalized cubes, they assign 1 of 4 themes to each cube. I believe the themes were cats, sports, space and classic cars. Hijicks ensure.

    But to the subject at hand, Wow, OP, I’d be concerned about what other theft (or fraud) is going on. Either deliberate or careless.

  26. KT*

    I am flabbergasted by this one and no way could I just let this go. Just because we bring things to work, does not mean we have an expectation they’re going be stolen. Gosh, the number of women I’ve known who’ve kept piles of shoes at the office so they wouldn’t wear their heels commuting…if someone had taken those shoes, there would have been a bloodbath.

    If I bring my purse into work, drop my wallet…that does not mean my wallet is fair game.

    I would absolutely, 100% go to the person above this crazy person and mention this. If that did not work, I would go directly to the giftee and be as gracious and respectful as possible, but make it clear that it is yours, it has great sentimental value, and was not crazy manager’s to give away.

  27. FM*

    First time ever commenting on this site. OP should definitely not let it go. OP should follow other advice in this thread to get her personal possession (FAMILY HEIRLOOM!) back. The relationship was already poisoned because the manager thought it was ok to steal & gift an employee’s personal possession. Total misfire on the advice this time.

  28. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

    I would be so p*ssed off i would have a hard time not making a scene. Srsly, tho, don’t do like me. Gather your evidence and make copies of it. Search for another job and then bring it up to the highest person in the org that you trust. If that doesn’t work consider filing a police report for theft.

  29. knitcrazybooknut*

    This is another argument for leaving the stock photos in the picture frames, bringing them to work, and making up backstories for your “dear family members”.

    “Oh, this is my cousin Meg and her husband Calvin, and I just love their wedding photo! It was taken while Meg’s brother was ill, but he recovered shortly after their trip to the island of Sporos.”

    1. Jayn*

      “Here’s my dad on the beach, riding a horse, at a graduation, another graduation, graduation…”

    2. nonegiven*

      Yeah, and if you have to personalize your cube, buy some ‘personal items’ you have no attachment to at a garage sale.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I posted this about something similar above, and you might be joking but this is super passive aggressive and generally not the way one handles things at work. OP either needs to let it go as a lesson learned or say something directly and be aware that there are probably going to be consequences. I would go with the latter, but only OP can decide that.

    2. TootsNYC*

      or mail it to the CEO in question.
      With a note that says, “Ask the woman who gave you your train about this.”

  30. Rebecca*

    Wow, this has to win the Weird Workplace of the Month award. First, the work area is too bare and unwelcoming, so workers are encouraged (volun-told) to bring in personal items. Then, during a holiday weekend, said items are boxed up and cubicles rearranged, with many items going missing, only for one of them to turn up as a gift to the CEO? I’d love to know how many other items ended up in the “re-gifted” category.

    I would not let this go. Perhaps someone in HR or a neutral party could approach the CEO to get the caboose back. If I were the CEO, I’d wonder why the manager I hired gave me a gift that clearly belonged to someone else.

    Sadly this is a good example of why we probably shouldn’t bring anything to work that we wouldn’t mind parting with.

    1. Katie F*

      Yeah, that “many items went missing” is one heck of a red flag. I’m guessing the new manager made off with anyone that looked promising to her. What a psycho.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yeah, I was corrected on this above – CEO is not a part of OPs organization, but a different company.

        1. Rebecca*

          Thank you TheCupcakeCounter and Leatherwings – I totally missed that part. Still, a neutral party might be the way to go, and the HR department of OP’s company might want to take this up with the manager. Yikes.

    2. Anne (with an "e")*

      I also wonder if other people’s missing items ended up with the manager’s network contacts. It could be that this manager went “shopping” for her network by pilfering her employee’s personal items.

      Another thing I was wondering…. Is there any type of surveillance system where the LW works? It could maybe show the caboose on the desk over a period of time. It could show the LW initially bringing the item into work. Also, perhaps it captured the manger’s act of stealing.

      I think I might contact the police about this issue. However, I’ll be honest. The LW could suffer severe repercussions for pursuing this. He/She could lose their job and good references. That is a huge consideration.

    3. Jennifer*

      That’s amazingly creepy. Like…did she do that so she could have her pick of stuff to steal?

  31. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Was the grandfather’s name Wakeen Tiberius Ferguson?

    Unless the CEO is an ass, he’d probably be glad to reunite the item with its owner. The awkward part will be if he remembers who gave it to him, because she will have some explaining to do.

  32. TheCupcakeCounter*

    What sucks is since it has been quite a while since the item went missing it is going to look weird that you are just now bringing it up. New manager will probably whine that you are on a witch hunt to find dirt on her or that you gave/sold her the item.
    Best bet is what someone said above stream – the whole department has to speak up in unison and that never seems to happen.

    1. Mander*

      Well, but the only reason the OP knows it is at the CEO’s house is because of a recent event so I think that negates the time lapse issue.

      In my contact with the CEO I would definitely mention that the OP thought it was simply lost in an unplanned office reshuffle, but that a friend attended the party and the CEO showed them an item that looked surprisingly similar to the lost item (followed by a detailed description and photos if they exist). If the OP doesn’t acknowledge that the reason she’s bringing it up now is because of what the friend saw, then there is no real explanation for the delay, so I think it has to be mentioned.

  33. animaniactoo*

    My grandmother was in many ways the most important person in my life. I have some pieces which belonged to her, ones that I have a hard time letting go of even when they’re not something I even particularly like. I have let go of a few of them over the years, and only have a few most treasured ones at this point. I wouldn’t bring them in to the office as knick-knacks, mostly because they’re too valuable to me to do that with. Anything that I did bring in, I would be upset but accepting of the risk that they might have been randomly lost/misplaced/etc. in some kind of move-around situation.

    But there are no circumstances under which I could have it turn up in this situation without trying to get it back.

    What happens in my dream life: I get the item back from the CEO, bring it into the office, place it back on my desk, wait for new manager to notice it, and then look her dead in the eye and say “Yes, amazingly my best friend happened to be in CEO’s house and noticed it ended up there. I was very fortunate that he was generous enough to give it back to me.”

    What would happen in my real life: I would immediately pack up anything of value to me and take it home. I’d tell anyone at the office who I was particularly close to what had happened and advise them to do likewise. I’d tell other co-workers that given that item never turned up, I just thought it was necessary to be extra careful not to leave stuff around that matters to me. I’d ask my friend if they could quietly arrange to get the item back from their CEO, or if they didn’t feel comfortable asking, see if they could set up a meeting for me with CEO so that I could ask myself. Without accusation. “This item was lost during a reorganization last year, I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding, but I would really appreciate having it back.” And really really hope that the guy is decent enough to do the “oh my! whoops! of course you can!”

    I might also reach out to my old manager about being a reference for job-hunting.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      That’s where I land as well. If it was just lost or stolen I would sadly, unhappily get over it. But because now OP knows it was stolen by her boss, and she knows its location – I don’t think I’d be able to let it go. I’m not sure that makes me “right” in this case, but it’s just how I feel!

  34. SlickWilly*

    Mutiny. Get your peers together and stage a war to get rid of this lunatic (+klepto) manager.

  35. Anon for this*

    I agree with not letting this go, while also trying to find a new job first before requesting the item back, though that can take even more time, and can make that CEO wonder why it wasn’t brought up months earlier. (Part of me also wonders what the CEO is like if this is the company he keeps, but I realize that folks can be very good at only showing certain sides to certain people.)

    I had an incident where I had no proof to show that a co-worker had taken a personal if not sentimental item of mine, but due to a much longer story I won’t go into here, I was nearly 100% sure it was he.

    Anyway, I’d mentioned this to my manager, because at the time it bugged the crap out of me. He said, “Let’s install a hidden camera in your cube!” I asked to think about it first, because this camera would also watch _me_, and he would receive all the files to go through, not me.

    I weighed probable but not provable theft against feeling hyper-alert and skeeved out every day at work, so instead decided to just lock stuff up, take stuff home, and be more careful around this person. A slightly amusing thing is when I told my manager my decision, he had already forgotten he’d made the suggestion and seemed to be just as glad that I had decided to move on.

    Then come review time, I was dinged for “not building trust with others, such as That Co-Worker.” Thanks, boss.

  36. Mustache Cat*

    So, while I agree with other commenters that I could in no way let this go, Alison provides a great deal of wisdom in the possible repercussions that this might have on your friend. Even if she’s a really amazing friend, it wouldn’t be fair to involve her in this crazy situation. Obviously, that depends on your particular friend’s situation-if she has a ridiculously fantastic relationship with the CEO and feels confident she can pull off the conversation, then go for it. But otherwise, keep mindful of that.

    And please keep us updated!

  37. Michele*

    What about a blanket email, with an attached photo, saying that in the shuffle of office decor, an antique train on your desk went missing? That it was a gift from your grandfather and that it has initials on the side. Express your concern about getting this item back and that you’re wondering what is best action to proceed.

    1. Leatherwings*

      What would the best case scenario result be for this though? The manager would have to admit that they took it (accidentally or otherwise) and gave it to a friend outside the organization for this to have any impact other than tip her off. The manager stole this item, she’s not likely to be like “oops, my bad” when someone sends around an email about it 8 months later.

  38. Menacia*

    I did not read all the comments so I’m not sure if someone asked this already “Why didn’t you (OP) try to find it when the item went missing (over a year ago!)?” If it were that important, why wait to see “if it turns up”? So all this time, you never asked anyone where you work (especially the manager who changed up the office) if they had seen this very specific item? It’s not like it’s vendor swag garbage, but something that was important to you (a family heirloom!). At this point, it’s definitely water under the bridge…lesson learned…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She says in the letter that she assumed it got lost in the “reorganization” chaos. Now she’s been told by a friend that it’s been spotted, which is why it’s coming up now.

      1. Menacia*

        Yes, I realize that, but why not look for it, ask around for it, do anything possible to find out where it was when it first went missing? Now the item is in a place where it will be very difficult to retrieve. Of course who knows if the manager would have fessed up back then, but it was an opportunity lost.

          1. Mander*

            Yes, the letter doesn’t really address whether that happened but I assume that it did. Also, if the manager was really skeevy enough to have deliberately reshuffled peoples’ personal items in order to steal the ones she wanted, it wouldn’t make any difference. The manager could just say “sorry, I haven’t seen it” and ignored any further attempts to find it.

    2. rory*

      Yeah, I sadly have to agree with this. It’s a family heirloom that wasn’t considered valuable/important/sentimental enough to leave at home, you didn’t document anything at the time it went missing or try to escalate (complaint to HR/police report), it’s been gone since last Thanksgiving, you only have hearsay that it was located in someone’s house and who the person who gave it to that person was… I think it’s gone, sadly. It sucks a lot to lose something you value, but I’m not sure what your recourse here is. Update your resume, try to find another job, and leave this terrible environment.

      1. Leatherwings*

        I don’t think this is fair – If I thought I could’ve possibly misplaced an item or someone else just put it in the wrong box no way am I going to go to HR over that. How would that conversation go “I might have lost or someone might have misplaced this thing that I brought to work. I’m not really sure but I think it might turn up once we sort through all the chaos.” I would be sad but blame myself for misplacing it UNTIL I knew for a fact that wasn’t what happened.

        What does HR do with that? OP only found out it was taken recently.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I agree with this. I might have sent out an email to everyone asking them to let me know if they saw it anywhere, but I would have just chalked it up as being misplaced during the reorganization and not pursued it further other than, like, looking through some other boxes for it. I definitely wouldn’t have taken it to HR. What’s the point? They weren’t going to send someone down to search the office for it.

          1. Leatherwings*

            Exactly. Bringing up lost items to HR/management is a great way to give yourself a bad reputation with HR/management. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy for us to sit here and say “You should’ve filed a report at the time!” but most people don’t go around blowing missing items out of proportion by going to the police or any other authority.

