my boss treats me like I’m not very smart, I got in trouble for taking someone’s juice, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss treats me like I’m not very smart

I have worked for my organization for 2+ years and was recently given a title bump and a small raise after a generally very positive evaluation where my boss praised my analytical thinking, intelligence, and potential.

My boss and I generally communicate pretty well, but there’s something that has really been bugging me lately. Oftentimes when I ask her a question about something that’s not clear, she’ll explain it but then go into some weird detail that (I think) only someone who was totally new to the job or a little on the slow side would not understand. For example, the other day I was preparing some materials for an annual report to a funder when I asked her a formatting question that I knew she’d care about. It’s a good thing too — there were some things I had to include in the report that were not immediately clear at all (the specific dollar amount we paid out to grantees was different than on the documents I was preparing indicated), so she had to let me know. However, she went on to say, “We need to tell the funder how much we paid the grantees.” Like, duh? That was the whole point of what I was doing.

This kind of stuff is really getting to me, and I’m not sure how to address it with her. I don’t want to sound like I want to control how she talks, but it’s impacting my morale at work and I leave these interactions frustrated and less able to concentrate.

This sounds more like it’s just something about how she explains things than an indication that she thinks you’re not very smart. Some people just over-explain when they’re talking through how to do something. I’m sure that I’ve done this; sometimes those obvious details just come out when you’re talking through how to approach something.

If she otherwise appears to find you intelligent (and based on your recent performance evaluation, she sounds like she does), I’d try to just see this as a weird quirk of hers rather than anything about how she sees you.

2. Office manager, not receptionist

I’m currently looking for a new office manager position, which is my background. I’m what they call an “old school” office manager, meaning it’s a management position (managing all administrative personnel and office operations), not a glorified receptionist. I’m not demeaning receptionists, but it’s just not what I do at my level.

Many times when I’m contacted by a recruiter or prospective employer, they’ll mention that reception is one of the responsibilities of the job, even though it’s not stated in the ad (otherwise I wouldn’t have answered it). What’s a professional way to say that I don’t do reception without burning bridges for future office manager jobs?

“Oh, I’m not looking for a receptionist role, but rather a more senior position. Currently I manage a X-person administrative staff, and I’m looking for a similar role.”

But I think that unless you somehow address this on your resume, you’re going to keep running into the same problem (and also possibly get overlooked for the jobs that you do want). To most people, “office manager” means “the main admin support for the office” (the person who manages phones, supplies, and so forth) rather than a manager of people. How about listing the title simply as “manager”? That sounds like it would be perfectly accurate and not so different from the formal title that you’d be misleading anyone, as long as one of your first bullet points describing what you’ve done in that job clearly explains that you’re managing the administrative team.

3. My demoted former boss keeps asking if I’m okay

I am a manager with a state agency. I have an employee who was once my boss. He got demoted and I got promoted to his position. That was years ago and our relationship has been strained ever since. I recently got promoted again. Since this last promotion, this employee scrutinizes my every emotion, action, and word. If I am the least bit quiet or lost in thought, he will say things like, “You seem really nervous this morning. Are you ok?” or “Is everything ok? You are acting differently.” I have asked him what I have done specifically to make him think this and he will always come back with things like, “I don’t know, you are just acting weird.” He never gives me any specifics. I have told him that I have a lot of new responsibilities and sometimes I may be thinking about those. I let him know it has nothing to do with him and if it does, I will talk with him about it. Lately, my response has been to just smile and say, “No, there is nothing wrong, I’m feeling great. Why do you ask?” (He will just shrug and not say anything.)

He has also resorted to coming in my office with silly, non-work-related stories. I feel he is just fishing for what my mood toward him is at the time.

Other employees have commented on his actions also. They don’t understand what he is referring to. I have polled my other employees about this and they have not indicated my actions/moods have been any different.

In your experience, what would make an employee act like this? It seems like an insecurity or guilty conscience issue? Is there a strategy I can use to help him get over this? I don’t like having to worry about my every little action or word when I am around him.

It could be a bunch of different things — he could be insecure, or he could be trying to undermine you, or he could be overly scrutinizing you because you have his old job while he got demoted, or who knows what. I wouldn’t worry too much about what the psychology of it is, and instead just tell him you’d like him to stop.

You could say it this way: “I appreciate the concern, but I’m going to request that you stop asking whether I’m okay or commenting on what you think my mood might be. Please just assume things are fine unless I explicitly state otherwise. Thank you.”

With the silly, non-work-related stories, if you don’t want him doing that, explain that you’re on deadline/busy/about to take a call/etc. and can’t speak but that you’ll talk with him at (fill in the time of your next scheduled check-in).

4. I got in trouble for taking someone’s juice

The question I have is a debate I shared with my girlfriend and then my cousin, who is a HR manager. On my 15-minute break, I went into the breakroom. I was the only person in the breakroom. I found what I believed to be unopened juice on the table. I took it and stayed in the breakroom the full 15 minutes, and nobody came in the breakroom the entire time.

Later that day, I was called into the HR office. I admitted to taking the juice on the belief it was abandoned and I stated that if the owner had confronted me instead of HR, I would have done what I could to correct the situation. I was let go for the rest of the day and told the next day that there will be a note in record of the incident. The note turned out to be a final warning, which I did not sign since it made me look like a thief. It stated, “I saw the juice and took it” and there was no area for my comment.

Since I was a seasonal employee, I was let go three weeks later. While unemployed, I contacted HR headquarters and told them what happen. HR headquarters stated if the juice were abandoned, the owner would write a note on it. I replied that the housekeeper could have taken the juice and compared the juice to a newspaper, since they both cost the same. The response from HR headquarters was that I would be hired if needed.

Both my girlfriend and cousin believe what I did wrong. I stated that food, magazines, and newspapers are left on the breakroom tables for anybody to use, and the owner should have contacted me first if this juice was important to them. My cousin believes it was terminal action due to the theory of theft, and my girlfriend believes I should have left the juice on the table even though she picks up loose pennies in her breakroom.

An unopened bottle of juice sitting on a break room table isn’t like a newspaper or magazine. Someone could read a newspaper or magazine without impacting the owner’s ability to still use the item. But if you drink someone’s juice, it’s no longer available to the owner. So yeah, you took something that wasn’t yours and which you shouldn’t have taken.

That said, your company made a bizarrely big deal about it. This isn’t HR stuff, and it’s definitely not formal warning stuff (at least not unless you’re doing it repeatedly). Simply telling you, “Hey, don’t take other people’s food or drinks” would have been sufficient.

However, the fact that this was a final warning makes it sound like there have been other problems. And the fact that you were fired three weeks later sounds like something else may have happened in between (although that’s not clear). So this probably wasn’t just about the juice.

5. Resigning after taking an unusual amount of time for doctor appointments

I just accepted a new position. It seems like an incredible opportunity for me – more responsibilities, room to grow, and a significant bump in comp. I’m super stoked!

With that said, I’m a bit nervous about putting in my notice: this year hasn’t been my healthiest and while I haven’t had to take unexpected sick time, I’ve had a lot more doctor’s appointments than normal, some of which required me to take half days because of tests/procedures that I had to be put under anesthesia for. I also have not always been able to schedule these more than a day or two in advance since my doctor is usually “fitting me in.” My boss has been incredibly accommodating, never giving me grief and always telling me that my health comes first.

I know when I tell my manager that I’m leaving, it will look like I’ve been taking advantage of her and actually interviewing, which was not the case. Would it be weird or out of line to note that when I said I had a doctor’s appointment, that’s really where I was?

Nope, not weird. But I’d say it this way: “I want to tell you how appreciative I am that you were so accommodating with my health issues this year. You made a difficult time in my life much easier, and I’m really grateful for it. And just in case it crosses your mind to wonder, please know that those really were medical appointments, not interviews! I’d never use sick time for that.”

{ 558 comments… read them below }

  1. Gaia*

    OP 4, I work in an office with a great culture around food. We have a communal area where, if food or drinks are left, they are up for grabs. This is gone over with every new person and it is made clear. It is also made clear that taking food from others that is not in this area is Not.Done.Ever. It would be so weird and it would be even weirder to compare it to a newspaper or pennies.

    I say let it go and don’t do it again. People get really upset about stuff like this and it won’t help to drag it out.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah. Taking someone’s juice this way would have everyone act extremely icy toward you for several days, particularly if your reaction was anything less than “OMG, I am so so sorry! I was being thoughtless.” Arguing that it was openly available, unlabeled, or that the person should have told you first would not win you sympathy in any of my last 3 offices. The default rule for all of those places was: If food is not yours and not labeled as communal, don’t eat it.

      But as Alison noted, it sounds like there’s a lot more to this than the juice. Particularly if it were the final warning. This kind of escalation is generally weird, unless of course the employer was trying to get rid of OP, anyway, and this was the “final straw” or an easy excuse (or if OP had had any prior interactions with appropriating stuff that belonged to others). I suspect there’s a lot more that we’re not hearing about.

      1. Zombii*

        There’s definitely more to this. Sending someone home for the rest of the day (to think about what they did?) is something I’ve never seen happen in the hotel industry (I’m assuming hotel/motel because of “housekeeper” and “seasonal”), especially when you’re at a point in the year where you need the seasonal staff to be working, unless having them there is more work than sending them home. Based on the letter, I’d guess OP4’s attitude was a mismatch with the organization. No harm, just a bad fit.

        As an aside, I think OP4’s cousin is totally overboard saying that taking a juice from the breakroom once—I’m assuming it was only once—is proper grounds for termination. Even if it is theft, that reaction is overly severe. (Is “theory of theft” really a thing in HR? It sounds like a fake legal term.)

        1. JamieS*

          I took that to mean the cousin said it was a fireable offense because it was theft and OP is calling that the cousin’s “theory”.

        2. N*

          I hadn’t considered that this might be the hospitality industry, but now that Zombii mentions it, I wonder if that’s why they were so hostile about something being taken. I would imagine that they would be especially upset if they believed employees were taking other people’s things (given the fact that they have access to customers’ private property) or if it could have caused a problem because someone thought it was a security issue (i.e. housekeeper comes in for juice, discovers it’s gone, wonders if some random person has come in to take it and has to alert security, or something). But that also seems like a stretch–OP seems like they might have had behavioral issues before.

        3. TootsNYC*

          There are companies that have decided to deal with the theft of lunches from the fridge by labeling it theft and flat-out firing people when they catch them at it.

        4. TootsNYC*

          Sending someone home for the rest of the day (to think about what they did?)

          I think in a work situation, you send someone home so YOU can think about how you’re going to react, and to have meetings about it, consultations, etc., so that there isn’t anything being communicated to the employee, not even nonverbally, until the employer has made a final decision about how to handle it.

        5. Kriss*

          I travel with our repair crews & run the jobsite office for them & our Craft Labor Supervisors will fire immediately someone who steals another person’s lunch. They get written up & it falls under the category of theft with a code to indicate what type of theft it was (theft of food or personal belongings from break room or locker room).

          We have a Standards of Conduct (2 pages) each employee is given when they come on the jobsite that spells out the expectations, what are considered infractions & possible consequences. Theft of any sort is not tolerated.

      2. caryatis*

        Sounds like OP has an incredibly bad attitude. When you’re called out for taking something that belongs to others, you apologize and offer to replace it. But OP tried to turn it into criticizing others (the juice owner should have acted differently, the incident report wasn’t worded right) and defensiveness (it doesn’t matter because of price). Even arguing that his girlfriend’s opinion doesn’t count, because she picks up pennies, and weirdly trying to blame the housekeeper even after admitting to the theft. This is someone who is 100% convinced he is right and not willing to hear others’ perspectives even when he is literally caught stealing.

        1. Mirax*

          Yeah, I feel like the juice is largely irrelevant at this point–the problem is the weirdly aggressive way OP doubles down on finding reasons it wasn’t their fault.

        2. Fictional Butt*

          Especially how he says the note “made him look like a thief” because it says he “saw the juice and took it.” That’s what you did, bro! If you think that makes you look like a thief, you shouldn’t have done it!

          1. CMart*

            But that’s not what happened, you see. There was all that careful rationalization about how if someone meant to drink it they wouldn’t have left it there, all alone, for fifteen minutes.

            My little brother in law is like this. He fully knows he’s a thief but he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us and can convince us otherwise, and that as long as he maintains an air of innocence that we’re the ones in the wrong for thinking of him as a thief. You can only think ill of people who admit to wrongdoing, from what I understand (insert eyeroll).

            1. Andrew*

              If I (OP4) was a thief, I could of stated that the house keeper took it or it was not there when I went on break.

                1. Andrew*

                  Why would a thief confess ? Unless they wanted to get fired. The (OP4) stated they were a seasonal employee and if the (OP4) really was a thief then why was the (OP4) fired 3 weeks later ?

                2. ancolie*

                  Andrew, you keep switching between saying you’re OP4 and posting like you’re just a random commenter who isn’t OP4.

                  It’s a bit confusing. Are you OP4?

          2. Andrew*

            It was also stated that the OP4 could not comment on the final warning. I believed this should been handle better.

            1. Gaia*

              So when I issue final warnings there is no place for commentary, either. Because commentary isn’t really relevant at that point and we’ve discussed it in the meeting. And not singing the warning would be weirdly aggressive

                1. Unimpressed*

                  That’s rrelevant. Frankly, you seem weirdly hung up on things that are not actually important to what happened.

                  You (OP4) stole something. You got caught. Instead of behaving like a grownup and apologising, you dissembled and tried to pass the buck and tried to justify your unjustifiable action and generally acted badly. You got warned, and possibly fired (letter is unclear). Now you are still trying to do anything except accept the blame and deal with your mistake. This is the behavior of a five year old who got caught sneaking a cookie behind mom’s back. Grow the heck up!

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  Dude. You have tried this on your supervisor, on HR, on your sister, on your friends, on Alison, and on the commenters, and just about everyone looks at the facts as presented by you and tells you that you are at fault.

                  You might really want to consider the possibility that this is the case. And learn something from it for your next job.

              1. Kikishua*

                I know that was a typo, but now I’m composing final warnings (without aggression) in my head, to be delivered in the key of E.

                1. Andrew*

                  I (OP4) did not get caught; I confess to taking it. I was told I was going sign a note for my file not a final warning.

        3. Serin*

          Yes, this was my response, too — not “This person is a juice thief,” but “This is one of those people who believe nothing is ever their fault.”

          The latter is much more of a liability in the workplace than the former.

        4. TootsNYC*

          Actually, I read it as someone who is 100% aware that he is WRONG but doesn’t want to admit it to anyone, especially not himself.

          Someone who truly thought he was right would not be arguing so very many points.

          1. Andrew*

            Maybe the I (OP4) does not understand that they are wrong. I offered to correct the problem. Would a thief do that and would a true thief confess when I could blame somebody or denied it ?

            1. Dot Warner*

              Well, the fact that you’re wrong and the reasons why have been explained to you multiple times, in multiple ways, by multiple people. If you still genuinely don’t understand that you’re wrong, maybe you should go back and re-read what everybody’s been saying.

              Besides, a person who deliberately takes something that isn’t theirs is a thief; whether they confess to it or not is irrelevant.

      3. KTM*

        Definitely about more than just the juice. Just another one of the many ways that jobs can be like relationships… this reminds me of an ex who was obsessed after our break-up about the ‘last incident’ after which I broke up with him, which was just one instance in a long pattern of behavior that I was really just done with. He kept acting like it was so unfair and I was over reacting but OP it would help if you think about it in a larger context.

      4. Andrew*

        If my intention was theft; when question about the juice I (OP4) could of stated the house keeper took it or it was gone prior to my arrival. I would think many people would not tell HR they left something in a communal break room and they think somebody took it without questioning the person first.

        The final warning was to prevent me (OP4) from being hired or rehire. Prior to leaving I (OP4) did received a bonus for the work I did.

        1. Starbuck*

          How would they have known who took it (and who to ask about it) if they didn’t see it happen?

    2. phedre*

      Yeah, this is the same as in my office. It is made explicitly clear on your first day that anything on this table in the kitchen is up for grabs, but everything else is most definitely not.

      I do agree with Alison that the management made a super big deal out of this, which makes me think there are other issues. But good rule going forward – if it’s not yours and you don’t have explicit permission to take it, then don’t take it! Even if to you it’s “just” a juice.

      1. FiveWheels*

        I’ve seen entire juicegate scenarios develop after a manager took someone’s can of Coke, and replaced it before the owner wanted to drink it.

        That was a seriously dysfunctional workplace though, and I kept myself sane only by responding in kind. When someone took a pen I bought (the office didn’t have enough pens to go round) I responded by submitting the receipt as an expense and taking the money from petty cash. The Coke thief made a formal complaint about me because while she was showing family photographs to my co-workers, and there was literally no work to do, I opened Facebook on my phone… I walked out of the disciplinary meeting with a clear record, a counter complaint on her file, and official permission to “stare out the window daydreaming about Star Trek if you have done a fair percentage of the team’s work.”

        One admin made a bullying complaint because another always asked him to get files from the top shelves. She made a counter complaint that he refused to get files. (There were no ladders and only one guy was tall enough to reach.)

        I lost count of the number of times people fled to the toilets in tears, taking the rest of the admins with them and leaving me alone to deal with everything. One fleeing was even caused by me telling them the next time someone ran off I was going to go on strike in the back office.

        I should really write a book.

        Anyway my point is… Juicegate is a thing, but it’s only going to be a REALLY BIG THING in a workplace that has other problems.

        1. Lora*

          What the…?

          OK, where I work they provide free juice, soda, lemonade, snacks and lunch. This is like…extra super bizarre to me. I can see if it was your special juice and you prepared it at home and you are allergic to all the other juice, sort of thing – like if you ate someone else’s lunch from the fridge. Nobody here will touch something that obviously belongs to someone, in a Tupperware container from home. I still don’t understand why it’s a fireable offense though.

          1. LBK*

            That’s pretty uncommon for an employer to regularly provide free food to employees; I don’t think that perspective is really applicable to this situation. I assume the OP did not see one solitary juice on the table and think it was a free catered lunch from his employer.

            1. Lora*

              I’m just having trouble with the whole why it’s such a big deal that it requires an HR writeup and reprimand.
              “You took my juice!”
              “oh, I thought it was abandoned.”
              “Well, it wasn’t.”
              “Sorry, I will give you money for another.”
              “Thanks. Just FYI, nobody ever leaves food out here unless it has a note”
              “Good to know, thanks”
              And then move on with life.

              1. NotTheSecretary*

                It unlikely that the juice incident was really about juice instead of about the performance of the LW in general. It mentions in the letter that the juice was a final warning meaning he’d been written up at least once or twice before.

                I think the other big issue is that LW never said, “Sorry, I will give you money for another.” He said that it was the fault of whoever left the juice on the table and that he held no fault at all.

                1. drashizu*

                  Yeah, I think this would have gone a lot differently (assuming the other prior offenses weren’t so big this was just being used as an excuse to get rid of the LW) if the LW had gone into the HR meeting and said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize I was stealing, I thought it was abandoned. Can I reimburse the juice owner? I’d like to apologize to them.”

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  It’s sort of like it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. But with juice rather than FBI files.

                  (Though it would be cool if this incident was from the FBI.)

                3. Andrew*

                  Me the OP4 was a seasonal employee at the time was hoping to get hire or rehire. So three weeks after the final warning I was let go

                4. TootsNYC*

                  All the more reason why you should have been wise about your manners and said, “Wow, I’m so sorry! I thought it had been abandoned. Let me pay that person back, and maybe I can buy them a case, too.”

                  You demonstrated pretty clearly that you don’t operate from the same set of rules for behavior (i.e., it’s appropriate to apologize for your mistake) as everyone else. So no matter how good you work on the tasks was, nobody wants to work long-term with someone who doesn’t operate by those same rules.

                  This is a big lesson for you in those often unspoken rules–set down the defensiveness, and be willing to admit error.

                  It may feel that these rules are unspoken, unwritten, and unfair. But let me direct you to the book “Everythign I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”–both as instructive reading and as a gentle chiding that really, your world has been trying to teach you those rules since at least that time.

                5. Sofia*

                  That’s not what a final warning means. Employers will jump to a final warning if the issue is serious or won’t be tolerated again

              2. LBK*

                I do think the escalation is a little overblown, although if you just walk into the breakroom and your juice is gone, you’d probably have to escalate it to someone who has more investigative ability than you do like access to security footage. But the OP certainly didn’t help the situation by doubling down rather than immediately apologizing.

              3. Hrovitnir*

                What gets me is that the LW took juice that was unopened. I lean far into not touching any food unless I’ve been told or it’s explicitly labelled as free for use, and feel like that is sort of self-explanatory, but it being *unopened* is actually an argument against thinking it’s abandoned IMO.

                I wouldn’t expect an HR enquiry, but I would be massively pissed off if I had to worry about leaving a bloody sealed container around lest someone take it. Bringing something you like to work and it not being there when you want it sucks a lot.

                1. Steve*

                  So, it would be OK if the OP had stolen a half-drunk juice instead? That makes even less sense to me.

                2. Elizabeth H.*

                  It would be much more logical for it to be unopened if it had been abandoned, than for it to have been opened! I’m assuming this is a single serving juice and not a carton of lemonade btw. It would be incredibly weird to open and taste a bottle of juice, decide you didn’t like it, and leave it for someone else to take. Your mouth has been on it, who would want it? It would be much more normal to throw it out. It’s much more likely for abandoned juice to be unopened. That’s like the vending machine gave you two juices when you only were trying to get one or like it was left over after a meeting.

            2. Andrew*

              The OP4 stated that the juice was abandon; it may have been a flavor the owner did not like so they left there for anybody

              1. Starbuck*

                They didn’t actually have a way of knowing it was really abandoned- just that it had been left on the table. What OP4 did know, and what management found out, was that OP4 definitely had not bought it themselves, nor asked someone for it, nor was told that they could have it by the owner. If that wasn’t the first time such behavior had happened, I imagine it would be concerning.