            Now that it’s for sure stolen and re-gifted we have a different perspective than we would’ve had.

            Also, I can only imagine what posters would have been saying if OP wrote in 8 months ago about how they think their manager stole their heirloom item but aren’t sure. The comments would’ve been “You’re probably overreacting, is it possible someone picked it up and put it somewhere else on accident?”

  39. Jessie*

    I personally would not let it go. I feel sad just thinking about that because of the idea of a CEO getting to keep such a neat item (I’m a fan of trains as well), having no idea that someone’s been looking for it all this time.

  40. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I like this option the best of all:

    If this were a movie, you and several coworkers would break into the CEO’s house to try to get it back, with hijinks ensuing along the way.

    You, dear Letter Writer, will be played by Pam Grier or Salma Hayek and your sidekicks will be Gina Carano, Lily Tomlin, and Helen Mirren.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think I might have had a scene from Horrible Bosses in my head when I wrote that. Or the amazing Rob Lowe scene from Sex Tape. (Er, the Jason Segel/Cameron Diaz comedy, that is, not Rob Lowe’s actual sex tape, which is also a thing that happened.)

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I remember Rob Lowe’s sex tape (Not The Movie)!

        I was thinking more like the break-in towards the end of The Fisher King, except with a crew of awesome women who’ve planned it to the detail like The Sting or Oceans Eleven. Somehow the manager gets left at the CEO’s house, locked in a trophy cabinet. She’s played by Katherine Heigl (as punishment for every rom-com she’s been in). Oh year, Danai Gurira’s in this, too, as a ringleader. There’s subtext somehow…maybe a katana turns up in every shot as decoration?

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I just noticed your use of a male pronoun for the LW in a comment above…At the risk of enjoying myself just too much with this fantasy (because I have no useful advice and just want the letter writer to smile), I’d like to offer LW an alternate cast if they don’t want to be played by a woman (no matter awesome).

        Jet Li? Liev Schreiber? Jeremy Renner? Danny Trujillo? Yasim Bey? Javier Bardem? Harvey Keitel? Maybe Tim Roth thrown in there for the Wild Card Guy.

  41. Catalin*

    Okay, for everyone miffed at Alison’s advice, let’s calm down. She’s trying to give the best advice for the situation.

    The situation is that the manager is kookier than a coon on whiskey. Manager sounds like a nut job, first class. We don’t know much about the LW, but almost everyone needs a job and even in a good economy it is hard to find one.

    That said, it’s also possible for the LW to go with the best friend in a casual setting (lunch date) and talk to the CEO with the train: bring a photo of the item if possible. (Nail in the coffin would be your grandfather holding the item). Explain that the item tragically went missing some time ago and you were overjoyed to hear it had made its way to CEO. Ask how he had acquired it (with the silent implication that he found it at a pawn shop/yard sale/innocent explanation here).
    When CEO presses for details, explain there was an incident at work with a rash of thefts over Thanksgiving break. Leave your Kooky manager totally out of the conversation. If CEO is honest and has an ounce of character, he will want to return the sentimental antique to you. If CEO is also smart, he’ll realize that the kooky manager may have stolen the item (but she may also have found it in a thrift store after original thief stole it). If CEO is discreet, you could get your item back without word going out to Lady Crazypants. If it is your lucky day, CEO would also start quietly questioning Crazypants’ character and watching carefully for future behavior.

    LW, if you handle this with finesse you might come out on top.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I think that the advice about leaving the manager out of it in getting the train back is really good. Also agree with the bit about Alison’s advice – she has to weigh it against the risk of someone losing their job or otherwise facing consequences so I totally agree.

      But Alison mentioned above that the friend and the CEO aren’t really close so I’m not sure if it would be possible to set up a lunch date like this. It might be possible for the friend to casually speak to the CEO next time he’s around in this same vein though and that might do the trick.

    2. Mustache Cat*

      +1 to your first two paragraphs

      And also to the rest, but I particularly liked those two.

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I’m not at all “miffed” … Alison’s advice is probably the more sensible way to go – I’m just not sure, in OP’s shoes, that I’d be able to follow it.

  42. Seal*

    Or the OP could play innocent and contact the CEO directly, stating that her friend mentioned that he saw the caboose at his house and that she was thrilled to know that someone found it. Include a picture and a blurb about how it was her grandfather’s, has his initials carved in it, and that it went missing from her office around Thanksgiving. Finish by stating she hoped she could get it back because it was a family heirloom. Don’t mention that that she knows her manager gave it to the CEO as a gift and certainly don’t confront the manager. Let the CEO put 2 and 2 together and realize that the manager gave him a gift that he stole from one of her employees.

    Also, consider filing a police report. Looks like you have concrete evidence that something of value was stolen from your office.

    1. LawLady*

      I like this approach. It would still cause awkwardness with the manager, but there wouldn’t be explicit finger-pointing. (Though one imagines the CEO might point fingers.)

  43. Ann O'Nemity*

    Relationship with the manager be damned! It’s already ruined, as far as I can tell. If I were the OP, I’d focus on trying to get the caboose back and escalating the theft up the chain at work. Meanwhile, I’d be looking for another job and reaching out to the retired manager to lock down his reference.

    Also, this reminds me a bit of the previous letter about the stolen iPAD. Remember that one?

  44. Jdubs*

    Any chance you have a picture of it somewhere? Or maybe a picture where its in the background just to show it belonged to you? Or heck to someone else in your family? Maybe a picture of your grandfather or parent with it? That might provide some serious evidence behind this that is a pretty compelling reason for the other CEO to return it to you. Granted it will make your manager look like a thief so aware of that :/

  45. WhiteBear*

    If it is a very sentimental item and means a lot to you (and if it was my grandfather’s heirloom it would), I would file a police report. Give the police a detailed description of the item including a description of the item with the initials as well as any photos if you have them, when it was taken, and have your friend corroborate the fact that the item is now at this other person’s house. The police can then retrieve the item from his home, and it is up to him to explain it was a gift received from your manager, and the story can go from there.

    I know that might seem a little extreme, but wow I am just so mad on your behalf, and I wish your manager wasn’t such a complete tool.

    1. Catalin*

      Whoa, yikes! Please tell me you meant to add a part at the beginning about contacting the CEO and asking for it back before going all nuclear scorched-earth on the (at this point) still-innocent CEO. If the CEO refuses to give LW the item, THEN maybe bust out the flying monkeys.

      “Please” sometimes works.

    2. Lissa*

      I don’t really see what good this would accomplish? I don’t think it would be more likely to get you the item back than asking, and it would be really potentially embarrassing/upsetting for the innocent CEO and potentially other folk as well. If the police even follow up on it…

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      This is really not going to be that simple even if the police believe the OP that the train was originally theirs (which they might not depending on how much evidence there is; I wouldn’t be surprised if the case was dismissed out of hand). For all anyone else knows, the train was legitimately sold or pawned, and it’s at the very least going to be a drawn-out and stressful process probably requiring paying lawyers.

  46. Michele*

    It’s also the fact that this manager went ahead and rearranged items off of people’s desks. I would feel violated. Also, did anyone else loose things?

  47. Not known for my social skills*

    I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to burn bridges over this one. However, I’m in a good position to ride out the probably inevitable repercussions. If my job was more necessary or meant more to me than the caboose or if I simply couldn’t ride out the consequences for whatever reasons, I’d have to let it go but would search for another job asap.

    Though I can’t say for sure that I’d do it, this is what I’d give serious consideration to doing. First, I’d file a police report, providing a detailed description and photos of the item and stating that it went missing from my workplace. I would tell them that I had an idea of what happened to it, but I wanted to give the person a chance to do the right thing. Then, I’d keep the police report to myself until/unless my property isn’t returned.

    Then, I’d document and ask my friend who saw the caboose at the CEO’s to document everything that has passed and follows. I’d go to my manager and tell her one of my family heirlooms, the caboose, disappeared during the workspace reorganization. I’d further state that a friend of mine saw the caboose at CEO’s house and CEO stated that manager had given it to them as a gift. Then, I’d reiterate how important this item is to me, understand this was some kind of mistake, and ask the manager to retrieve it. If she retrieves it, I’d let the police know the matter was handled and it would end there. If she doesn’t, I’d go above the manager’s head with the story and ask for something to be done. If that doesn’t work, I might take a copy of the police report to the CEO and ask them to return the caboose though I’d be tempted to skip this step for fear the CEO would dispose of it rather than return it. If all else fails, I would go to the police with my documentation and ask them to retrieve the item from the CEO and let natural consequences take over from there.

  48. Hannah*

    This reminds me of The Statue episode of Seinfeld. I think you need to send Kramer in dressed as a detective and get it back!

    But in all seriousness I personally would approach the boss about it, say I understood how it probably got mixed up with her things and it wasn’t deliberate, but let her know about her mistake. I wouldn’t demand she get it back though. I just couldn’t keep working there and stomach just not saying anything to this person. You deserve an apology! For that to happen she has to know her mistake.

  49. Middle Name Jane*

    I think this was deliberate theft, and I would pursue legal action to get the item back–job be damned.

  50. AstroDeco*

    The Manager:
    When I read your question, my first thought was that the newly-degreed-MBA-from-the-prestigious-school has no real experience and she does have book learning. Her management style seems to be taken from several different books and she is doing some things that work on paper and not work so much in the real world: eg: making changes immediately to show authority, encourage some type of hominess in the office, then shake things up to again show authority.
    She missed the chapters that explained good management skills and real-world experience.

    Is she reasonable to ask why she has implemented certain changes? Probably it’s much too late to ask about the infamous Thanksgiving reorganisation although it would have been reasonable to ask why she decided to move cubicles because the reply could help the team to work better.
    eg: “Would you please explain why you moved us? If we understand your reasoning it could help us work more efficiently.”
    manager: “I moved them because I noticed that Fergus and Lucinda were at opposite sides and becaus they seem to often collaborate I thought they should be closer together, et cetera.”
    Even if she did have a valid reason and didn’t want to explain it first, making such a major change without notice is just bad management, as is implementing changes without first asking why certain things were done a certain way.

    Mishandling personal items in the process is serious and her manager should know. OP, you said that most items were there even though mismatched to the owner. you did some swapping to the rightful owners. Were any other missing items valuable to their owners? Has anything gone missing since? If so, this could give you more leverage to make her actions and your suspicions known.

    The Heirloom:
    I agree you should try to retrieve the heirloom and there are already good suggestions on how to do that: the “hijinsky” heist*, Craigslist, supplying a photo of the heirloom if you have it and asking friend to approach the CEO (the friend will understand the request to be reasonable even if Friend decides not to do so).

    If you Craiglist the item, be certain to list the Last Known Location as your office. You could even ask your manager (with photo if available): “After the cubicle re-org last Thanksgiving, I noticed this little caboose was missing. I’ve hoped it would turn up as one of the mismatched owner’s items although it hasn’t. Because it’s actually a family heirloom, I’m trying to track it down Do you recall seeing it? No? Do you remember who packed the personal belongings when things were moved? I’d like to follow this through with them, especially because it could be mistaken as a toy.”

    Let your colleagues know that you’re searching for this as well.

    The CEO:
    If the CEO were not the CEO, would anyone approach this differently?
    Of course your friend needs to respect his status, although really he’s just a man with a cool hobby who would probably be reasonable enough to return an item once he realises it was obtained illegally.
    Chances are that he won’t even remember who gave it to him. CEOs receive many gifts, especially from MBA upstarts who are trying to work their way up the corporate ladder.

    Working in an office of beanie babies:
    No. Just… no.

    Very difficult Lesson Learned:
    Don’t bring anything to the office that would be very much missed if it disappears. Instead do the next best thing and bring the item in— as a photograph.

    *The heist is definitely my fave, and plans for retrieval should encompass methods from the Oceans movies and Alias. Heist prep should include how to evade the laser grid like CZJ with Sean Connery coaching (from that movie whose name I can’t remember and am too lazy to look up). Jim from The Office and Shawn from Psych should be called in to help with the plan.

    jokes aside…
    OP, good luck!! I’m sorry it went missing and I hope you’re able to retrieve your grandfather’s cast iron caboose. What a cool souvenir that is by which to remember him!!

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      Your “she’s read too many management books” interpretation isgreat – and familiar. I once had a CEO who would decide to rearrange people’s desks and change around random little things in the office every few weeks or months, and every time he did this people would say “He’s been reading management books again.”

      Or she deliberately had everyone bring in lots of personal stuff so she could make off with anything good, then rearranged everything to cover her tracks. I’m leaning more toward the latter.

      1. Katie F*

        I don’t get that. While desks are obviously company property, there is such a personal element to “this spot I spend the majority of my waking day, every day, five days per week.” I’d never touch my coworkers’ desks, let alone rearrange them without their consent.

  51. Whats In A Name?*

    From an emotional standpoint, I am up in arms FOR this person. They had property stolen, by a MANAGER.

    From an intellectual standpoint, I don’t see what good will come from contacting the CEO – especially by having the friend contact the CEO. I would say, head to HR, file a complaint because, to me, this is a huge issue that can affect core business, not to mention morale that already seems to be declining. Maybe it’s a power issue, maybe it’s some weird personality quirk – maybe it’s her way of seeing what she can get away with before she goes in and steals some major company assets. You don’t know but I do think you have an obligation to tell HR.

    Regarding the CEO – did your friend take a picture of the item? Did you see the initials?

    I would leave your friend out of it. You have every right to pursue getting the item back. It might be awkward, I’d get the CEO’s contact information and contact him yourself if you decide to go that route.

    1. Whats In A Name?*

      Question: is this the CEO of a DIFFERENT company, not the one you are working at, right?

        1. JMegan*

          Wait, what? I think I need a flow chart or something to understand all the relationships here.

          OP’s manager (probably) took the caboose, and gave it to a friend of hers, who happens to be the CEO of an unrelated company. Then OP’s friend, who used to volunteer at Unrelated Company, saw the figurine on CEO’s desk, although Friend doesn’t know the CEO personally and isn’t sure CEO would remember him.

          Have I got that right?

  52. Lily in NYC*

    This happened to me in my personal life! I left a silk scarf at my boyfriend’s house when I was visiting over the summer (during college). I had no idea he was cheating on me and he gave it to his new ladyfriend. A few months later when we were back at school, she came to visit (he told me they were just friends) and she was wearing it. It was obvious to me within 5 minutes that they were more than friends so I ripped the scarf off of her neck and walked out. I’m not proud of the ending – I took him back and dated him for two more years. Biggest regret of my life.

    1. The Strand*

      Too bad you couldn’t have ripped it off his neck. The only thing worse than having someone steal from you and give to another, is to find out your “sweet” gift was actually stolen from your boyfriend’s wife or girlfriend. You feel like a complete heel, even though you didn’t know he was a cheater.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        True! I wasn’t angry at the other woman. She definitely knew I existed but he was the one at fault, not her.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        karma got him back though! He has a pretty shady but high-paying career and got kidnapped on his first day of work when he moved to nigeria for a job. (he’s fine, nothing bad happened)

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Yes, it was really pretty. But I threw it away in a huff because it smelled like her perfume.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      Man, remember the episode of Sports Night where Casey left a shirt at Sally’s that then went missing and finally turned up when Dana’s boyfriend Gordon came to visit the set wearing the same shirt?

      Good times.

  53. Dynamic Beige*

    We returned from Thanksgiving break to find everyone’s cubicles rearranged, with all of our personal items in boxes, and many items were missing.

    1. What kind of manager takes a holiday to reorganise the entire office by herself? Including touching everyone’s stuff? This doesn’t sound like a re-org, it sounds more like a treasure hunt or a mission to find out who is stealing all the staplers. Every time I have had to move my office, it was up to me to do it. Also finding it weird that manager says paraphrase “personlise your space! make it fun!” and then “loses” things in the reorg.

    2. If you are going to expend all that energy to move everyone’s stuff, yet you aren’t able to keep it sorted so that everyone gets their stuff back, don’t. Yes, let them take a work day to rearrange the offices themselves per your direction.

    3. No offence intended OP, but why on earth did you have a valuable memento like that on your desk? I mean, part of me can see that it must have given you comfort to have a reminder of your grandfather close by — we do spend a lot of our waking hours at the office/working. But, no matter how well you know your coworkers, you never know who has the potential to be a thief. My last car was a hatchback with no trunk cover. If that taught me one thing it’s that you should never leave anything out in the open/public that you aren’t willing to lose.

    4. What others have said about starting the job search… yesterday. Since it’s a national company, there must be HR or someone above this whack-a-do that you can take your issue to. Because it was on your desk. If it was company property, why didn’t she ask someone about it? If it was company property, why is she allowed to give it to another person? Seriously, this woman needs to be shit-canned so hard she won’t find her way back to the city, let alone the state. And yes, you, your friend, whomever should go to this CEO’s house and request that it be returned. He didn’t pay for it, so it’s not like he’s going to be out of money. If they’re still tracking items confiscated from the Jews during the Holocaust in order to return them, then surely a caboose can be returned. It would be a simple matter since the CEO has never seen you and if you know details about it, like the initials on the bottom, how on earth could you know that? This CEO and everyone in their circle needs to know what this woman has done. As other letters have shown, stealing a lunch from the kitchen can get you fired. If you had taken something valuable of hers from her office, you can bet you’d be at home right now, trying to figure out how explain to other companies why you were let go.

    5. In terms of worst boss of the year… it’s not a liver. I don’t know if it’s worse that she just stole it to give it to someone else in order to curry favour or if she didn’t confront OP and demand it be given to her or OP loses their job.

    6. This is one story that not only do I want an update on, but I want it to be one that gets back to the company in some way.

    1. Brandy in Tn*

      When we moved company locations several times back, they had the managers unpack and put away the personal stuff we shipped, because they felt we’d take forever arranging and someone would dawdle and the boxes were rented plastic. But the last time we moved we just did our stuff ourselves, the managers were tired.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      Is the caboose actually objectively particularly valuable? It sounds like it has a lot of sentimental value, and is maybe a good find if you’re into collecting that sort of stuff, but otherwise probably not all that easily distinguishable from “cool knickknack I found at the thrift store” and not really the sort of thing I would expect to worry about being stolen.

  54. Legalchef*

    Part of me thinks you should go to HR, and if you get an unsatisfactory response then file a police report. Because ultimately your possession was stolen. The police report could include your knowledge of where the item now is. The CEO wouldn’t want to be in possession of stolen property, I’d imagine.

    Though it might be too late to do this, and this probably isn’t something you do unless you have another job lined up or are okay with the likelihood of retaliation.

    1. Wren*

      I like the directness of this. All the comments about making an electronic or paper trail about missing it now while pretending to now not where it is and asking the friend to show it to the CEO risks blowing up and looking shady. Especially don’t make the ad say, “oh, I think it accidentally went out with a box of thrift store items,” because that gives the CEO a justification to keep it. Most likely, this was straight up stolen, and it’s stolen property, which Legalchef points out the CEO would not want to be in possession of.

      I really don’t think there exists an innocent explanation on the manager’s part for this. I would hope HR would treat this the same way the situation was treated the time the employee found out their own manager stole their company issued iPad.

      Alison, I understand your concern in advising the OP to consider how this could impact their current employment and future reference, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is an assumed risk in taking valuables to work and that should be factored into the decision.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t mean it as in “you’re to blame!” but rather than I factored it into assumptions (maybe wrongly) about how devastated the OP was by losing it. I figure people won’t bring in things they’d be devastated to lose.

        1. dawbs*

          There are the pesky things that you don’t *think* you’ll be devastated to loose, and then you are. And there’s the argument that things that must be kept under glass are no longer doing their job as heirlooms

          The mug that has been my ‘work mug’ for the past 15 years is a one my grandma gave me a long time ago.
          I use it because it makes me feel all the positive warm-fuzzy things that a cocoa mug should make one feel.
          When it disappeared off my desk, I was upset and went on an office-by-office search until I found it and took it back. I was shocked by how upset I was to miss it.
          But at that point I had 2 choices–either I could keep using the mug, knowing that eventually I’ll be upset to lose (or break. It’s only a matter of time until butterfingers hits at the wrong moment) it or I could put it on a shelf in my house and have it be a memento that got looked at but not used.
          I debated, and I’ve kept it as my work mug–and eventually that will end with a bad day–but I think I’m OK w/ that.

          That might not be the wisest course of action w/ irreplaceable heirlooms, but I’ve found that sometimes they lose their ability to connect us and do their jobs when they’re treated as stationary parts of history instead of fluid parts of our current everyday life.

  55. Christy*

    I’m just as indignant as everyone else here is, but I don’t really think there’s anything OP can do here. I don’t see any course of action that goes well that isn’t just, find a new job. *Maybe* if OP’s friend says something to the CEO OP could get the caboose back, but honestly, I doubt it.

    And OP says they were “sorry to lose it”, not “devastated” or something similarly strong. Clearly the situation changes now that OP knows it was stolen, but if it were worth losing a job over, OP probably would have pushed back six months ago.

    So much time has passed that I don’t see this ending with OP having their caboose back, even if they know where it is.

    1. Leatherwings*

      See, I think there are scenarios where OP could get it back, but not without burning a lot of bridges. If the keepsake was very very important to her and she was okay with the worst case scenario (getting fired with no reference comes to mind), then one can argue that she go that route, but if not then I think… yeah lesson learned.

      1. Christy*

        Right! And I’m of the opinion, given what we know, that if the heirloom was so important to OP, then OP would have made a far bigger stink about it when it originally went missing 9 months ago.

        1. TheVet*

          OP said, “I was sorry to lose it, but I was sure it would turn up.”

          I read that as she figured it was lost (she was a saddened) in the shuffle and would reappear (she’d be happy to have it back) in the office. It could have been that she was under the assumption that it was genuinely lost or tossed and resigned herself to the fact that she’d never see it again after all this time, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t have, or didn’t want, it back if it was found…even if it was 9 years later.

          She’s since discovered that it was potentially stolen by her manager and given to someone else. I don’t like the attitude that she didn’t “care” enough to raise hell 9 months ago. So? She was under the impression that she’d find it. She has. HR shouldn’t accept that attitude and the police certainly wouldn’t. Should it not be returned to her now that it has indeed “turned up” in someone’s home as a “gift” to a third party from her manager? It’s hers. It should be returned.

          As an aside, how would you diplomatically say,”My manager misappropriated a family heirloom and I was terminated after asking for it to be returned”?

      2. Jennifer*

        Or just waiting to pursue the issue until OP is at a new job…assuming the CEO has held on to the caboose for however long that takes. That is an option, just a long time one.

  56. Sadsack*

    How about everyone who has items missing go to HR together and say there is a thief in the office and you are all filing police reports?

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I don’t think the fact that the manager gave it away as a gift should be swept under the rug.

  57. KimberlyR*

    I need my job and would be hesitant to do something that would put it in jeopardy immediately. However, this manager stole from the OP. The relationship is poisoned. Although there were some issues prior, they seemed to be manageable. But the OP can never trust her manager again. Someone who steals from her employees can’t be trusted with anything. If OP can look for a new job, I think she should, whether she ever gets the caboose back or not. Hopefully, she can contact that CEO (or have her friend help get her an introduction) and provide enough proof that he is willing to give it back.