                Some people (myself included) believe that if you know something doesn’t belong to you, you ought to err on the side of leaving it alone. It’s about managing the competing demands of “I want this treat for myself” vs. “this treat belongs to someone else who still wants it” and not always prioritizing yourself over others. The single juice certainly seems trivial, but with more context situations like this can reveal what a person’s priorities are.

                1. tigerStripes*

                  Basic rule – if there are no rules stating otherwise, if someone leaves juice/food on the table, leave it alone! I’d have been upset if someone took my food or juice.

                2. Sofia*

                  But the OP clearly says this is a break table where people leave free food and magazines/newspapers they’re done with. That’s the culture in almost every office I’ve worked in. There’s a designated “free stuff” paper when people would leave baked goods they couldn’t finish or that mornings times they were done with.

                  Taking something of the table isn’t that wild. The person tattled in a pretty aggressive way, and he said in the meeting he would pay for it if they had come to him. Assuming he didn’t say “but that’s off the table now” I really don’t see why everyone is so worked up over this?

          2. Kate*

            Yeah, I’ve never worked for or even heard of, from friends and family, an employer who provided any of that. Free coffee and tea, yes, free snacks, lunches, etc, nope!

            1. Brogrammer*

              This likely varies based on industry and/or location. My company provides drinks, snacks, and catered lunch once a week. I’m in cloud software in California and we’re not anything out of the ordinary, every company that’s tried to recruit me or that I’ve considered applying at offers drinks and snacks.

                1. Gaia*

                  I’m not anywhere near a startup or even in tech and my company provides fresh fruit, snacks, drinks and probably 1 – 2x per month we have a full meal (either breakfast or lunch) for some sort of celebration.

                2. Sofia*

                  I’ve worked in a few places that did this and none was even close to a start up or in tech. It seems pretty common in my area.

              1. Butch Cassidy*

                I temped at a consulting firm in San Francisco where they were VERY generous with the free drinks and snacks. The whole company is widely known for being a great place to work though, so this was a minor part of a larger really awesome whole.

            2. Jaybeetee*

              There are some companies that do that, particularly tech companies. In my temping days, I landed at one or two places that kept free food/drink stocked in the breakroom, and had almost daily leftover snacks from various meetings.

              Another place I worked at was crazy – the break area was basically a fully outfitted kitchen with multiple fridges, toaster ovens, etc, and the admin assistant stocked that place up with TONS of food – bagels and cream cheese, cereal, frozen foods, granola bars, yogurts, fruits, other snacks, even a small pantry with quick lunch items like soups and instant rice (I think they had a thing about most of the food being healthy, not just keeping junk around). Not to mention a super-fancy coffee maker with a zillion varieties and various juices and drinks in the fridge. On top of that, various goodies from catered meetings. The problem was, the job itself was freaking terrible. I had the vibe that all the free goodies was sort of a way to “pay off” the employees for an otherwise crappy job/work environment.

            3. One of the Sarahs*

              I temped for a hellish fortnight in a really shitty cold-calling marketing office. It was THE WORST, even doing the ringing up to try to get the name and number for salesmen (they were all men) to call and harass them.

              In that fortnight, the boss brought in pizzas twice, doghnuts twice, and I kid you not, crates of beers 3 times. So in this horrible office, people were knocking back cheap lager to get through the afternoon because ugh it was terrible. In retrospect I am amazed I managed a fortnight.

          3. WPH*

            I wonder if it was the type of juice that matters? Like it was clearly someone’s? My office also provides free juice and soda and we can take at anytime but if there was an Odwalla on the counter or in the fridge it would clearly belong to someone because the office doesn’t provide it and taking it would be stealing.

        2. FlyingFergus*

          Wow. Please do write a book. This is all fascinating and makes my previous workplaces look pretty sane in comparison, and that’s including the racist company where the CEO regularly lied and forged paperwork to avoid a lawsuit.

          1. Catalin*

            Yeah, running to the loo in tears and TAKING THE OTHER ADMINS with them? Do you work on Reality TV?

            1. FiveWheels*

              Until I worked in that place I had never even seen anyone cry openly in work. Like, if you cried in work, the shame would be so horrific you’d just have to resign.

              That’s probably not healthy but neither was the other extreme.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Seriously. This workplace is wild, but also sounds like an excellent basis for a TV sitcom. (Although I’m sorry you had to work there in real life—that sounds awful.)

        3. DCGirl*

          My husband was a paralegal for a government agency’s legal department. The things that employees complained about and filed formal grievances were just mind boggling. One was a case where two employees were sorting mail and the rubber band around a bundle snapped as one employee was taking it off (as old brittle rubber bands will do). A piece of rubber band flew off and hit the other employee on the wrist. That employee then grieved, claiming that the first employee did it deliberately. What are you supposed to do? Ban rubber bands?

    3. MillersSpring*

      OP, why did you double down and argue the point instead of apologizing profusely? And you continue to debate it with friends! Let it go and accept some culpability that you obviously drank nonabandoned juice.

      1. a Gen X manager*

        +1 !

        It sounds like OP still doesn’t understand why this was wrong / poor judgement- ?

        1. INFJ*

          I disagree. The letter states that if the person who owned the juice had confronted OP, then OP would have made it right. To me, that means OP thought the juice was up for grabs, but because it wasn’t, would have “made it right” because OP realizes that person was out a juice.

          I think the OP’s strong defensiveness is a reaction to how wildly out of proportion the company handled it. It sounds like OP only doubled down because it went straight to HR and then was let go for the day.

          That being said, comparing it to taking someone’s newspaper isn’t a good attitude to have, but it seems like OP is just really frustrated with the way the situation was handled.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, I agree. I think the defensiveness is in response to the company’s handling of it, but at the same time, juice is not a newspaper, and unless it was sitting in a communal up-for-grabs area, the OP should not have taken it.

            1. Sofia*

              But it says in the letter that’s what the table was. I totally agree he was reacting to someone going to HR rather than just letting him know. It’s pretty obnoxious, and I don’t blame him for being somewhat defensive, and he also said he would pay for the juice, at which point they should have said “ok don’t do it again” and sent him back to work, so I understand him continuing to get more annoyed when they sent him home. I don’t really get everyone’s strong reactions here, particularly Allisons, as he was clearly let go three weeks later because he was seasonal (that’s what the letter says) but she assumes there’s some mysterious other incident. This whole thing just seems nuts to me.

              1. Andrew*

                I have a hard time seeing myself (OP4) as a thief. Here as some things that might help. I was working in a distribution center meaning there are other things more valuable to steal and not get caught. The distribution center could hold over 500 people, operates 24 hours and this happen in one of the break rooms. Last this is not the first distribution center I have worked, meaning that security is not the best. These DC’s depend others reporting the people who steal.

                This happen in October of 2012. Right now I work in a office building that holds over 2200 people. The people do leave newspapers, donuts and snacks in the break rooms because they do not want to take the extra’s home.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The issue is less that you took it, and more that you dug your heels in about it afterwards, implied the cleaning person could be to blame, and didn’t just apologize.

                2. Michelle*

                  Here’s what you don’t seem to understand. The problem is not whether you are a thief. The problem is that you apparently are a person who makes a mistake (thinking the juice was abandoned and up for grabs when it wasn’t), and then digs your heels in, complaining about everyone else’s reaction to your mistake and shifting the focus to anything and everything except your mistake, instead of just apologizing.

                  There’s every possibility that things would have gone differently if you had simply responded (without any rationalization or blame-shifting), “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought that juice was up for grabs. Can I apologize and replace it?”

              2. Michelle*

                The letter doesn’t actually say that this table is a specific place where things are left for others to take, but rather that people generally leave items on the tables (not one specific table) for others to use. It’s a subtle distinction, but a big difference. Also keep in mind that HR disagreed, and said that if the juice really was up for grabs, the owner would have left a note. Given that, and the fact that OP actually did drink someone else’s juice, it seems possible that OP is just assuming left items are fair game when they really aren’t.

                Regardless, OP clearly made a mistake about THIS juice, and then refused to apologize. Saying, “I would have apologized IF…” is defensive and blame-shifting, and actually makes things worse.

          2. drashizu*

            I got the impression from the timeline presented in the letter that OP was let go for the day because of how they reacted in the HR meeting. Even the way they describe what they said in that meeting is aggressive and argumentative: You don’t need to have the juice owner “confront” you, you don’t need to speak to them personally to offer to correct the situation. OP could have apologized to HR and offered to pay for the juice, but didn’t, just made excuses about how they “would have” if the owner had come to them directly.

            Then, obviously, it spiraled because of the refusing-to-sign-the-final-warning thing. But even the first HR meeting reads as a problem to me. In light of the OP’s behavior, and the final warning, I have a hard time seeing this as a first offense where getting called into HR is “overblown,” or where the OP was sent home for the day for no reason – as opposed to refusing to be apologetic and making excuses.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              It’s like being asked to come up with a little play within a play to summarize all the reasons why they should fire you, in miniature form. And succeeding.

            2. SusanIvanova*

              The juice owner may not have known who took it, since they weren’t there when it got stolen. So they had to go ask someone “hey, where’s my juice”, and it went on from there.

              I worked at a tech company that had weekly fruit deliveries, but those were very clearly marked. One day it went around on the internal email that someone (mgmt had no idea who) had taken a box of strawberries that were very clearly *not* part of the fruit box – not even the right day – and not only that, they had belonged to one of the maintenance crew; it was their lunch, and now they had nothing to eat. That sparked a *lot* of outrage on the strawberry owner’s behalf because some of us are aware of salary discrepancies.

          3. Fictional Butt*

            It doesn’t matter what OP would have done if the juice owner had confronted him. That’s not what happened. HR confronted him, and he didn’t handle it well. He doesn’t get credit for his hypothetical response to a different situation.

          4. Mananana*

            Given the way OP has reacted to this situation, it’s no wonder the juice-owner didn’t want to confront the juice-thief.

      2. Mimsie*

        Agree. I thought the letter would say that they went and apologised profusely but the juice owner was holding a grudge or something. Did not think the OP was going to get defensive about it.

        1. INFJ*

          But do we know who the juice owner is? The letter just says the complaint went straight to HR, so OP might not even know who to make amends to.

          1. fposte*

            I would just put a sign up in the breakroom if I found out I’d eaten something that wasn’t on the up for grabs list and put a replacement next to it. Extra points if I can make it into a William Carlos Williams parody.

            1. Joan Callamezzo*

              Extra points if I can make it into a William Carlos Williams parody. Ha! +1.

            2. AMPG*

              Awesome. I actually got into a disagreement with a coworker when something similar happened and the offending party did post a William Carlos Williams homage apology. I pointed it out to my coworker, who didn’t get the reference, and when I was surprised, he implied that I was snobby for assuming it was a common cultural reference (we had similar educational backgrounds, FTR). It was all very good-natured, but it struck me to the point that I still remember it a number of years later.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              fposte, I have missed your comments this past week.

              “This is Just to Say”
              I drank
              the juice
              that you left
              on the table

              and which
              you were probably
              for moments when
              your blood sugar drops.

              Forgive me
              it was delicious
              so sweet
              and not mine.

              (Here’s a replacement.)

          2. Student*

            Given the way the OP responded to a talk with HR, I can understand why the juice owner didn’t want to confront him directly and alone. People should generally get the benefit of the doubt, but OP sure gives a compelling set of evidence to suggest he used up his “benefit of the doubt” with his co-workers long ago.

            Strangers and nice people get leeway, but jerks get treated like jerks.

            1. Andrew*

              The (OP4) meaning me would of correct the situation. You are stating that I am person with a bad attitude and should be avoided. Why would there be a reason for a third party ?

              1. Val Jean*

                Because your (self-reported) actions are unreasonable and make you a seem irrational and uncooperative, and it usually seems safer to ensure a third party is present when dealing with people who react as you have done.

                You are still acting that way, FYI. S

              2. Michelle*

                You say you would have, but when presented with the opportunity, you didn’t. Actions speak louder than words.

      3. LBK*

        Yeah, I can’t tell if this is a misaligned perception or if the OP is just doubling down because they don’t want to admit they were wrong, but I’ve never heard any kind of culturally-accepted rule that if something is sitting on a breakroom table, that means it’s fair game. Especially if it’s just one solitary item of food and not, say, the obvious leftovers from a catered lunch.

        As Alison says, this isn’t like something non-consumable that could still be used by the owner if you use it, and it’s also not the same as pennies, which are usually dropped unintentionally and harder to track down the owner. People don’t generally accidentally leave their food on the table or be unable to remember if they had a juice with them that day or not. Someone put it there on purpose and you took it on purpose. I don’t get why this is so hard to admit.

        1. Pammat*

          Totally depends on the workplace. Pretty much every place I’ve worked it was an established rule that anything left on the breakroom tables is there for whoever wants it.

          That being said, a single, abandoned (half-drunk?) juice would be weird enough that I wouldn’t take it unless there were a Post It saying FREE TO GOOD HOME.

          Definitely something else is up.

          1. LBK*

            Right, it varies by office. I was just saying that there’s no blanket rule that food on breakroom table = fair game, which seemed to be what the OP was implying. You have to know your office, and generally I’d err on the side of assuming that if I didn’t pay for something, I shouldn’t eat it.

            I think that’s what’s bugging me the most about this – unless I knew the established customs of my office or someone explicitly told me something was up for grabs, I just can’t imagine seeing food I didn’t get for myself and eating it. It’s weirdly entitled.

            1. tigerStripes*

              That bothers me, too. If it’s not clearly up for grabs, and it’s not mine, I don’t take it.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Yeah, no–not at all how it works in most places.

            My office’s rule is that tea in the “tea area” is up for grabs. Everything else is hands-off unless clearly stated otherwise. I once dropped a Diet Coke while I was digging for my lunch and the can developed a pin hole and started spraying everywhere, so I had to discard it. I didn’t know whose Coke it was so I wrote a explanation and apology and stuck it on the fridge, and replaced it the next day. The owner said she wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything, but that wasn’t the point–the point was that I took somebody’s Coke.

            But this guy doesn’t seem to have any boundaries, and the fact that his employers made such a stink suggests that he might have a history of overstepping and then getting defensive about it.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I don’t think you can generalize there about “most places.” I’ve worked in a number of places that had a rule about leaving food on break room tables for people to take. It’s not just leftovers from catered meals. It would be completely normal for someone in my office to buy some boxes of juice, not like the flavor, and bring the rest of the boxes up to the office for other people to take.

              And we can’t really generalize about him not having any boundaries, either. It looks like there was something else going on that made them want to let him go, but there’s not enough there in the letter to make assumptions about about what it was.

              1. the gold digger*

                People leave stuff from their garden in my break room. After taking several pounds of rhubarb last summer, I finally left a note asking who had left it so I could share the rhubarb-orange marmalade I had made. (And the rhubarb bars. And the rhubarb torte.)

              2. Whats In A Name*

                This is how most places I have worked are. Oh, it’s on a table in the breakroom? If someone’s not obviously in the process of eating it, it’s pretty much up for grabs; whether it’s one individual packet of oatmeal or a whole plate of cookies – doesn’t matter. That is how it has been in every place I have worked. If it’s in the fridge, though, you don’t touch unless there is a sticker saying “Enjoy! Cake for everyone because it’s Tuesday!”

                No one ever specifically told me that is how it was, I just learned over time. Which makes me think if this wasn’t the culture where OP worked it would be obvious there too.

                I still think the HR meeting was about more than a juicebox based on the letter, though.

          3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

            At most of the offices where I’ve worked, there have been designated areas for community food and drinks (for lack of a better term – leftovers from catered lunches, potluck items, baked goods, etc.) Anything there was fair game for anyone to take. Anything elsewhere was not.

            (That said, am I the only one who wonders if the HR person is the same one who fired the spicy lunch letter writer from last year? : ) )

            1. Chinook*

              It is sometimes unclear in my office if the food is up for grabs or if it is waiting to be served for an office lunch. I tell our new co-op students that the rule of thumb is you can take it if a)an email has been sent telling you about it or b)you are not the first person to eat from it (so no opening sealed boxes).

        2. drashizu*

          We have a spot in my office’s lunchroom (a smaller table with no chairs around it that no one eats at) where bagels, cookies, and leftovers from office lunches go. Usually someone will send out an email mentioning if they’ve put something there, but it’s not unusual to walk in and see a tin of cookies from someone’s last business trip sitting there with the lid ajar, no sign, but available for people to take cookies from throughout the day. (The cookie tin happened yesterday, actually.)

          But the main lunch table? If something’s on that table, nobody but the owner touches it. I’ve accidentally left things on that table and only remembered them when I walked past on my way out the door that evening and saw them still sitting there undisturbed. You just don’t steal other people’s food if it’s not specifically marked for sharing.

          And even with this system in place, if I saw a single, solitary bottle of juice sitting on the treat table, I’d hesitate before taking it. Single solitary bottles of juice don’t read “Free! Come and get it!” to me. That looks more like a case of “let me set this down for a minute while I run to the restroom” to me.

          1. AMPG*

            To your last paragraph – at my old office that had a “free food” counter, if someone was giving away a single serving of anything, they’d generally put a sign on it to that effect specifically to avoid confusion.

          2. Jess*

            “And even with this system in place, if I saw a single, solitary bottle of juice sitting on the treat table, I’d hesitate before taking it. Single solitary bottles of juice don’t read “Free! Come and get it!” to me. That looks more like a case of “let me set this down for a minute while I run to the restroom” to me.”

            That’s exactly how I would read it too. Our office is fairly small, with only one table in the break room/kitchen area which serves for both place-people-eat-lunch and come-get-it!-free-food. It’s usually pretty clear when things have been left out on purpose. A single juice bottle I would assume had an owner who had put it down while they waited for the rest of their lunch to microwave, popped out for a smoke etc.

        3. OhNo*

          I find this fascinating, because every place I’ve ever worked has had a designated “free stuff” table in the breakroom. Sometimes the stuff on it has a sign, but mostly it’s just generally accepted that anything left unattended on the table that’s not obviously someone’s lunch is up for grabs. So if the OP has a work history like mine, I could see where they got the assumption that on the table means it’s for anyone to take.

          That said, the response to taking something that actually wasn’t up for grabs at any of these places has always been an immediate apology and replacement. I’ve had it happen to me, and seen it happen to others, and never seen an “offender” double down and blame it on the person who left food unattended. So even if OP’s assumption was based off past workplaces, their response to being called out would be out of sync.

      4. RVA Cat*

        Yeah I am thinking the OP may have had this defensive/argumentative attitude about other things besides the juice. OP may want to reflect on other incidents and also why they can’t seem to let this one go.

      5. Koko*

        I’m honestly dying for some missing details! I’m assuming there must be some context for why she defaulted to thinking the juice was available communally vs belonging to someone. Was there a previous precedent for unlabeled/unopened stuff being frequently left there to be shared? In my office you would only take food or drink that was very obviously set up to look communal, like an open and half-empty box of donuts, or something with a little note next to it that says, “From my trip to Casa Blanca. Enjoy!” etc. If I saw a single unopened juice, there would be nothing to make me think that was part of a communal offering as opposed to somebody left their juice there, and while it may possibly be abandoned, it would be seen as weird for me to seize on abandoned food or drink, that if I wanted a juice I would have brought my own.

        1. Pup Seal*

          I’m from a household that has the rule “if you don’t put your name on it then it’s up for grabs”. I hate that rule, and now I’m territorial like a dog from all the times I had my food stolen. Unfortunately with my siblings, this rule has taught them to think, “Well, you didn’t say it was yours” and have taken things from people that was not up for grabs. It upsets people all the time. They would’ve definitely taken that juice.

          1. seejay*

            My dad used to always take my half sub from Subway that I’d leave in the fridge even though I’d get double pickles and double mustard on it… and he hated pickles and mustard. He’d still eat the thing though because “it didn’t have your name on it”. :| #dadLogic

          2. Tiger Snake*

            But even then, not everyone who grows up with those household rules. It was a really common rule in basically every house in my community that abandoned (ie, open and then vey clary discarded) drinks were free to be stolen – but ONLY by family members. Because otherwise you would be stealing as a guest, and that wild be unforgivably rude.

            Everyone knew it., but I don’t think it was a rule that was explicitly taught. It was just something I knew, as an expansion of th concept of ‘how I act at home is not the same as I act in public’.

            (As for the ‘why do this’; I can’t speak for oth families, but it was because my mother would quite literally open herself a coke, take one sip, and then leave it on counter – only to go and open herself a new can 30 minutes later. Once to prove a point, dad didn’t steal her drinks for an entire month. There were fifteen cans on the count alone at the end, and they had been left for so long they were growing mold)

            1. JoJo*

              In my family we didn’t touch anything that didn’t belong to us. It would have been unthinkable to take someone else’s food or drink. It was a rude surprise when I got into the work world and encountered people who grabbed food off my plate, chugged down my soda and demanded that I split my dessert.

    4. Allison*

      I was going to say the same thing, putting food “up for grabs” in certain areas of the kitchen, like homemade naked goods and leftover cookies and juice from executive meetings, is not abnormal. But if the juice was all by itself, and there was no note saying “someone take this juice!” I probably would have kept my hands off, and bought my own if it got me thinking “say, I could go for some juice!”

      I want juice now, and I rarely drink juice when I’m not sick.

      Also, the housekeeper taking the juice is different, it’s their job to clean up at the end of the day and that usually includes food left out once everyone has gone home. Although they might also put it in the fridge, or throw it away.

      Someone once ate one of my cheese sticks out of the fridge, and another time someone finished off my cream cheese when I wasn’t here. They may have thought the cheeses, much like the milk in the fridge, were for everyone, but they were not! And I’ve had to label them with notes saying “what do you call cheese that isn’t yours? nacho cheese! (also this cheese).” My cheese. Mine.