    If OP can find a new job and get out of there, I think it is worth going over her manager’s head. I am not a supervisor/managers/etc., but if I were, I would want to know that the manager below me had stolen from an employee and regifted to someone else. There are so many unethical things going on there. And how do I know she won’t steal the company’s resources? How do I know she will use a company credit card or expense account appropriately? This manager is either a thief (most likely) or “found” something that she then gave away without trying to find the true owner (less likely) and either way, I don’t want her working for me.

    If OP can get with the manager’s supervisor to discuss this prior to leaving/finding a new job, she can also bring up the fear of retaliation. There may be something that manager can do while investigating the situation.

    OP, I hope you can update us at some point in the future. I would really like to know what happens and I am hoping so much that this manager loses her job!

  58. the.kat*

    If you’re not to the BEC, get-a-new-job stage, AAM’s suggestion is best. Bite your tongue, take all your treasures home and keep your head down. It sucks to have to confront people, but if you HAVE to have your stuff back, I think the time is ripe to lay it all out for the manager. You know where your property is and how it got there. What you’re not sure of is how your manager got a hold of your caboose. I would schedule a time to sit down with the manager and lay out the facts. Let the manager know that you’re incredibly shocked by what you know and would like to give her the chance to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and correct the situation before you escalate this to your HR, boss, supreme high commander, the CEO, etc. Right now, she thinks she got away with something. You have the opportunity to let her know that she didn’t.

  59. Michelle*

    I vote for getting your FAMILY HEIRLOOM back. Start job searching and get someone above your manager in on this. I don’t care how “innocently” it happened, that belongs to YOUR family and the manager had no right to gift it to someone, especially after “rearranging” the personal items. How many other staff members had something go missing? Sounds like she “shopped” for presents in the staff members personal belongings. This makes me angry on OP’s behalf. This manager sounds like a clueless, spoiled brat. Ugh. I think my blood pressure is going up.

  60. Miss Elaine E*

    This kind of reminds me of back elementary school, I had a teacher who deeply hated me, for whatever reason. I had a hot pink fineline marker that I loved that went missing. Seemingly months later, I found it again — in the teacher’s hand while she graded papers. I knew at the time that saying anything about it would get me nowhere so I let it slide.

    …but I still remember that marker.

    And yes, this was just a marker.

    I would follow up on this as soon as possible while it is still even vaguely possible to do so. People move, items get discarded (after all, it does not likely have the sentimental meaning to the “new owner” as it does to the OP). While I would start hunting for a new job, I wouldn’t wait to mention the missing item before finding one — as we all know a job search can take considerable time.

    I like the idea of framing it as a misunderstanding but I absolutely would not let it go.

    As to the notion of burning bridges — well, raising a stink would not be burning a bridge. That bridge was set ablaze by discovering the boss stole something that was important to the OP. I don’t think I could work for that person again.

    1. Leatherwings*

      A little off topic, but this makes me laugh. I worked with kids, and once took away a bright blue lipstick from a six year old girl (schools rules, not mine). I gave it back at the end of the day and said she wasn’t to bring it to school again.
      I had a chapstick I used myself a couple times that day (and the kids were allowed to have clear chapstick too) and she was sure it was hers. No amount of explanation would convince her. It’s been a few years since I worked with her, and this now nine year old child reminded me last month while I was visiting of the time I stole her blue lipstick and used it. She’ll probably tell her kids about that lipstick.

      1. Miss Elaine E*

        Cute story. (For the record, my “precious” marker had an unusual brand name and I do know for a fact that the one Mrs. K was using was mind :D )

        1. Brandy in Tn*

          I used to get so mad at classmates asking to borrow a pen or pencil. Who shows up without this to class? Id loan it to them then have to fight to get it back. After this happening a bit, its taught me to be careful sharing items.

    2. Alix*

      I was one of those kids who always liked to share cool stuff with my teachers. Not often – I was a pretty shy kid – but every so often before class. I had one teacher in middle school who was just … off. She didn’t hate me, but she was – well, let’s put it this way, she once bragged in detail to the class about how she hated kids sleeping in class (which, that’s legit) but instead of waking them she would just draw all over them with sharpies. Even as a socially-awkward middle schooler that struck me as kind of a strange response for an adult.

      Anyway, I shared this little magazine with her because it had a cool, relevant article. I was clear it was my magazine and I was just showing her the article. She walked off with it to read it and never gave it back, then told me I’d never shown it to her, then told me I’d given it to her, and then went back to “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Over the course of one class period, I might add, a couple weeks later when I got up the nerve to ask about it.

      I never asked her about it again. I also never shared anything with any of my teachers again, ever, or with anyone else in a position of authority. (My father is a narcissist who thinks all our property belongs to him if he takes a shine to it – I had, until this point, assumed no adult not my father would pull this crap. Naive, but – I was a maladjusted middleschooler.) And I would go freaking ballistic if I found my personal items just missing, let alone stolen and regifted.

      The thing that’s funny is, I’m now a minimalist. I do not care to have a lot of stuff around, and honestly, nine of ten times, if someone asks me if they can have something, I’ll probably give it to them. So it’s not the idea of no longer having a particular object that bothers me, so much as the sheer disrespect and boundary violation involved. There’s really no clearer way to show how little you think of someone than to decide their stuff is just there for you to use as you see fit, without even a token ask.

      And yeah, that missing magazine still stings. If I still had it, it would’ve been recycled long ago, but it stings that it was stolen and that that teacher cared so little as to treat me that way.

  61. Kobayashi*

    If the item is VERY important to you and you must have it back, I’d be straightforward and go to the CEO directly or his immediate assistant and explain the situation. He sort of needs to know what the manager did, either accidentally or deliberately, and you could even entertain him with any stories about your grandfather relevant to the item in the process. He’d likely feel very badly about it. The longer you wait, the harder that’s going to be. Just don’t approach it in an accusatory way toward your manager. Be matter of fact. Of course, as Alison mentioned, there might be repercussions, so I’d definitely start looking for a job pronto.

    1. Kobayashi*

      Oops, sorry I missed it’s the CEO of a different company. In that case, I’d approach your boss’s boss directly or one step above that if you really want it back. Technically it IS stolen property, but going down that road really means you’d better have a new job first.

  62. Beancounter Eric*

    1. Time to find a new job.
    2. Depending on how valuable the item is, filing a police report might be in order. Probably will go nowhere, but you never know.
    3. Beating the manager with a large blunt object sounds like a great idea. Illegal, but tempting.

  63. April*

    If it was just an expensive picture frame that didn’t mean anything or a nice radio or something I might just let it go while looking for a new job. But this was a family heirloom. While I agree that one accepts some risk when bringing something to work, this feels different. In particular, because the OP knows what happened to the item. It isn’t that was just lost or perhaps a light-fingered customer took it, etc. The MANAGER stole it and gave it to someone.

    My husband works as an employment attorney for a large company with locations around the country and world. If an employee at an outlying location called corporate HR and discussed this, it would be addressed. Although I have never heard of something like this, I have heard him tell other outrageous stories of things that local plant managers, branch managers, etc. did that were reported by someone who worked under that manager. Those incidents were handled by corporate.

    I know not every company is functional but I would think corporate would want to know this.

    I wish I could tell some of the stories because they are pretty incredible!

  64. Crabbypants*

    I don’t understand the option of filing a police report not being discussed (from my quick scan of responses). Forget any relationship-with-the boss niceties. This was theft. And theft that can be proven because the CEO knew WHO gave it to him – the manager. If the OP has any photos of the train, or any documentation above and beyond the initials on the bottom of the train that this is their property, then include that in your police report. This manager needs to have this crime on her police record.

    1. Crabbypants*

      Also, why is everyone assuming the OP should leave the job? The MANAGER should leave. I love the saying, “You can choose your actions, but not your consequences.” The manager’s actions of theft have natural consequences. When the police show up at the CEO’s door with the information that the “gift” was stolen property, the CEO will certainly have choice words for the MANAGER. And if the OP’s HR doesn’t fire that manager, then they’ll certainly keep their eye on the manager more closely and perhaps unearth all the other bad behavior that would eventually lead to the manager’s firing. But the OP shouldn’t have to leave. The OP did nothing wrong and shouldn’t have to cow-tow or “nicely ask” or hope to not get fired.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Dude, in a perfect world manager would be fired for this. The world is not perfect and OP isn’t in a position to enforce these consequences. Telling OP that the manager should leave isn’t helpful advice because it’s not advice at all – it’s an opinion that OP has no say in making happen.

        And let’s not pretend like all HR departments are perfect places that elegantly handle workplace interactions like this. They’d probably go to the manager and now suddenly manager knows that OP is making it A Thing and who knows what happens from there.

        This is wrong, but OP is also operating in the real world where wrong things happen and aren’t always dealt with as neatly as you’ve outlined here.

      2. fposte*

        The police aren’t going to chase down a small-value item, and it’s not going to go on the manager’s record. They’ll let you file a report if you’re insistent and then tell you recovery is a civil matter (they may not always be right, but that’s almost always what they’ll say in a situation like this).

      3. Elsajeni*

        Well, because the OP doesn’t have the power to make the manager leave the job. She can report to someone higher up in her company that her manager stole a personal item from her desk, but she’d have to have compelling enough evidence that the manager stole it that it isn’t dismissed as a she-said/she-said situation (since the manager will almost certainly say “What?! No, of course not! I would never do something like that!” if asked about it), and even if the higher-up is convinced, she has to take the offense seriously enough to fire the manager on the spot over it. Working against the OP are the difficulty of proving that the manager stole something that’s no longer in her possession, the manager’s general credibility in the office, possibly the manager’s connections to the well-liked retired former manager (people are getting emails from him about how mean they’re being to the new manager!), possibly the fact that the OP didn’t say anything for several months after the caboose disappeared, and the amount of trouble it would be to replace this manager. If her end goal is “I don’t want to work under Thieving Manager anymore,” the only way to be SURE that will happen is for OP to find a new job.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Idk. It’s easy for us to say “forget niceties” but ultimately this is OPs job and livelihood. It’s the way she pays rent and eats and buys Christmas gifts. If she has backup options, great. But it’s not so straightforward as us saying “screw the boss, this is wrong, do whatever it takes” and I think it’s disingenuous to paint the issue in such stark black and white terms.

      That’s the same reason there hasn’t been as much discussion of going to the police (although there are comments saying that, it’s not like nobody is discussing it) – that’s a HUGE escalation. If OP calculates that it’s worth it, good for her. But she should be aware that it’s not a risk-free move.

    3. Alix*

      I don’t understand why no one’s talking about filing a police report, either. OP now knows the item was stolen – file a damn report. Even if nothing comes of that specifically, now there’s a record in case the manager tries to pull this shit again.

  65. Navy Vet*

    I would go and ask the CEO for my property back myself. And let him know that he has thieves in management.

    My Grandfather was the most important man in my life. And if some piece of shit stole something of my grandfathers from me, I would be on the news.

    What’s with the victim blaming? It’s your fault for bringing it to work? Really? How about it’s the thieves fault for stealing. Personally, I keep mementos of my Grandparents with me all the time. Why are we always bending over backwards to blame the person who was wronged?

    We had a saying in the Navy “Lock your shit up to keep your shipmates honest”

    I call bullshit on this attitude.

    1. fposte*

      The CEO isn’t the CEO of the OP’s company, so we don’t know anything about who he has in management. I think the intricacies are confusing people :-).

  66. LadyOdette*

    If this item is important to you, you need to get this matter settled IMMEDIATELY. The more time you spend on it, the more likely the item will be forgotten or discarded.

    I would go directly to the friend and discuss it, “Hey [CEO]. I know [boss] gave you a caboose for Christmas, but I wanted to let you know that the caboose was not hers to give. The caboose was a family heirloom of mine and it was stolen from me during Thanksgiving, along with a bunch of other personal items from the office. These initials here are my grandfather’s.”