      Some are suggesting the OP was in hot water already, and maybe this is the case. I’d also suggest that the office has dealt with a string of food “theft” recently, and they decided to crack down on it by punishing anyone they can.

          1. Just J.*

            This is way, way, way off topic……….@Vintage Lydia: I read naked goods and immediately thought of good homemade granola, fruit bars, Kind bars, and other healthy stuff. All of which is very popular at my office!

            So, yeah, naked foods didn’t register with me either! :)

          2. Poohbear McGriddles*

            Last time I tried offering up some naked goods it got me a meeting with HR.

          3. Aunt Margie at Work*

            I thought it was some new office term!
            Naked goods meant homemade, things that don’t come in store packaging.
            I honestly had the whole thing worked out in my head.

        1. Allison*

          And to think I’m sensitive about people talking to me like I’m dumb, maybe I am! But typing comments on this website feels extra sticky today, so that’s my defense.

      1. Adlib*

        I also had a cheese stick eaten from the fridge once! It was so odd because everyone there was really great about leaving things alone. I’m pretty sure I know who it was after the office manager sent out an email – the culprit pretty loudly voiced how weird she thought it was to send an email about that. Not your cheese, lady! (I’m in a different office now, and she ended up here too so I have to watch my food.)

        1. Nolan*

          I once had someone open my last sleeve of pop tarts, eat half of one of the pair, then leave the opened sleeve with the remaining 1.5 pop tarts in the box like nothing happened.

          Of course, when I found it I was already having a bad day, and that was supposed to be my breakfast and I was starving. I was so fed up and angry and just done with that place that I hurled the box into the sink and then almost started crying.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            My coworker had 6 wings left over and someone went into the container and ate 3. I am still simultaneously grossed out and appalled by this.

            1. Liz in a Library*

              My boss once had a container with two leftover quesadillas in the office fridge. One was half-eaten (by her). At dinner time, when she went to grab her quesadillas, only the whole one was left.

              Later, she asked her husband (also an employee) why he’d taken the half-eaten quesadilla instead of the whole one, only to find it wasn’t him.

            2. Gaia*

              I had someone steal my pyrex dish once. They dumped my lunch out into a little baggy, put that back in the fridge, and stole my dang dish. WHO DOES THAT!?

              1. Specialk9*

                I can’t even with this one. It’s just so petty and yet you can tell they felt virtuous as they stole from you.

              2. KatC*

                Sorry for the late reply but this just occurred to me; someone who had their pyrex stolen, and thought that you were the thief, and brazen enough to use it to carry your own lunch.

                …Or someone else entirely. But this makes sense to me, bc people that steal are not usually considerate enough to make sure you can still get your food. Usually they would either take both, or just throw it away.

          2. Jadelyn*

            My favorite was the time someone used the last of my flavored creamer and threw out the bottle, so when I went to get my coffee in the morning my creamer just wasn’t in the fridge at all. My name was clearly labeled on the bottle, since that’s the standard practice for my office. That person better hope I never find out who did it.

            The thing is, I’m usually super chill about letting people use my creamer if they run out of their own kind! Just ask first, and don’t use the last of it without giving me first chance to use it that morning!

            1. Whats In A Name*

              In this case I probably wouldn’t even care if they finished it…but pretty please tell me you just finished it up so I can replenish it! I mean, c’mon man, don’t mess with my coffee.

          3. Snazzy Hat*

            One of my former jobs was located across the street from a supermarket. Thank goodness I never had anything stolen, because there were multiple days when I was working late and during lunch I would buy what was going to be my dinner. I taped notes like, “working OT tonight, this is my dinner” or “don’t be a jerk; I’ll eat this around 8pm” to the bags. On days when I’d bring in a frozen meal for lunch, the note would say, “thanks for not eating my lunch!” with a smiley face or a drawing of a food item. Everything else was either locked up at my desk or in a very unique lunchbox in the fridge.

            1. JoJo*

              You shouldn’t have had to do anything to protect your property. I don’t know what it is about food that makes people think that it’s not stealing.

              1. The Strand*

                Honestly, some people can’t help themselves: I think there might be a small minority of food thieves who have eating disorders. In a dorm, in the middle of the night, I caught someone eating leftovers from my frozen birthday cake. She was shoveling it into her mouth frantically, using her hands to scoop it. She wasn’t a sneak (like the weirdo who stole the Pyrex dish above, or the person who ate half a quesadilla). She seemed possessed.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is how I’m going to respond to all breaches of office decorum going forward: “Not your cheese, lady!”

      2. Pup Seal*

        What is it with cheese that people think they can take? I’ve had my cheese stolen multiple times too. The strangest incident was several months ago. My boyfriend lives in another city, and I had planned to make him dinner. During my lunch break I got the ingredients, which included shredded cheddar. I put the cheese in the fridge at work, and when I got to his place I had discovered someone had opened it! Who does that? The last strike was when someone stole my cream cheese, and like you, I wrote a note. Let’s say the building manager had to send an email.

        1. Allison*

          People like cheese, and when they see cheese, they go “ooh, cheese!”


          I don’t know. Like I said, people may have thought the cheese I left in the fridge was for everyone. People get bagels, for example, but then want cream cheese, and maybe the cream cheese that came with the bagels was gone, but lo, here’s some in the fridge!

          1. AMPG*

            I worked in a place where we did a fair amount of entertaining, and leftovers were up for grabs in the fridge, so if you brought in your own cream cheese but didn’t label it, people would assume it was left from a breakfast meeting or something.

    5. Scott D*

      Exactly the same here. We have two tables. The center table is where people are eating and if something is there you just assume they either forgot it, went to the bathroom, etc. but if it’s on the side table that means it’s for whoever wants it.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        At my workplace, people who bring in stuff for the office have taken to marking it “Staff”, just to keep it clear.

        (And why is this comment taking forever to type?)

        1. seejay*

          My partner wrote “I drink from the container” on his milk and put it in the communal fridge to prevent people from using it in their coffee (he used it for cereal).

          He came back the next day to find someone had written underneath on it “I do too!”

          He no longer brings in milk.

          Well played.

          1. Robbenmel*

            People who steal food from the office fridge are not, by definition, germophobes.

    6. beanie beans*

      But but but who leaves their juice on the table for an extended amount of time on the common area table and then freaks out and goes to HR when someone takes it? If it were me (and I accidentally leave stuff a lot) and I realized I left my juice on the table and came back later to find it gone, that would be on me for forgetting it.

      It’s not like it was on a desk or private area. Yes OP made a mistake in taking it, but juice guy overreacted also here.

  2. Cam*

    #1 – I’ve worked with people like this (though never had one directly as a boss). I agree with Alison, it really seems like it’s *not* a commentary on you, but rather just the way she is. It is definitely annoying, but it should help to know that it’s just a thing she does and not aimed at you in particular. And as bosses go, one who appreciates you and gives you appropriate raises and promotions but has a few annoying habits isn’t all that bad.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am sometimes like OP’s boss, and it is never a reflection of whether I think my employee is dumb. It is 100% a reflection of how tired I am and how that tired/distractedness affects my ability to filter when I walk through the “checklist of things to cover” that’s in my head with my direct report. That same lack of a filter also means I make statements about things that are obvious, inadvertently say “that’s true” in response to a person’s comments (as if they needed my validation for a thing to be true!), and generally run through processes in my head the long way instead of the most efficient way. I’m working on it, but I still slip.

      In particular, OP, you noted that you received:

      a generally very positive evaluation where my boss praised my analytical thinking, intelligence, and potential.

      Your boss isn’t praising your analytical thinking, intelligence, and potential because she thinks you’re dumb. I would try really hard not to take this personally and brush it off as a somewhat daffy personality quirk. I’d assume good intent, here, until disproven.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Also, at a relatively low-stress time (perhaps during (bi)weekly one-on-ones with your boss?) and if you have an otherwise solid/open relationship with your boss, I think it’s worth bringing up her communication style with her. When I first heard that my weird tics made someone feel spoken down to or like I thought they were dumb, I was mortified. But nothing would have changed, and I would still be making people feel like I think they are stupid, if no one had told me how it made them feel.

        1. Always anon*

          Yeah, I do a similar thing where I use more technical vocabulary and I use more complex sentence structures and basically sound like I’m verbalising an essay whenever I’m frustrated or angry. It sounds super condescending and I never realised how it came across until someone told me! Changing that has really helped me to be more aware of how I sound when I’m arguing, and I can defuse arguments more easily now – but I wouldn’t have been able to if that person never told me I sound really condescending sometimes. So I definitely agree that it’d be worth bringing it up with OP’s boss depending on relationship and such.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        It could be worse. You could be saying “that might be true”. I don’t know about anyone else but there are few things I personally find more aggravating to hear when I know the thing is true.

        1. Lora*

          Oh god. Yes, this. If I have just stated a clear piece of data, there is no “that might be true,” it IS true, it’s data. If you are unclear about the data, then say what you find unclear and propose an experiment to get the data you think would be clearer.

        2. The Lobster Mobster*

          Seconded. The thing that will take me from 0 to intense burning rage in no time is the verbal tic one of my officemates used to have, which was basically saying ‘Mmmmmm’ in a super condescending way when I stated something that she either had to think about or didn’t believe.

          That wasn’t ‘mmmmmm’ as in a murmur of agreement, mind.

      3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

        Yup, me too.

        I don’t adjust perfectly for the complexity of every project and the aptitude of the person I’m working with. Sometimes I catch myself stating the obvious and have a laugh about it, and other times I am sure I miss it. Anybody reading into that would be reading too hard.

      4. Koko*

        Yeah, I tend to err on the side of oversharing when I’m teaching. I think one of the most important skills you can have in many jobs is, when someone asks you a question, being able to understand why they’re asking it and know whether they are even asking you the right question before you answer it. It’s the difference between:

        Fergus: Would it cost less if we had the teapots made in China?
        Jane: Yes, they’re 15% less expensive there.


        Fergus: Would it cost less if we had the teapots made in China?
        Jane: While they are 15% less expensive there, the standard shipping times from China will put us past our deadline, and rush shipping would eat up any cost savings on the teapots themselves.

        If I’m Jane’s boss and I want her to be able to do the latter, then I need her to understand what the final product looks like and how what she does contributes to it, so that if following my instructions starts to lead to something other than the desired final product (either because I left something out or because something else has broken down or an unusual edge case has arisen), she’ll know to do something about it instead of just obliviously continuing to follow my instructions and producing an unusable product.

        So I often include stuff that sounds pretty basic but is just an important part of the broader context for the task that I want her to keep in mind. Especially since I’ve been doing this for so long, I realize that a lot of what seems obvious to me won’t be at all obvious to someone new, but it’s hard for me to know which obvious things are obvious to everyone vs only me.

        1. Zinnia*

          So much this!!!!

          “Especially since I’ve been doing this for so long, I realize that a lot of what seems obvious to me won’t be at all obvious to someone new, but it’s hard for me to know which obvious things are obvious to everyone vs only me.”

      5. Tammy*

        I do this sometimes too. For me, it’s an ADD/Asperger’s trait: When I’m tired/distracted/have a lot on my mind, I’ll tend to talk through things in order to keep my brain focused and to make sure I have all the pieces of the thing straight in my head. I’m self-aware enough (and open enough about my neurodiversity) that I’ll usually notice I’m doing this and say something to explain – “sorry, just organizing my thoughts as I go” or “sorry, ADD brain, trying to gather my thoughts”, depending how well I know the person involved. My team is pretty used to me doing it, so nobody thinks twice anymore. I could definitely see how someone who didn’t know that was going on could raise eyebrows, though.

      6. No bears here*

        Sigh, I should probably take your comment to heart in dealing with my manager. He has two habits that drive me batshit crazy:
        1) I notify him of having done [thing] that took some effort but will benefit the team.
        He says “Yeah, that’s fine.”
        It makes me want to strangle him. The appropriate response is “OK, thanks”, or “Oh, good.” or something along those lines. I don’t need effusive gratitude or anything, but the “yeah, I’m not upset that you did this useful thing” is really grating.

        2) I tell him that I would like to do [thing] that is not part of my core job function, but tangentially beneficial to our team. He says “Well, I mean, I guess that’s ok, but be sure you don’t let [core job functions] slide.” Which, like, I’m not an idiot? Of course if there’s a problem I want him to tell me, and I think it’s not unreasonable as a general occasional reminder. But I’m a conscientous employee! I wouldn’t have suggested [thing] if it was going to prevent me from doing [core job function]. And getting that sigh and reminder EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. makes me feel like he has zero confidence in me. It feels like telling him that I’m going to the building across the street and him responding “OK, but be sure you check for cars before you cross…”

        I think it’s a weird personality quirk rather than evidence that I’m failing at my job (he’s kind of a downer in general), but it definitely undermines my perception of his confidence in me.

      7. Chalupa Batman*

        I often catch myself explaining why I’m doing something or what I plan to do next in an e-mail, then deleting it, for that reason. When I have a lot swimming in my head, I tend to talk/write in a stream of consciousness style and have to remind myself that Coworker either already knows or doesn’t care about my thought process. When I do it out loud, I usually just say that once I catch it to let them know I’m talking for me, not them, and people seem to understand.

    2. Bookworm*

      Yes. Assuming there’s not more to this, then I’m sure we’ve all *been* the boss occasionally as well. I’m sure that, every once in awhile, while talking through something, I’ve verbally walked through my own logic – as a self-check more than anything else. This is especially true if it’s an impromptu question about something I wasn’t currently considering. My mouth will start answering, but internally my wheels might still be turning…and that just gets vocalized inadvertently.

      I can see why it’s irritating though.

      1. AMPG*

        I definitely do that, but I’ve learned to say, “OK, let me take a minute to talk through this for my own sake,” specifically to guard against having the other person in the conversation think that I think they’re dumb, or don’t understand the problem, or something.

    3. Alex*

      I was in a relationship for five years with someone who did that. It’s definitely not a commentary on your abilities, even if it can be totally frustrating at times. If your boss is anything like my ex, she’s just an overexplainer. When I said something to him about it once, he thought about it for a minute and explained that he’s just verbalizing his thought process. I think that’s a strong possibility here too.

      1. Myrin*

        My mum is like that, too. She’s my favourite person in the world but man, this shit can get exhausting and irritating. I will ask “Why did X happen?” and she’ll answer “Oh, because Y and Z” and I’ll be “okay” and that should be it. But then she follows up with “see, first Y happened and then Z as a result, which led to X” and I’m like “okay, yeah, I understood” and she goes “X wouldn’t have happened without Z, which wouldn’t have happend without Y” and I go “Yes, I got it!” and there’s no stopping her going “Well, Y always happens first and then Z mostly follows suit and then it’s easy for X to happen” and at that point I just want to cartwheel out of the room. (I can’t cartwheel.)

        Other than with your ex, though, it’s not a verbalising of thought process for her but rather stems from insecurity and a fear of not being understood well enough. Which leads to her explaining the same thing five times with different wording which then, ironically, makes it so that many people don’t understand her after all because they think she’s talking about five completely separate scenarios and then she feels like she has to explain even more. It’s a vicious circle.

        1. some mammal*

          Ha ha ha ha!
          My mother is the same. But she has this other annoying habit. She would say “you have to do this thing.” And I say “I did it last year.”
          “But you see, you HAVE to do this, because I read this article … etc.”
          “Yes, I read it too. Taken care of.”
          “If you don’t do this, then {something terrible}”
          “I am aware of that, which is why I did it last year.”

          And they wonder why I never call.

          1. Jadelyn*

            My dad is a Lecturer type. Any and all disagreements turn into a long lecture about how wrong everyone else is, how right he is, and if we would all just do as he says nothing would ever go wrong ever again. And if you interrupt or try to push back on it, he literally starts over from the beginning.

            I finally, after many years of this, snapped. I’d called to talk to him about an issue I was having with my bank, back in college when he was on my accounts and still financially supporting me partly. It was already handled, I had spoken with the bank and was waiting to hear back from them on something, but I wanted to let him know before he found out on his own and came after me for it. He started on his lecture, I kept trying to say “yes, I’ve done XYZ,” and he would start over “but you need to make sure you do XYZ,” and I finally snapped “Dad! I have done XYZ. It is done. It is finished. Is there any other concrete action you feel I should be taking on this issue right this second?” “Well, no, if you’ve done XYZ, but…” “Then we’re done here. I’ll let you know when the bank confirms their end of things.” And I hung up.

            It felt SO GOOD.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              This is also my mother. If I do something she doesn’t agree with, or am planning to do something she doesn’t think is a good idea, or really just anytime I have a plan for anything I get standard lecture A. If my brother doesn’t do something she is ok with, I get standard lecture B in his place. It’s just her nature.

              It took me until about 33 years old to realize it wasn’t me; hopefully OP is able to sort this out in a shorter period of time, but my guess it’s more about boss’ personality that her perception of OPs abilities.

        2. a Gen X manager*

          OMG about your mum, Myrin. LOL!

          Myrin wrote, “… a fear of not being understood well enough.”
          YES! I struggle with overexplaining for this very reason. My thinking tends to be less linear and more like eccentric circles (or sometimes like a meandering path working its way toward the best solution, but in the least efficient manner), and it feels like I sometimes lose people along the thought stream and I panic and feel insecure and start overexplaining (without realizing it, until I suddenly hear it and curb it immediately, but the damage is done). I *know* that people / staff / my peers are smart / smarter than I am, I am just desperately trying to have my plan / idea / vision understood.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I did that once in a meeting because I thought I could see potential Data Protection Act breaches in an approach… and no-one reacted… so spent far, far too much time trying to explain why it was an issue to people who switched off which made me try harder to explain what I had obviously failed to do earlier (thinking my ex planing skulls were to blame) so they got more bored and I tried harder still…

            Yeah. Not a good meeting!

        3. I prefer tea*

          My dad does this! He’s fabulous, but this one thing can get old – fast.

          Worst part?

          I think I do it, too. I try and stop myself, but there’s this voice in my head screaming, “But did you do a good enough job explaining?? Because if they get it wrong, it’s your fault!”

          1. Misquoted*

            All of this = me. My family says the same stuff you guys are saying. :) I try very hard not to do it at work because I am also respectful of people’s time, and I trust them to be smart. What does that say about my family when I do it to them, though? Mostly that I’m a control freak.

        4. Alex*

          Oh yes! I think this was a factor too, that he wanted to be completely certain he was understood. I used to tell him (somewhat passive-aggressively) “yes, this vigorous nodding means I understand!” When it goes on for too long it actually does make him less well-understood. But he and I are still good friends and I still say this to him though ;)

      2. Allison*

        I had a meltdown the other day while playing board games with friends, because one guy kept pointing to the cards in front of me, telling/reminding me what they did, and telling me what I could do on my turn. The whole thing felt very condescending to me, like he assumed I was too stupid to learn the game without a ton of help from the guys at the table like him (truth is, sometimes I do ask for clarification, but I normally don’t want people explaining things to me unless I ask or I make a mistake that needs to be fixed). Not sure if he just wasn’t used to gaming with women who knew their stuff, or if he was trying to impress his girlfriend with how smart he was, but after I got upset he told me he was only saying that stuff out loud to help himself learn the game. Which made sense, but I still wanted him to stop, and told him how it was coming across.

        Reading this thread, I totally get that overexplaining for your own benefit, or out of habit, is a thing, BUT if you know that habit is coming across as condescending, maybe try to stop doing it. Especially when talking to groups of people who often get spoken to like idiots.

        1. BeautifulVoid*

          If he wasn’t telling/reminding the other guys at the table what their cards did and what they could do on their turns, then the “help himself learn the game” excuse is a load of crap.

          1. Allison*

            True, but the only other guy at the table was the guy teaching us how to use the game.

        2. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          “…he told me he was only saying that stuff out loud to help himself learn the game”
          Yeah but was he doing it to all the guys at the table too?

    4. Sami*

      I had this problem with my now-boss, before he supervised me. The instance that particularly pissed me off was when he explained to me why a new office initiative was a good idea….when I was the one to propose it in the first place. Anyway, once I recognized that he was just a massive mansplainer and it wasn’t about me in particular, it got a lot easier to work with him.

        1. Cisks*

          THIS! I’m sick of feminists putting the word “man” in front of words to shame them into doing things women are just as guilty of!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Mansplaining refers to a specific phenomena that’s rooted in broader problems of sexism in our society, not just “a guy who happens to over-explain.”

    5. Tomato Frog*

      I live with someone like this, and I finally taught myself to process it as a charming quirk I’m tolerating instead as an insult to my intelligence. (To make it worse, he also says everything twice — he’ll say something, and then say the same thing in a slightly different way.) To help myself along, when it’s clear he’s gotten going and there’s no help for it, I smile indulgently and nod along like you would if you were listening to your kid practice a piece on the piano. I will head him off, when I can, in as cheerful a way as possible — like you would if you knew someone was about to tell you a story they’d told you a dozen times. It’s all a little condescending but it makes me feel a lot better and it doesn’t really make any difference to him, because he’s in the explaining zone.

    6. LBK*

      I do this sometimes because I find people tend to either struggle with or lose sight of the overall purpose of a lot of the tasks they ask me questions about, so sometimes I remind them of the big picture because it’s a helpful guide in answering further questions on their own. It’s not a reflection of me thinking they’re stupid, it’s just easy to get stuck down in the trees and forget about the forest.

      1. OP #1*

        Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s true that this is likely just a quirk of hers, and I should probably learn to just go with it and not feel annoyed or downright aggravated. That’s going to take a minute for me. TBH, this is only a small part of some deeper misgivings I’ve had about my job, boss, and organization lately.