    I would NOT let this issue go, especially since it sounds like you were not the only victim. All of your coworkers’ had their stuff moved and/or stolen, and this is creating a bad morale for your company. You should see if anyone else had their stuff stolen and categorize that too. This might be an issue you will have to bring up to HR, because not cool.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that we had one boss gleefully admit they refused to let an ex-coworker off on her graduation and even aired out her personal life to try and get us to shame her, I would say THIS would be worse boss of the year . . . can we have a 2nd worse boss of the year award?

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: divisions. Worst Manager of the Year. Worst Boss (Company Owner) of the Year. Worst HR Rep of the Year. Under 50 Employees/Over 50. Something like that.

  67. mortorph*

    I think that Alison’s answer speaks to the greater power struggles that are inherent in employer/employee relationships. In her answer, she answered with the the employer having the right to all of the power: 1) The manager stole, then regifted to a CEO of a different company, a personal heirloom of the employee; 2) the OP was originally advised to let bygones be bygones because otherwise it may cause trouble for the OP within and outside of the company. The manager will have learned that it is okay to steal from employees and will probably continue to do so throughout her career – especially if the victims were to follow this type of advice each time. If I were the perpetrator’s manager I’d want to know if they were stealing because the behavior could be a liability for the company, especially if the stealing were to escalate in value and breadth.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I think it’s important for OP to take into account what they know about bosses boss – if she generally trusts the managers’ bosses judgement then I think that’s a good route to go, because I agree as her manager I would want to know. Otherwise, though the power dynamic definitely comes into play and OP risks unpleasant consequences. Not an easy choice.

    2. mortorph*

      I also can’t help but wonder if the OP could get a free consultation from an employment lawyer. No obligations to act, but to get a better idea of the legal ramifications of the situation – for all parties involved: victim, perpetrator, company. If there are no good options, at least the OP would have that knowledge.

    3. mortorph*

      I’d even go as far to say that the OP would be complicit by inaction, should they decide to do nothing.

  68. Rachael*

    As someone who still has a piece of paper towel with a hand written note that my sister made for me in 2nd grade….I can say that I take sentimental items very seriously. Allison is right. The OP needs to decide how important the train is to her. In my family, anything handed down is rare and treasured and I would not be able to just let someone have it.

    The manager knew that the employees brought in personal items. If there was one left over after the move she should have asked each person if it belonged to them, not kept it and gifted it to someone else. That part just does not make sense.

    The manager deserves to get in trouble for taking it out of the office and giving it to someone else. In fact, I could start a conspiracy theory and say that the whole reason why she rearranged the desks/personal items was to steal that train .

    When deciding on whether to take items, this is when I refer to: “The flow chart of ownership” (also applies to food in a company fridge).

    Is it yours? —>No —> Don’t eat/take it

    Is it yours? —> Yes—> Eat it/take it

  69. Master Bean Counter*

    If the OP work’s for a national company, is there an ethics hotline she could call? This is definitely the kind of thing that should be reported to one of those lines.

    Me personally I would go to the manager in question directly. Hey Jane the most bizarre thing happened…My friend’s boss just received a gift of my grandfather’s train. His initials on the bottom and all. This is odd as I thought this train was lost in the Thanksgiving office shuffle. Since Friend’s boss is a friend of yours could you help me recover it?

    1. mortorph*

      Ooh, I like this. If the OP were to go this route, I’d make sure other people were around to hear the conversation. Witnesses.

    2. Whats In A Name?*

      Ooohhh….me likey. So you aren’t accusing her without hard evidence, but you sure are putting her on the spot! Genius!

  70. Jadelyn*

    Sounds like it’s time to call the Leverage crew for some hijinks that will not only result in the return of the stolen item, but also find some amazing dirt on the terrible manager and get her taken down completely and possibly end up with the OP being promoted into that spot.

    (If you’ve never watched Leverage, this is literally almost the exact plot for multiple episodes over the course of the series. It’s on Netflix, I highly recommend everyone watch it.)

    1. Athena C*

      Seriously. All that’s needed is that the CEO and the OP are actually related through the grandfather.

    2. JessaB*

      My cat is named Parker because she likes to hang upside down on the arm of the desk chair that is her sleeping seat.

  71. Chriama*

    Alison, I’m surprised that you didn’t really recommend reaching out to the CEO directly. There’s no need to bring the manager into it — OP just has to say that this is an heirloom, it went missing a while ago and she heard from a friend that he’d received something similar. Provide as much proof as she can (pictures of the family gathered around the train along with identifying details) and ask if he’d be willing to give it back or let her come look at it and bring the pictures so he can determine it for himself. The CEO might not even remember who he got it from, and even if he asks the OP can say there was an office reshuffle and she thought it would turn up but maybe it ended up with someone who didn’t realize it was a personal item (I mean, it could be a gift shop trinket for all they know). There’s no need to finger the manager, even indirectly, and if OP acts matter-of-fact then why would the CEO be bothered with going to check back with the manager anyway? I just don’t think the risk is that high if she treats it like a coincidence.

    Anyway, I think it depends on how much the OP wants that train back vs. how badly she needs this job and how risk-averse she is. Is it possible the CEO checks with the manager who calls the OP a dirty liar and proceeds to fire her? Sure. But treating it like one of those missed connections on Craigslist and leaving out the fact that she knows the manager gave it to him makes that a lot less likely. It sucks that there’s no retribution to this jerk but I assumed the end goal was just getting back the train.

    1. Leatherwings*

      CEO doesn’t work at OPs workplace, but an entirely different company. It would be weird for OP to contact the CEO without ever having met them. Imagine if CEO is really good friends with the manager and mentions it “One of your employees contacted me out of the blue to ask for this gift back. I don’t even know how she knew I had it”

      That’ll come across as really really really weird. The risk compared to the reward in this scenario is very very high.

      1. Chriama*

        I don’t think you understood my suggestion. OP is mentioning the connection through her friend. That’s a valid connection. Maybe the friend can make the introduction, but it’s fine for OP to say she heard of this because her friend mentioned it. This isn’t “contacting a CEO who works at another company”, it’s contacting someone you know through a mutual connection and asking if he’s willing to review your evidence and return the train. What are the odds the CEO remembers where he got the train? And why would he know that the OP works for the manager? OP isn’t saying anything about it, just that they lost this item and their friend brought this to their attention. It would be the same thing as saying you saw an article in the newspaper about his train collection and think you saw your grandpa’s train in one of the pictures. It’s just a random chance, no need to mention the manager connection at all.

        1. Leatherwings*

          The friend doesn’t know the CEO though. So it would probably feel really random to the CEO.

          And considering that the CEO is a train collector, banking on him not knowing where the gift came from is not a risk I would be willing to take if I was worried about my job.

          1. Chriama*

            Random – just like if he was in a newspaper and OP contacted him that way? It’s honestly better for it to seem random than to try and tie the manager to it, and long-lost heirloom is a totally normal story. “Hey, this is totally crazy but I heard you have a train that looks like one I lost, here’s some proof, can you take a look at your train and see if it matches my info, would you be willing to give it back?” That’s it. This isn’t a solid gold train encrusted with diamonds. And if CEO goes back to the manager, OP can still play dumb. “We had that office reshuffle a few months ago, I thought it would turn up and it never did, I guess it somehow got mixed up with someone else’s stuff/thrown out/whatever.”

            Again, yes, this is a risk calculation. But I think approaching the CEO first and downplaying the manager involvement as much as possible is not that risky and has the highest chance of getting the item back with minimal fuss.

            1. Chriama*

              Also, considering the manager’s personality, why would she admit to anything? She might just say she found it at a thrift store. OP isn’t going to contradict that story, and if she’s really worried she can spin it further saying she lost it at during some house cleaning/garage sale/whatever and it might have ended up at a thrift store. Why would the manager incriminate herself? OP doesn’t need to connect the chain, and no one else is likely to.

          2. Mander*

            But the friend at least works with the other company, was invited to the event, and if I understand it correctly the CEO personally showed the item to the friend. To me it doesn’t matter that the CEO doesn’t know the friend beyond “someone who works for me”. I wasn’t considering it before but I think it would be fine for the OP to conveniently leave the manager out of it altogether — just contact the CEO and say that it seems that in some mysterious way the train the friend described sounds an awful lot like an heirloom that went missing — could they check to see if details x, y, z are on it? If so could they find it in their heart to return the item to the OP?

            I think you can do this without even mentioning the OP’s workplace or her suspicion that the manager stole it.

    2. KHB*

      I like the idea of reaching out to the CEO (maybe via the friend, maybe not) without mentioning the manager. There are all kinds of reasons someone might come to be in possession of stolen property – for all the CEO knows, maybe the thief gifted the item to the manager, who gifted it to the CEO. Or maybe the thief sold the item to an antique store, and the manager bought it. Saying “this item was stolen from me” doesn’t necessarily have to be accompanied by an accusation of anyone in particular.

      If you really want the caboose back, I’d even consider making a good faith offer to buy it from the CEO, to show that you’re not just a random person trying to get your hands on his stuff. If he’s a decent person and believes your story, he’ll probably refuse to take any money anyway, but offering might help show that you’re sincere.

      Something like “I know this is an odd situation, but my friend was at a party at your home recently and noticed an antique caboose that looks a lot like one that was stolen from me some time ago. I’d really like to be reunited with it, because it’s a family heirloom of some sentimental value. If it is indeed the same one, will you consider selling it to me at an price we both agree on? I can afford to give you $X for it.”

  72. Philly Style*

    I had a problem with someone that I worked with once. He asked me to do something with him after work and I said no, politely, but he didn’t take it well. Shortly afterward, I received dozens of bills for magazines that I didn’t order. I knew it was him, because the names the magazines all came in used my first and last names, and an insulting middle name. I told a friend of mine from New Jersey, just to share with him my frustration.

    A short time later, my friend said this clown would never bother me again. This is what he did. He found out where this guy lived and waited outside his apartment. He watched him walk down the street from the subway stop, making a few mental notes. He then called him from a payphone at a Chinese restaurant named Dragon Warrior Happy or some weird name like that. When he answered the phone, he started talking to him like they were old friends, and the guy went along with it, not wanting to admit he had no idea who he was talking to. Finally my friend told him, “Buddy, I just had to call and let you know that you live in a very dangerous neighborhood. You never know what’s going to be waiting for you behind the dumpster next to your building, underneath that burnt out streetlamp. I know what you’re doing to her, and it ends today. Do you understand me?” Then he hung up the phone as soon as the guy started to speak.

    The next day the guy told me if there was anything he could ever do for me, just let him know, and I said, “Thank you, I certainly will,” and smiled warmly. Every time I think about my friend doing this, I laugh because it’s really funny to imagine this conversation he had with this guy. I’m not saying that’s what the OP should do to her manager. All I’m saying is that it will make her laugh just to imagine it. And I’m also saying, start looking for a new job, because you’ll want somewhere to go when you ask your manager how your caboose ended up missing off your desk and in the hands of John Boss. Because a direct confrontation is the only thing that will work here, in private, alone.

  73. Florida*

    I would file a police report that the item was stolen. You don’t have to say your manager stole it or that it is at your CEO’s house. Say that the item was in your office, and now it is not in your office. Explain exactly what it looks like including the initials. In my city, you could do that online without even calling the police.

    The police will not interview your co-workers or arrest anyone. They will probably roll their eyes.

    The only benefit to this is that you have a record that the caboose with the initials ABC on the bottom belongs to me. Then, however you choose to proceed after that, if CEO doesn’t want to give you your caboose back, the police can get it back for you. (No one will be arrested. YOU get to decide if he or manager are arrested or not.)

    1. Leatherwings*

      I can’t imagine a scenario in which you file a report and give no details about the boss. This is a waste of time.

      You say an item was stolen from you, they’re going to ask when the last time you saw it, if you have any idea who took it, and if you’ve seen it since. You either have to give them the full truth, in which case they’re probably going to talk to boss about it (or ask why the hell you wanted to file a police report if not), or you’ll lie which is… not a good option.

      1. Florida*

        Actually, you could tell about the CEO and friend, but not the manager (the manager is second-hand info). Let the police talk to the CEO and he can tell them about the manager.
        Do you know where the item is? Yes
        How do you know? A friend saw it there
        How did it get there? I don’t know. I wasn’t part of that conversation.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Well if they ask those exact specific questions I guess OP would be in the clear. But when someone close to me filed a police report for theft out of their office he was asked questions like “Do you know of anyone who would’ve taken it off your desk?” “Did you report this to the school” (he worked in academia), “Can you think of anyone who was around at the time of the incident” “Is there anyone who has a grudge against you” etc. The point is, they dug in and I think OP would have a hard time not explaining the whole situation with the boss.

          If you take it to the cops, they’re either going to brush it off, or take it seriously and follow up. I don’t think it’s useful to try to find this in between place where they document it for the sake of having it documented, but don’t hear any of the actual details.

          1. Florida*

            I guess why it seems useful to me is because I’m thinking the goal is to recover the property. If I received a gift from a friend and another friend saw it in my house and said, “This item actually belongs to my friend. It’s her family heirloom. Would you give it back to her?” That would just seem very weird. It would be particularly fishy if the item were valuable besides being an heirloom.

            But if the police said, “I know you received it as a gift, but it’s actually stolen property, so we have to take it.” Well, that would seem weird too, but CEO has one option in that case. In the scenario above, he has several options and only one results in OP getting her property back.

            I’m operating on the assumption that the goal is to recover the property. Maybe that’s not the goal.

  74. Adam V*

    I’d wait until my friend got invited to the next party, have him tell me when it’ll be, then crash the party with a picture of my grandfather holding the caboose (or some other obvious proof that it’s mine), take it and start walking out the door.

    If the CEO stops you, then show him the proof and tell him (in a very loud voice) “[Manager] stole this from my desk last Thanksgiving and I recently found out she gave it to you. I’m taking it back because I can prove it’s mine. If you have a problem with that, take it up with [Manager] – and you might want to hurry, because I’m going straight to my HR department and showing them the proof that it’s mine and that she took it and gave it to you, and she probably won’t be working there much longer after that”.

    1. mortorph*

      Instead of crashing the party, why not go as the friend’s ‘date’. I’d say a reunion is in order for old friends.

    2. fposte*

      Wait, whoa, no. Don’t take it out on your friend’s boss that he got given something stolen. (And also HR really isn’t likely to fire somebody over a “misunderstanding” over an item, which is how it will read when it’s been missing for months without anybody saying anything.)

      1. mortorph*

        Even if its read as a misunderstanding by HR, I think that the company has a obligation to work on the employee’s behalf to recover the heirloom because of the manager’s actions. Plus, it’ll put the company on alert should any more ‘misunderstandings’ were to happen.

        1. fposte*

          Are you reading the CEO as being the CEO of the OP’s company? Because he’s not–he’s the CEO of an unrelated business. That company has no obligation to the OP whatsoever.

          1. mortorph*

            no, I understand its a CEO of a different company. In my first reply, I was just daydreaming if the OP were to show up as a date of the friend to the party. My response wasn’t very helpful, or explanatory, so probably shouldn’t have posted it.

            My second reply was to your comment of the situation being a ‘misunderstanding’. I did read that as the HR department of the OP’s company. I think if OP were to report the situation, and it were to be read as a ‘misunderstanding’, that still an admission that something happened that otherwise should not have happened (but doesn’t go far as to accuse outright theft). That admission puts OP’s company under obligation to recover the item – most likely by requiring the offending manager to ask for it back.

            1. fposte*

              I agree that they might try to do something about it in that case. I do think that’s dependent on the HR folks, though; a lot of places wouldn’t consider it their problem.

              1. mortorph*

                Especially if the company has a personal item waiver in place: “We’re not responsible for your personal items brought to work”. However, would that waiver (should one be in place) be considered null-and-void if management encouraged employees to bring in personal items?

      2. Adam V*

        I wouldn’t call it a “misunderstanding”, though – even in Alison’s “best case” scenario, the manager couldn’t say with a straight face “I don’t know how it got into my office, and therefore I was within my rights to give it away”.

        And the reason nobody said anything is because I think everyone just assumed it would turn up in a drawer or cabinet somewhere. Now, however, everyone who lost anything of value (monetary or sentimental) is probably lining up at HR’s door saying “if [Manager] took OP’s caboose, then she might have also taken my antique clock, and I want reparations / I want it back”. If you get one of these reports, you have a quick chat, but if you get twenty, you’re going to call her in for a serious meeting saying “what the heck happened here?”

        And yes, it would put the CEO on the spot – because I think that might be the most likely way to have him get the spotlight off of himself by publicly taking it out on the manager. And I just want to see that happen.

        But you’re right, it’s definitely a “burn the bridges to the ground” path. And I don’t think I’d actually have the guts to do it myself.

        1. fposte*

          “Misunderstanding” was in quotes for a reason. (And I think, like a few others, you’re thinking the CEO is the CEO of the OP’s company, when he’s not. There will be no spotlight on him because he has nothing to do with the OP’s employer.)

          1. Adam V*

            > you’re thinking the CEO is the CEO of the OP’s company, when he’s not

            I got that part, actually.

            > There will be no spotlight on him because he has nothing to do with the OP’s employer.

            I meant the spotlight would be right there during the party.

            *dials [Manager]*

            “Jane! Wakeen is at my party, showing me a picture of his grandfather holding the caboose that you gave me for Christmas! I thought you said it was a hand-me-down? You didn’t say it was a hand-me-down in someone else’s family! What the heck is going on?

            [Manager talks]

            You mean you just *assumed* that because you didn’t remember whose it was, you were free to give it away? What the heck is wrong with you?

            [Manager talks]

            No, I’m giving it back to Wakeen, because it’s *his*, and I told him to keep in touch with me – if you make a big thing out of this, I’ll have to give your boss a call and let him know what happened here.”

            (Again, I recognize that this is not really the best path – it’s very likely that it won’t go down exactly like this. But once either of them are presented with the proof of ownership, they can’t really continue to claim the OP doesn’t have the right to the caboose back.)

            1. fposte*

              I don’t know if it would happen that way or not, but now I want whatever *does* happen on video :-).

  75. Brett*

    Just with the small description we have, and the fact the other CEO was showing it off to someone who was only an acquaintance, I suspect the heirloom caboose is much more valuable (not just sentimental) than the LW realized. I have a grandfather who is also a train enthusiast, and it is not unusual to spend hundreds of dollars (sometimes more) on items like that.
    Which really means the heirloom never should have been in the office in the first place.

    But even if there was some carelessness on the part of the LW, I don’t think that justifies allowing what the manager did to stand. If someone brought an heirloom wedding ring into the office and left it on the kitchen counter over the holiday weekend after doing lunch dishes, would that justify not asking for it back after someone picked it up and gave it as a gift to someone else?
    The caboose could have just as much sentimental and monetary value.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Which made me think of something…what if the manager recognized the value and decided to do the whole office rearranging thing as a cover-up for stealing it? Yeah, uber farfetched, but, she sounds like a piece of work and I’ve know plenty of weirdos who do very convoluted and dramatic things.

      1. fposte*

        I could see it more if she’d sold it. But it’s a hell of a lot of trouble to go through for no financial gain.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Yeah, that’s why I think it is really unlikely; but, if it is also something unusual that maybe completes this CEO’s collection of something, and manager gets some kind of warm fuzzies over having given this guy something special…

          YOU know…NETworking! >blech<

          By the by, I love your idea of participation awards above.

          1. fposte*

            They usually get so derided, but I thought this was the perfect occasion for them.

            Amanda below is thinking like you are on the manager’s long game here, and I confess between you two you’re reducing my skepticism. It would help explain why the manager boxed up all the stuff she’d just insisted people bring in.

            1. Brett*

              This actually fits far too well with the manager’s other problem: spending all of her time on networking instead of being in the office.
              If the manager values networking more than doing her current job, then doing something awful like this to an employee to end up with a unique handmade antique gift for a CEO at another company (a prime networking connection) could actually make sense. A useful gain in exchange for what should have been a pretty low risk jerky action.
              And really, what are the odds that the CEO would just happen to show the gift to the high school best friend of the person who it really belonged to?

    2. kapers*

      Yes, and depending on the monetary value, in some jurisdictions its theft would be a felony!

      I don’t want to work in a world where you have to let a felony slide just because your manager committed it.

      1. mortorph*

        Or a misdemeanor, for that matter. Where do we draw the line between what is right and what is wrong? I’m not saying its a black and white issue, but how often do employees let things slide because they fear retribution? What steps can we take to rebalance the power between employees and employers?

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s a very good question. I wish someone knew the answer. It doesn’t help that right now we’re in a world where it can take years to get another job, nobody’s hiring or doing shifty things when they try, etc. Without the freedom to move out of a bad situation…

        2. fposte*

          Honestly, even if there were no power imbalance, something’s being wrong isn’t the same thing as something’s being redressable. An act can be technically a crime and still not be something the cops will act on. Winning a court case doesn’t necessarily mean you get your money or your job back. Insurance isn’t necessarily enough to replace the car that got totaled when somebody hit you. We often have very limited leverage for justice.

        3. Brett*

          The reality here is that it would be very difficult to prove that a crime took place; the manager could just say that the caboose seemed like a misplaced or left behind item so she innocently claimed it as abandoned. No criminal intent to deprive another of property, so no crime.

          The police might not even do more than a report unless there was some appraisal of the value of the caboose. It might be a worthless knick-knack, it might be a valuable antique, but there is no easy way to know.

    3. Brett*

      A father-in-law, not grandfather, who is a train enthusiast! (Well, he is a granddad thanks to my sister in law, but still, he’s not my grandfather!) Had to correct that because he already worries about being old enough to be anyone’s grandfather :)

  76. Dust Bunny*

    I would never have brought something that personal to work, but for the boss to a) ask people to bring in personal items and then b) confiscate them is at best monumentally clueless. I mean, she set this up–it’s not as though they were just here when she arrived and she could plausibly have assumed they were office decor.

    I would want that back. The OP shouldn’t be over the barrel for the manager’s bad behavior.

  77. Sansa Major*

    I wouldn’t care about poisoning a relationship with someone like that. I would ask the CEO, or my friend to ask the CEO, for my family heirloom back, and then jump ship away rom this crazy person as soon as I was able. I respect the rest of Allison’s advice, but I vehemently disagree with possibly just letting the caboose go. I was very close to my father’s father, and if he had given me something like that or I knew it was significant to him, I’d fight tooth and nail to get it back. If I could confirm that this person did indeed steal it, I’d probably threaten whatever legal action I could.

    Whether she took reasonable precautions to protect it or not, that doesn’t mean she should just roll with getting stolen from.

  78. kapers*

    Oh, man. You do NOT have to let this go because it might harm your relationship with your manager; that is a very harmful attitude that silences victims and is TOTALLY inappropriate in this case. It’s not like your manager has bad breath or inadvertently insulted you. They stole from you. And not just your lunch.

    Maybe I am a tattletale, but I wouldn’t deal with the CEO or your friend at all. I would first go above your manager. I would be VERY CAREFUL not to accuse the manager of theft. I would say “I have a very awkward professional situation with my manager, and I need your advice on how to handle it and I need to be sure there won’t be professional repercussions if I do so.” Then explain the details, sticking to the facts and not speculation, and ask for assurance that if you approach your manager about this, your manager cannot retaliate.

    Upper management may not do anything, but at least your concern about retaliation will be on record if your manager DOES retaliate.

    If they do not do anything, I would confront the manger directly, and ask them how they came to give your personal item away, and how they intend to get it back for you.

    This is not okay. You cannot “accidentally” steal a personal item. No need to kid-glove this thief.