        1. OfficerM*

          OP, I don’t know if this applies to you but I can react badly whenever I feel I’m being overexplained to, too. I have a history of being criticized in my family that makes me touchy when I feel I’m being talked down to or similar. Alison’s advice about seeing this as the explainer’s problem is very good. Sometimes when we have previous bad experiences with something, a person’s odd quirk can become super upsetting. Just a thought.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          One thing I have done, OP, is to give the explanation to her in a sort of preemptive strike kind of way.

          “Okay boss, I have the X’s done. I am going to start on doing the A’s and B’s now and I remember that I need to watch out for exceptions A-1 and A-2.”
          Beat her to the punchline you know she is going to come up with.

          If you can muster a gentle voice, you might find that at some point you can say, “It’s okay boss, I remember the A-1 and A-2 exceptions. No worries.”

          I have found it very helpful to think of people who repeat or over explain as worry warts. This helps me to control my tone of voice and keep it in a reassuring tone. “Got it, boss, will do!”

          I have worked jobs where I have had to talk all day long. It gets to a point where I am talking on autopilot, words are falling out but my mind has gone for a nap. She may not even realize she is over-explaining. My vote is to find gentle ways to tell her that you don’t need the longer explanation.

          Another thing I have notice with a surprising number of people that they do not know how to answer the question that is asked. For some reason the answer to “what is the forecast for Thursday?” works into a thesis sized answer. Gentle redirects can help. “Okay, so now I understand that by the year 2045 we are going to have some real problems. But my main concern was really just about Thursday, were you able to find out the forecast for Thursday or shall I google?” Redirect bring them back to your actual question.

    7. Sarah*

      I work with a bunch of people like this for planning a series of lectures throughout the year, and most of them will remind me to do totally rote things that OF COURSE I know to do and usually have done long before they ask. It bothered me a lot until I realized that from my perspective, I’m doing the same event ten times a year, but they’re only doing it once (and not really doing any of the actual work), so the process isn’t as familiar to them. I ended writing up a general procedures document and that helped stop a lot of the reminders.

    8. Turquoise Cow*

      Yeah, I feel for the OP. I have a boss/coworker (multiple reorgs meant that I was sometimes under him and sometimes not) who spends more time explaining a task to me than it takes me to do it. Most recently, he explained to me what the column headers on a spreadsheet meant. (Pretty much what they said.)

      At first I thought he must think me the stupidest person ever, or he’s used to working with stupid people, or he didn’t know me well enough to know what I would understand and not understand, or what previous knowledge I had or didn’t have. Further interaction has revealed that he’s just super insecure and spineless about his job, and overexplains to EVERYONE. Part of the reason he was/is a terrible manager is that he finds it impossible to delegate, and when he’s forced to, by circumstance, heavy workload, or his bosses, he over explains to the point where I’m sure he could have just done the task himself much faster.

      Anyway, OP, while your boss may not have this specific quirk, I definitely know what it’s like to feel like you’re being underestimated by people above you.

    9. Liz T*

      Yeah, once I asked a boss an Excel preference question (like, “Do you want it organized by playwright’s name or date of submission?) and he responding by explaining to me the entire concept of tracking submissions in Excel. He totally respected my intellect–it was just about how his brain was processing the question.

      1. OP #1*

        Yes, this is exactly the kind of stuff that happens. Another comment also resonated with me: it’s no fun to feel like you’re being underestimated by your superiors. While I know I’m respected and thought well of *in theory* it just doesn’t always translate to how I’m treated or included. (This is a company-wide issue for junior staff, but can feel pretty acute my particular boss.) Unfortunately, my organization treats managerial training as scarcely-used punishment, but the vast majority of people that come into manager roles here have no prior experience managing, or even working on teams sometimes.

        1. Liz T*

          To be clear, I didn’t find the behavior insulting, and I didn’t think of it as a way he was “treating me.” It was how his brain worked. However, if he did it EVERY time I asked him a question, thus prolonging really simple conversations and making it hard to get answers, that’d would’ve made my job a lot more difficult. So I’d recommend letting go of this as in any way a reflection on you or how your boss feels about you, and approach it from the angle of figuring out best how to do your job.

          1. OP #1*

            Yes- I don’t think I said this issue was part of how I was being treated, but see how my last comment might have implied that! I can try to let it go, but mostly I think all I can do is bite my tongue and try to go to my ‘happy place’ when it happens. I love learning new things at work, but like a few others that have commented here, being explained things that are at this point redundant to me just frustrates.

            I just asked a trusted colleague if she’s experienced this, and she says it’s definitely something she’s noticed. Knowing you’re not alone/crazy can be comforting!

            1. Amey*

              Could you respond in the moment in a polite way e.g. “Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got that covered” or “Yep, I’ve got a good handle on it now, leave it with me.” Friendly and professional and cutting them off in a pause when they COULD have finished but making it clear in the moment that you’re on it. I’ve found that if I feel I’m being underestimated, this can help to retrain people.

      2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        I think that not enough people appreciate the usefulness of saying “Let me think”, and then just doing so — maybe there’s a perception that stopping to think for a moment makes one look stupid, or that all silence of any kind is awkward.

        If he has to process the question, he probably wasn’t expecting to be asked it. Acknowledging that, even *without* a silence, would signal to his interlocutors that what follows is just him reasoning, rather than a lecture for their benefit. “That’s a good question, actually; I hadn’t considered that. My first instinct is to do it by playwright’s name, because we’ll want to be able to see all the Beckett at a glance. Does that make sense to you?” or “…Do you have a preference?” Even if he has to do a lot of thinking aloud, there are ways to show respect, I think.

  3. Punkin*

    #4 – As for as the note on abandoned food & drinks, that is normal in the places I have worked. Common to come into a break room with a note “Free – picked up the wrong flavor!” or “Kids hated this cereal – have at it!”

    I used that method to responsibly rid my pantry of all sorts of stuff (like food gifts that did not appeal to me).

    OP should not take things not labeled as available.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      Yep! Currently there is a bag of honey mustard flavored walnuts on the break room table with a “Please take these!” note attached to it.

      As I read the letter all I could think was that if I left my juice somewhere and someone drank it without permission I would be so upset. I’m known for walking into a room, setting something down, getting sidetracked with a task and leaving that item behind only to remember it an hour or so later. I’m also pretty sure I’m not the only one here who gets crazy weird about people touching their stuff – especially food. Early in our relationship my husband ate some restaurant leftovers that I’d boxed up for lunch the next day. He didn’t ask me as I was asleep. That was his defense. I was not happy! I may have cried. I definitely yelled. He learned his lesson: unless you have explicit permission do not assume that the food is for general consumption!!!

      1. OnFire*

        Honey mustard flavored … walnuts? Why would anyone do something so unholy to delicious walnuts?

        1. tigerStripes*

          Yeah, me too. With some exceptions, if you want some of my food, ask first!

    2. Jadelyn*

      We have a designated box in the breakroom for people to leave food and drinks they don’t want. It helps cut down on misunderstandings like the OP’s.

  4. nnn*

    For the office manager: I’ve seen the title Administrative Team Manager or Administrative Team Lead for that sort of job. Even if your actual title was Office Manager, maybe you could work that kind of language into your resume to make it clearer what you do (and maybe serve as a keyword for prospective employers using search functions or scanning resumes electronically for keywords)

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I’ve also seen operations manager, which confused me greatly as I’d come from a media background where that can also mean chief sub.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        A former company had a Building Manager who had to oversee the reception, procurement and electrician/plumber/cleaner when needed.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          Similar, without reception duties and included in event planning for the office – Facilities Manager

          1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            Everywhere I’ve worked, that’s been the manager of the janitorial or other maintenance personnel, and that person was also expected to be able to *do* a lot of the building maintenance work.

      2. Jeanne*

        Operations manager, facilities manager, I think of those as factory positions. The problem is that titles from one company don’t always translate well. I wonder if supervisor might work better than manager in this case. Some think you can “manage” the office by doing all the work including receptionist duties. But maybe supervisor would better say you supervise people. But I don’t know. If you communicate with any recruiters, don’t ever just say you’re looking for office manager. Explain what you want in detail. But this may be one of those quirks of job hunting. You get a lot of dead ends before finding the right thing.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I would definitely go with Administrative Manager or Administrative Lead or whatnot. “Operations” manager makes me think of (a) a factory floor, or (b) an individual working in the office of the COO.

        1. anonnyymouuss*

          In my world (tech company), operations manager generally means business operations. Person who oversees project management and other related teams, is in charge of end to end processes, compliance, etc.

          1. AwkwardKaterpillar*

            And in banking – Operations Manager can refer to Deposit Operations.

        2. NW Mossy*

          I’m an operations manager, but because I work at a financial services company, the reality is that I manage a team of 12 analysts doing back-office support/transactions. “Operations” is an incredibly generic term, and the main overlap between how different industries use it is “these are the people who do the work that’s invisible to the customer but required to provide them with a product/service.”

      4. On Fire*

        That’s what I came to suggest. In my office, the Operations Manager is over the customer service, reception and IT teams.

      5. ancolie*

        … I’m not sure what a chief sub is, but I’m 99.9% sure it’s not what it sounds like to me. :D

        1. DouDou Paille*

          Pretty sure it’s chief sub editor, which is more common in the UK than the US.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Yep, it is that.

            I often smirked for similar reasons to the ones implied here.

      6. Kyrielle*

        Hee, “operations manager” at my last job was the senior VP in charge of the three regional VPs, who in turn ran the branches that handled deployment to customers – project management, trainers, technical specialists, and account managers to try to sell established customers additional packages. Seeing that used for someone running the administrative side is definitely startling.

    2. scribbledsky*

      My company uses titles like Manager (Operations) and Manager (Administration). Maybe that could be an alternative?

    3. Cruciatus*

      My former supervisor was Administrative Support Coordinator. She managed the rest of the staff in the office and worked directly with the director on things.

      1. Tammy*

        That’s interesting. My company uses “coordinator” to mean the administrative support person for a given team. (“Client care coordinator” or “human resources coordinator”, for example). The manager of our admin team is called “administrative support manager”, I think.

      2. TM*

        I’m in the same boat. In my current position, I was changed from “Administrative Services Coordinator” to “Administrative Services Specialist” to “Program Manager” (which is what I am now).

    4. SaviourSelf*

      That is why my title changed from Office Manager (handled reception, office supply orders, general office things) to Manager of HR & Administration (supervised Office Coordinator who did all of the above, dotted-line supervised Finance and IT, handled all of HR). Now it is changing again to Business Operations Manager (all of the past position but also running the day-to-day of the company and dotted-line supervising all department heads).

    5. Jadelyn*

      We have a “Supervisor, Admin Services” position that sounds like what the OP is describing.

  5. LadyL*

    Eh, I get where #4 is coming from. In some places I’ve worked anything not labeled is up for grabs, and in other places it’s been the opposite (you label that stuff is for everyone). At my current job we get a lot of random free food, so if someone doesn’t label their stuff it’s usually assumed that it’s free for the taking. I have fallen victim to setting something down on the communal table, forgetting it was there, then coming back much later and discovering it got taken, but that’s my fault, not my hungry co-worker’s. I’ve also accidentally been the food stealer before.