    1. kapers*

      You can also file a police report for the missing item and mention that you have done so. This is for leverage– cops most likely won’t do anything but take the report.

  79. Amanda*

    I think the theft was intentional, and this is why the employees returned to work to find the personal items packed away — it was done to cover up the theft. The manager likely already had an invitation to the CEO’s party, and wanted to impress him with the vintage gift. Perhaps she is hoping for future employment with the CEO’s firm? If the manager stays, it sounds like working there will become intolerable, so either the letter writer should leave, or the manager should. This kind of behavior should never be condoned, or allowed to continue. Whether the letter writer chooses to stay or leave, she has an obligation to herself and to future employees of the thief, to pursue the matter.

  80. Batshua*

    … I really hope someone in the CEO’s life reads AAM.

    That could solve a lot of problems.

  81. Jane*

    I think the issue here is that letting it go might be the best idea from a career perspective if it will cause the OP a issues at work before he or she is able to find a new job. However, letting it go is going to be basically impossible as many here have pointed out because OP is only human. This is really a rock and a hard place situation and I feel horrible for the OP. If it were me I wouldn’t be able to let it go but I would try one of the suggestions that is the least likely to jeopardize my job and minimize the harm to me.

    1. kapers*

      OP can try to protect herself from career repercussions by getting vocal and getting others– HR, upper management, corporate, others in the office with missing items– on her side.

  82. Lauren*

    Wow, I sure disagree with you here. I think the OP should first decide if the likely or potential consequences–being fired, no references, a hostile working relationship with her boss–are something she can accept. I know I would because there is NO way I would allow any thief (or their recipient) to keep something so personal, so important to me. That would be my priority. I might have to pay a stiff price to get it back but get it back I would even if I had to go so far as to involve the police. The original theft is beyond unacceptable but to just put up with it is … no, no, no, never. The regret of knowing something I loved so much should be secondary to a job and work relationship is beyond, way beyond, acceptable.

    OP, get it back. And if you have decorate your workspace ever again do not bring in anything that is worth anything at all to you.

    1. Lauren*

      Okay, having read half the comments (which I had not done before posting the above) I would have my friend approach the CEO with me and have proof of my owning it (pictures, able to describe initials). I wouldn’t phrase my inquiry as “lost” or “misplaced” or anything but “it was my grandfather’s and it was taken off my desk at work.” Be straightforward and honest and do not throw in any deferential words or phrases. This item was stolen from you intentionally. The CEO is likely innocent in this but that shouldn’t make your approach a passive one by any means.

      I would rather go in with my friend and be honest but if it came to and I realized the only way to get it back is with police help that is what I would do. What is going to be more important to you in the long run–getting it back and having it for life or kowtowing to a job with a thief and liar for a manager? (And yes, losing a job is a real risk; I don’t underestimate that but I would , without hesitation, choose the caboose over the job.)

      1. fposte*

        The police aren’t likely to help the OP get it back, though. Which may be a good thing–sending the cops to a friend’s boss’s house isn’t going to end well for the friend. I hadn’t thought about the OP taking the day off and going to the friend’s workplace–the problem is that it might be tough to get on the calendar of the CEO if you’ve got no business reason to see him, so I still lean toward email as the best contact route.

  83. animaniactoo*

    Now that we’ve dealt with the ramifications and possibilities of “get your property back/don’t do it/do it this way”

    I’d just like to say that I have a certain level of admiration for the manager’s creatively twisted approach to holiday gift shopping.

    It takes a very special kind of person to not only think of but actually carry out rearranging the desks of an entire office to cover a few items going missing (note: OP said *most* items were found. Not all of them. Other friends of manager might want to start wondering where the beanie baby she gave their kids came from…)

    1. mortorph*

      I wonder what other items were never recovered, would there be a pattern? Also makes me realize that there have been comments to the effect of “why didn’t OP bring it up earlier?”, and its obvious that if other people were missing items, and there was a treasure hunt to find them, then the company/branch was aware of the situation.

  84. Maureen P.*

    I think it’s very likely that the manager took the caboose thinking it was a trinket that would not be missed. So, it was a very jerky thing to do, but probably seemed unimportant to the manager. A minor power trip that provided a momentary frisson of excitement.

    I’m curious, why did the friend not say anything when s/he initially saw the caboose at the CEO’s house? Did the friend immediately recognize it, and then stay quiet?

    1. Alix*

      I got the impression the friend wasn’t 100% sure, and so told OP to try and verify this was hers.

  85. specialist*

    I’ve actually spoken up about something like this and had it resolved very well with no repercussions.

    I would write a letter to the CEO.
    Dear CEO, I hope you will assist me with a delicate situation. During a reorganization at my office I lost a small model train caboose that was a gift from my grandfather. The piece has great sentimental value to me. I believe that this may have ended up in your collection. I am sure that this wasn’t intentional. I am very interested in getting the caboose back. It is a ABC type and you will recognize it by the initials XYZ carved in the base. I am enclosing a picture of me with my grandfather/picture of my grandfather with the caboose/picture of happy grandfather with his trains. As a fellow train enthusiast, I know this is a disappointment, as we both share a love of this piece. This particular piece has a great sentimental value. I can purchase another caboose from this manufacturer. Would you consider exchanging my grandfather’s caboose for this other one/other item of great interest? Thank you so much for your time and your discretion.

    Leave the mutual friend out of it. The CEO is going to know exactly what happened here. This is an item that in no way could be mistaken for a corporate property. Furthermore, the crappy boss would have known when she picked the item up from the office that it belonged to someone else. If the CEO is a gentleman, and he probably is, he will return the caboose and refuse the offer of a replacement. He would be completely quiet about this to anyone else, but he would remember that your boss GAVE HIM STOLEN PROPERTY and never trust her again. If you have a reasonable HR department, I would mention it to them after you have your property back. After the CEO returns your property you would write a most gracious thank you note.

      1. ECB~*

        There is none. There is very little chance that this will work, but it is an available option. This is a very tricky situation with little possibility of a good outcome. All they can do is try.

    1. kapers*

      I would never put “I’m sure this wasn’t intentional” in writing because that diminishes legal recourse if you ever choose to go that route.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t really see that factoring in–if you’re suing for the value, it doesn’t matter if the CEO accepted it knowing the story or not, and if it turns out that the CEO runs a locomotive-heirloom-smuggling ring, the cops aren’t going to pass on investigating just because of a phrase in a query letter.

  86. ECB~*

    I would have to say, time to look for a new job. I would also, if the item is of personal significance, approach the CEO directly at his home, with any documentation, photos, anything you have that shows this item was in your possession, and explain that it was stolen from your desk at your former place of work. Very politely, with multiple assurances that there must have been some misunderstanding, and you don’t care how it happened, but you would like the item returned.

    I personally do not keep personal items from my home in my office, except for the office in my home. Even when I have personal photos there, they are copies. A framed artwork or silk plant or anything else that I may have is never going to be anything I would miss.

  87. Cristina in England*

    I am pretty bad at office politics but I would go straight to filing a police report.

  88. justcourt*

    First, I would talk to the boss without accusing her. I would describe (in detail) the item and say it’s been missing since the move. I would say I was hopeful the item would turn up, but it hasn’t and it is very sentimental. I would ask the boss if she has seen it or knows anything about it.

    Assuming that conversation doesn’t resolve the issue, my next step would be to go to upper management to explain exactly what happened (i.e. the item going missing, finding out it was gifted to someone by the manager, and talking to the manager). I would say I’m uncomfortable working under the manager and ask for assistance with a transfer, if possible. I would also ask for their help in investigating the theft or recovering the item. I would make sure to let them know my next step would be try to recover the issue myself or to escalate the issue to the police if necessary.

  89. Ultraviolet*

    This is so tough. I think I’m in favor of first asking Friend to ask their CEO about this, in the most face-saving, non-blaming way possible. I’m thinking an email like,

    “Hi CEO,

    I wanted to check with you about something that came up at your Independence Day party. You showed me a cast iron train car that you received as a Christmas gift last year. I’ve been really torn on whether to ask about this, but my friend actually lost a cast iron train car last fall when her office was moving and reorganizing. Her car was an heirloom from her grandfather and she was really crushed to lose it. She thought it might have accidentally ended up in a lost and found at her office building or taken to a thrift shop or something, but she never found it again. I’m wondering whether this is how it ended up given as a gift to you? My friend’s train car is [this big, other detailed description, ideally a photo] and it has her grandfather’s initials, G.F., welded in the bottom near the [back/wheel/front/whatev]. If you would be willing to check whether your train matches that description, I would be very grateful. My friend was devastated to lose her heirloom and would be overjoyed if it turned up now and you’d be willing to return it.”

    I read upthread that OP’s friend doesn’t think CEO knows who they are, so I’m going with the idea that CEO showed the train to Friend in a 1:1 conversation at the party and would at least have their memory jogged here, and also that Friend would sign this email with their usual work signature and so CEO would get an idea who they are. But Friend could add an introductory sentence if they wanted: “I’m Fergus, coordinator for retired volunteers. We spoke at your Independence Day party last month. I wanted to follow up with you on that conversation. You showed me…” and continue from there.

    I didn’t include the name of OP’s workplace here. I think that’s kind of a trade-off: it’s more likely to negatively impact OP’s relationship with her manager somehow, but it makes a more compelling case that the train is hers. So it could go either way.

    Any alternative scripts?

    1. Ultraviolet*

      That said, it’s remiss of me not to suggest that you devote all your energy to getting an invitation to your friend’s CEO’s house and smuggling it out.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, except what happens when the CEO reports the caboose being stolen from his house?

          I know, we all wish it was Leverage, but…

          1. Ultraviolet*

            Sorry, I thought it went without saying that OP would have an identical decoy caboose made and leave it on the CEO’s desk exactly where the stolen one was.

            1. fposte*

              But it’s made of something much lighter than cast iron, and the last scene is the CEO realizing this as he picks it up…

  90. Meg Murry*

    Ok, so maybe this is too far fetched given the part about the initials on the bottom, but is OP 100% sure that this cast iron collectible was in fact unique? Does she has a memory of the grandfather telling her about engraving the initials on the bottom, etc? Has she tried googleing to see if there are any other very similar trains are for sale on ebay, or taken a picture to a collector? Or asking other family members about the back story to the item?

    I only ask because my father is obsessed with Antiques Roadshow on PBS, and I’ve seen more than one episode where a person brings in something they believe to be an extremely unique family heirloom, only to find out that the item was actually a gas station promotional item or similar and that there were millions of them produced. And sometimes it still turns out to be rare and/or valuable because the item is in such good shape, etc – but more often it turns out to be a far more common item than the owner had any idea. There are even similar stories of “but it has grandpa’s initials on the bottom” – only to find out that those were on all the items produced, because they were the initials of the promotional company, etc – and the item was gifted to grandpa because someone thought the matching initials was a fun coincidence.

    Again, far fetched, but possible the manager saw OP’s collectible and thought it would be the kind of thing that would be a good gift for CEO, and she was able to find a similar one on ebay or at an antique shop. I know I have seen items that one friend owned and thought “ah ha! that would be the perfect gift for so-and-so” and then went out to hunt down one that was similar – but never stolen the original item.

    *I am completely willing to admit that my scenario is far-fetched, and it seems far more likely that the CEO’s item really was originally OP’s , especially given that the friend was told the train was a gift from OP’s manager. But I just wanted to put out the possibility before OP goes and burns bridges with her manager and causes a major stink that she should do a tiny bit of homework first to make sure there is no chance this is coincidental before she does something so big as to accuse her manager of theft.

    And I would also add that I totally understand OP being upset by this, whether or not the item is actually rare/collectible/worth $. Some of my most prized possessions once belonged in my grandmother’s kitchen – they were not expensive items when she bought them, and would not seem like anything special to anyone else – but they give me happy memories every time I see or use them, even though they probably wouldn’t be worth anything to someone outside my family.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      One of the best examples of this on AR-US (the British one, everything they show is legit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fake on there) was a couple brought in a glass vase. They had seen it in some shop and were *sure* it was a Tiffany, did all kinds of research on it and that it was worth $ShedLoads — way more than the what I thought was a quite high sum they said they paid. Turned out it was a fake, not even worth what they paid for and the look on that wife’s face… you just knew that that was going to be an uncomfortable drive home.

      only to find out that the item was actually a gas station promotional item

      That happened to me! My first year of college, I brought all kinds of odds and sods to furnish the place I was going to live in. One of those was a glass we had had forever. A friend of one of my roommates came by one day, saw the glass and almost freaked out. He couldn’t believe I was *using* the glass! I said “why? They used to give these away at gas stations in the early 70’s when you got a full tank” He couldn’t believe it. His father had a collection of them and treated them like they were Sevres porcelain — no one was ever allowed to use those glasses. Took some convincing but eventually the friend got a good laugh out of the fact his father’s “precious” was a bunch of gas station glass.

    2. JessaB*

      The fact that the item is not unique, or not valuable (if this is true,) does not lessen it’s status as an heirloom. I don’t even think the OP is asserting it’s particularly expensive more than any other car in that condition/age.) If there were a million of them made, the OP would still want her grandfather’s specific one back. Unless you’re trying to say that they all had the same initials on the, and the initials while the same as her grandfather are also just the initials of the production company. It’s not about the value, it’s about the “grandfather” part.

  91. Sarah*

    I’m wondering how much the caboose is worth. If the CEO thought it was impressive enough to display and show someone, I wonder if it could potentially be a valuable collectible? Regardless, it has sentimental value. If this happened with a laptop or an iPad that was stolen, would you give the same advice? I would think the OP should follow up, since the manager either stole from them (most likely) or made a mistake and would feel terrible about it (doubtful.) It also sounds like this is a part of a greater issue that needs to be addressed. I don’t think I could continue to work with a manager who I thought stole from me etc.!

  92. tink*

    Never bring anything into a public/shared space that you would be upset/angry/devastated to have break or go missing was the advice my mom gave me for my first office job, and I still stick to that.

  93. Treena*

    Am I the only one who would pay an exorbitant amount of money to get a replica made and put it on my desk, only while I’m sitting there. Then wait for the day boss notices it and enjoy the reaction…

  94. GovWorker*

    Theft in the workplace, by managers or underlings or anybody, is simply not acceptable, full stop.
    As soon as OP realized the caboose was missing, I wish she had sent out an email to everyone including the manager, asking if anyone has seen it. That was protocol in my office, when unlabeled items were lost or found.
    In any case, HR clarification of corporate policy is needed regarding management’s rights to go through personal effects, and how to handle incidents of missing items/suspected theft. In a large company there are likely established procedures.

    In all my decades of working in offices, I never had my desk rifled through to remove decorative objects. Looking for work related files and papers in my absence, sure. But wholesale rearranging my desk? Nope. Seems a tad invasive.

    1. boop*

      Perhaps sending the email would also have provided (however small) evidence that the manager knew that the item belonged to somebody before regifting it?

  95. boop*

    There is a grey area between “letting go” and “raining hellfire”, though. OP doesn’t have to storm in accusingly. OP can be calm and rational and even apologetic to the gift recipient. OP can stick to the facts, because the fact is that a specific person rummaged through his/her items and that item ended up in the hands of someone that same person relates with. Let HR/Higher Ups make their own connection. Chances are, it will be the correct one.

    “Excuse me boss, I was told that CEO was gifted, by you, an item that went missing from my desk. That item belongs to me and I very much would like it back. I’m sure CEO will understand when you go and retrieve it. I will be waiting!”

    1. boop*

      I also wouldn’t drag the friend into it. If the CEO showed it to the friend, the CEO probably showed it to many people. If OP wants the item back, I think OP is going to have to take the initiative.

  96. burnout*

    Read through most of the comments here. I keep coming back to the fact that this manager felt it was appropriate to gift this CEO with something that was not hers to give, whether it belonged to an employee or just to the office in general. I think that shows a lack of judgment on her part.

    And how the caboose came to be in her possession is irrelevant to me. It would be just as outrageous if she walked up to my desk, took one of my tchotchkes and handed it to someone with a “here, I want you to have this.” Equally so if she grabbed a vase off a table in the waiting area and did the same.

    I’m the type of person to just call her on her it. Does not have to be in a mean or accusing way. I just do not believe in allowing people to get away with BS, or to skirt around the issue and allow her to save face. I’d sit down with her and say straight out, “The caboose you gave to CEO was mine. I want it back.”

  97. Carrie*

    What is the relationship between the boss and the CEO? If the current boss is the daughter of a friend – is it possible that the CEO is the father of the boss? Am I reading too much into this? If that’s the case, the CEO is going to believe his child over a total stranger.

  98. Amy*

    Plan A:

    1. Quit job
    2. Get new job at Other CEO’s place
    3. Wait patiently for 4th of July party
    4. Say something like “Voila!” or “A-ha!”
    5. Triumphantly reclaim caboose

    Plan B:

    Write a nice short email to the CEO with “hoping you can help me” language, a picture if possible, doesn’t need to mention how he got the caboose, just “belonged to my grandfather” and “has been missing” and “believe you may have come across something like this” and “initials on the bottom.”
    In my very limited experience, all railroad buffs (all two of them that I have met) are very very nice people. If they weren’t, they’d be rusty nail buffs or something.
    Good luck!

  99. Emily*

    Personally? I’d go the total passive aggressive route with the caboose. Invent a reason you need it back and email a handful of coworkers, including that manager, about your “lost” item. Attach a picture of it, explain that you’re “not sure” when it went missing, but that it’s a family heirloom and “I would really love to gift it to my cousin/sister/aunt, as she’s decorating her new nursery in a railroad theme” or something. Oh, and you *would* have emailed before now, but you had assumed it would turn up at some point, only to realize now that it’s nowhere to be found!

    Of course, this may not actually result in you getting it back, as she obviously didn’t feel too guilty about taking it in the first place, but I’d relish the idea of her feeling the tiniest bit awkward about it.

    Not sure if something similar has been suggested already, but I didn’t spot it above.

  100. Kelly*

    No. I am a HUGE sentimental person when it comes to my deceased mother or grandmothers cherished belongings. I would have already taken my treasure back and told the manager in front of whoever happened to be there that I didn’t appreciate her stealing my fucking things. OMFG! I’m enraged just thinking of anyone doing this to me.

  101. WearingASuit,StillAHillbilly.*

    All I can say, is that were I in the OP’s situation, there would be cops involved one way or another.

  102. Maria*

    I would pursue it–with the key being the carved initials. You can prove, immediately and obviously, that it belongs to you, without having been close enough to examine the underside. Slam dunk.

    I’m stubborn and headstrong, perhaps, but I’d be willing to risk losing my job over calling out someone over stealing a family heirloom. It would take a lot of work for her to make you the bad guy, and I’d take that chance.

  103. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    I definitely wouldn’t let this go. I would find a way to contact the CEO, explain the situation, and hope they do the right thing. If that doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter that you don’t know it is stolen, you still aren’t allowed to keep stolen property, so I think filing a police report is the only way to go – though it being almost a year later, I am not sure they would move to get it back, but it is worth trying for sure.

  104. Jerry Blank*

    OP, I lost my grandpa last year. I’d be trying to get this back at all cost, job be damned.

  105. Elaine*

    Related somewhat….if you know youre closed to being let go, get your stuff out of there. I had a friend that was fired, they didn’t let her clean out her desk and she noticed items missing. I had a gut feeling when I was going to be let go, and my desk, which was very personalized, was cleared over the course of a week, by me. several items here and there. By the time I was let go, I went back to my desk, grabbed my lunchbox and was out, nothing left to get

  106. Anion*

    I know several people have suggested that filing a police report will do little good, and that the police will just roll their eyes…but there’s also a decent chance they won’t.

    Call the police. Explain the entire situation, start to finish. Show them photos or any other documentation, and see what they say. They might be willing to go speak to the caboose-receiving CEO for you (and get it back if it checks out), and they might be willing to say that in the course of their investigation, they found some witnesses who thought they’d seen it at the CEO’s house and that it had been given to the CEO as a gift. They can make clear to the CEO that he is not suspected of any crime at all.

    What fall-out there might be between OP’s mgr and the CEO would then be totally unrelated to the OP.

    Again, sure, the police might say there’s not much they can do, but you never know. I’ve known a lot of cops in my life (my mother is an ER nurse, so her social circle always included plenty of firemen/fire rescue and police) and I can think of a few offhand who would have loved to do something like this to help out, because helping people is why they became cops. (Not to mention, you’re filing a theft report that potentially has a solution, and solving a case is always a good thing for the police.)

    It really is worth a try, at least, though I really like the “Have the friend write a letter” idea above, too.

    1. Incredible*

      Won’t do any good depends on your witness, and the willingness of the recipient of this “gift” to be placed under scrutiny and possibly facing criminal charges for receiving / possessing stolen property. I doubt the manager cares, thinking it can be blown off and never proven.

  107. erin*

    Why should an employee assume that if they bring a personal item to work it may go missing? Especially if they were specifically asked to bring it in? And wouldn’t it be prudent (and fairly easy) to take care to keep everyone’s belongings safe and organized in this situation?

  108. Incredible*

    I would like to know why it seems when things like this happens, it is never suggested that this is a crime and possibly should be reported to the police. “Give me my stuff, or you AND the person you gave it to will face the consequences!”

    Stealing is a crime, and so is receiving / possessing stolen property.

  109. Sick of looking*

    Is there a way that the OP can report it missing (or post a lost item sign) so that a notification can go out publicly? That way the manager absolutely knows that that caboose was not communal property and the OP will know that if it doesn’t get returned (or if the manager doesn’t acknowledge her error), then OP can assume it was stolen. From there possibly report it to whomever manages the office or an HR rep without blatantly accusing the manager?

    Hopefully this doesn’t sound too convoluted but if it’s a family heirloom, it’s got sentimental value and I would not let this one go. Plus, it sounds like the staff was asked to bring personal items in. Why? That stinks to me of a set up. Hey, I’m cynical…

  110. Willow*

    Use the words “train” and “caboose” and “on the rails” somehow in every conversation with your boss!

  111. ATLANTIS*

    Stupid MBA’s. Fresh out of school with no life experience, think they know everything. All those changes she made, she learned from powerpoint presentations. She thinks she is displaying leadership. And by networking, she is kissing ass of the seniors because she wants to be a ladder climber, and use your shoulders to do so (also in the powerpoints). As for the heirloom, she knew what she was doing. I’m sure other people who have things missing will find those things in the possession of other people she gifted them to, as part of her ass kissing (not sure if theft was in the powerpoints). To pay her back, I suggest raiding her office for some personal things of her own.

    1. h*

      Totally agree with this, she knew what she was doing and did it any way. Embarrass her by outing what she did. She will have to learn the hard way.

  112. h*

    It’s your property and you deserve to keep it. Rearranging an office is no excuse. I’m sure the CEO wouldn’t want a stolen item and would hopefully be mortified if they knew the real story as to how it came into their possession even if it is a big disappointment to him. He won’t look kindly upon the cretin who gave it to him either. It’s important that you pursue this quickly, and document every step you take as evidence. Firstly I would write an email to the CEO so he has the opportunity to give it back with no fuss. I’d hope that he would feel awful about it and return it to you. If he does not, then I would contact the police and file a report. If that doesn’t budge him, then hire a lawyer. Seems silly, but it depends on how much you care about the item. I would do it as there will never be a replacement and I would always regret it, but it’s up to you. I’d hope in future you won’t be silly enough to take such important family items to work and leave them there.

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