    But every office is different on this front, you gotta learn the system for wherever you’re at. It sounds like #4 misread the situation, but it’s very weird that HR stepped in. It seems like something a simple “My bad! Let me replace that for you,” should cover.

    1. Jane*

      My last company was the exact same way — you leave it unattended on the break room table for more than 15 minutes and it was GONE.

    2. On Fire*

      It sounds, though, like there was *not* a “My bad, let me fix it” moment. OP says the owner of the juice should have approached OP first, but how were they to know it was OP who drank it? I suspect OP’s defensiveness is what escalated this situation. There’s not even a hint of realization that “Maybe I shouldn’t have done this,” and it sounds like OP is answer-shopping (first the girlfriend, then the cousin, now AAM).

      My office has the expectation that communal food is left on the table. BUT individual serving sizes, such as this juice sounds to be, are rarely considered communal, IME.

      1. Sunshine*

        While I agree that OP doesn’t sound very remorseful, I think he’s saying that the “victim” didn’t approach him and give him a chance to make it right, but instead went directly to HR. I have to agree that’s a weird escalation if this was an isolated incident.

        1. Zombii*

          The previous owner of the juice may not have intended the outcome or expected it to be such a big deal for the company. I’ve reported my lunch being stolen (at a large call center, no idea who did it, just no lunch in the fridge when I went to get it) and I have no idea what happened after that.

          I do agree that the way this company escalated it was weird.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            The escalation tells me there’s a pretty small chance this was actually about the juice. I think the juice was just something they could concretely pin on the OP. There’s a bigger chance they were looking to get rid of OP for other reasons. I don’t always have the best opinion of HR, but I don’t think they would give a “final warning” to someone who mistakenly took a juice… unless there was more going on.

            1. JamieS*

              Agreed. It sounds like there may be additional issues. That or OP’s company takes a very hard stance against theft which is plausible. Especially if there’s been previous issues with food/drink being stolen.

              1. Sarah*

                I also wondered if perhaps OP#4 worked in a job that involved the potential for theft in other aspects of the job, so they take it extra seriously — and that taking the juice followed by a defensive response (as opposed to “Oh no, I’m so sorry! Who can I buy a replacement juice for?”) concerned them. Seasonal employee made me think perhaps OP had access to guest/client rooms or other settings where it’s really easy to steal and also extremely damaging to the parent company if stealing takes place…NOT that OP has actually stolen something from a guest/client, but that the company is worried about a possible casual attitude toward taking things that don’t explicitly belong to you in that sort of setting.

                1. drashizu*

                  Now I’m wondering if that was what the cousin meant by “theory of theft” being a fireable offense. In a housekeeping/hospitality situation, they could have a good reason to have a “one strike only” rule about employees stealing.

            2. neeko*

              This is a bit of a reach. Plus the OP was a seasonal employee that stayed on for another 3 months.

              1. Jessesgirl72*

                3 weeks, not months. Most of the time, if it’s just that short a time, they would keep the person until the end.

                1. neeko*

                  Right. The OP said “since I was a seasonal employee, I was let go 3 weeks later”. It seems like they stayed for the duration of the season. So trying to get rid of a seasonal employee that was only going to be there for three more weeks seems like a stretch.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            The previous owner of the juice might have known nothing good comes of going to OP about missing juice.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I wondered about that, too, but then, how would HR know who took it? So I think the juice owner must have known, or it was easy to figure out.

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Eh, I figure the juice belongs to someone who wasn’t comfortable confronting the OP. I mean, I’m not sure I’d walk into the break room and say anything if Wakeen was drinking my juice because I just wouldn’t know what to say in the moment. It seems oddly confrontational to ask if someone has taken your juice when they could have brought their own juice.

          I wouldn’t go to HR either, but I might ask someone with authority to ask if we could put out some communication about not taking others stuff from the break room and that could then lead to the story coming out.

          1. LadyL*

            I’m going to be honest, that seems like a really bad idea. Why does there need to be a company wide email because one person made a mistake? My feeling is, if you’re not able to confront them you probably need to let it go. This is not the kind of thing managers need to get involved in.
            (Assuming we’re talking about a one time incident that’s due to a misunderstanding about the food. If someone is deliberately stealing food from you on a regular basis that’s manager worthy)

            1. LQ*

              I totally agree. Don’t create policies and send out nasty grams based on one persons actions. Address the one person. I think they went overboard if this was just one incident, but they did talk to the person which is good. Ideally boss would have said, hey don’t ever do that again, that’s not communal food space. But there might be other stuff happening. Policy/nastygrams based on one person doing something wrong would be much more problematic of a workplace to me.

              1. DecorativeCacti*

                We’ve had nasty grams go around a couple times at my office, but it was because we couldn’t identify the culprit. Still happens occasionally. Mostly people using other people’s creamer (sometimes even bottles which are labeled AND inside personal lunch bags).

            2. Tiffin*

              If the OP misunderstood the policy/culture, it’s possible others do too. It’s not unreasonable to send out a clarifying (not scolding) message about the policy.

              1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                Yes, this is more what I was getting at. OP thought things left were up for grabs, whereas the person who left the juice thought it was ok to leave it and come back later for it. You can’t have it both ways. Either there is an agreement that things left in the break room are not up for grabs or an agreement that if you leave something it’s open game.

          2. nonegiven*

            I’d go, “Hey Wakeen, cough up that $1.25 I paid for that juice you’re drinking.”

        3. Jadelyn*

          That assumes the “victim” knew the OP was the one who drank it. I’d love to go harangue the person who drank the last of my damn creamer and threw the empty bottle away without asking, but I have no idea who did it. So if I wanted to start shit over it, I’d have to escalate to even find out who it was.

      2. Colette*

        I assume they told HR that the OP drank their juice (as opposed to HR interrogating everyone to figure it out) so they had to know it was the OP.

        And the last place I work frequently catered to meetings. Depending on what they ordered, it was possible that individual portions would be left over – and, if so, at some point there’d only be one left.

        However, the OP doesn’t mention assuming it was left there intentionally to share, just that she thought it had been abandoned.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Yes, the LW’s explanation does rather come across as ‘I knew it was someone else’s, but I wanted to drink it so I found a weak excuse’.

          If LW4’s letter is symptomatic of a general pattern of disrespecting colleagues, hearing what they want to hear (including going from person to person until they get the answer they want), and refusing to accept responsibility for mistakes, that may explain why everything escalated so fast.

          Only LW4 knows whether this may be the case. I suggest taking a good hard look at your behaviour and how it may come across to others, to see whether there’s anything that you might benefit from changing.

          1. INFJ*

            Whoa, you’re totally projecting here. It’s generally considered good practice to take OPs at their word, so when this one says he or she thought it was up for grabs, let’s not accuse them of knowing it was someone else’s.

            1. caryatis*

              Even if OP sincerely thought the juice was up for grabs, their reaction to being told it was not is a serious problem. He should have apologized–not come up with a long series of justifications and criticisms of others.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Sure, but you’re changing the subject. INFJ’s point is valid. ceiswyn basically accused the OP of knowing they were stealing, and we don’t have any basis for that.

                1. JamieS*

                  OP did know he was stealing. The definition of stealing is to take another person’s property without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. That’s what happened even if OP thought there was a good excuse for the theft.

                2. fposte*

                  @Jamie–the letter isn’t completely clear, but the OP seems to state that he thought the juice was left for general use. Taking food items left with the intent to be shared or transferred isn’t stealing.

                3. JamieS*

                  Fposte regardless of why OP thought it was ok to take the juice it was stealing. He didn’t own the item or believe it was his (mistaken juice identity), he took it knowing the owner didn’t give him permission (belief of abandonment isn’t permission), and he clearly didn’t intend to return it. That’s not a judgement on the OP, it’s a factual statement.

                4. BuildMeUp*

                  JamieS, the OP didn’t believe the juice belonged to them, but they did believe it was up for grabs. Taking something that has been left for anyone to have is not stealing. The OP turned out to be wrong about whether it was up for grabs, but that doesn’t change their intention.

                5. LadyL*

                  @Jamie But when is the cut off point re: “belief of abandonment isn’t permission”? I mean, let’s say the juice sits on that table for days, or even weeks. At some point we all agree that it’s abandoned, right? Else we end up living on trash island. If OP saw the juice, thought it was abandoned, and decided to clean up by throwing it into the trash, would people still feel like it counts as theft and is HR worthy?

                  FWIW, it sounds like OP misjudged the office culture regarding food, and jumped the gun. But the idea that food that’s just left out on a table is sacrosanct in some way seems like an overreach in the other direction.

                6. JamieS*

                  Belief of abandonment is never permission. They’re two different concepts. Sometimes they may go together but they aren’t synonymous.

                  Taking something without permission is stealing. Personal belief, especially unfounded belief, doesn’t make it not stealing. If I went to a store and saw​ items I thought were free samples but weren’t and took them I stole those items, if I took $20 I thought was abandoned with no intent to find the rightful owner​ I stole the money, if I take someone else’s lunch without permission with the belief they didn’t want their lunch I stole that lunch.

                7. JamieS*

                  LadyL, throwing something in the trash isn’t taking the item nor intent to take. It’s discarding the item. Therefore​ no it’s not theft.

                8. LadyL*

                  @Jamie Interesting. To me, food waste is the bigger crime. Throwing away perfectly viable food or letting good food go to waste because someone forgot about it gets me really angry. Actually, it kind of makes me feel nausaus to waste food, and that anxiety gets me upset. I would much rather find out that a coworker ate my food than that they tossed it out. Your perspective is helping me understand why others are much more certain OP did something unacceptable. Whereas, like I said above, in my office non-labeled food = communal food, and non-labeled food on the community table is most definitely communal food. It’s interesting how much office culture can vary.

                9. JamieS*

                  LadyL, since food waste isn’t actually a literal crime whereas stealing is I don’t think as a society we should make a collective decision throwing away food/drink is worst than eating it although I can see why you and others can feel that way. I think another thing to consider is IMO most people aren’t going to toss out unopened unspoiled food (unless it’s fridge clean out day) and most aren’t going to eat food that would be tossed out (half-eaten left for hours, spoiled, etc.) so generally when someone steals food it’s not to prevent food waste.

            2. ceiswyn*

              The OP’s own letter does not actually say that he/she thought the juice was up for grabs. Their own description of the incident is actually pretty much exactly the same as the one on the form they refused to sign; they found the juice and took it.

              They later claim they thought it was ‘abandoned’; except that from my reading of the letter they actually took the juice right at the start of their break, when they couldn’t have reasonably believed that.

              The OP’s letter also mentions that their girlfriend and cousin both believe them to be in the wrong, based on presumably a fuller version of the story.

              The whole chain of reasoning is just a bit bizarre.

              1. ceiswyn*

                (Drat, forgot there’s no way to edit… I meant to say that they might well have reasonably believed the juice was communal, but then why didn’t they say that instead of that they thought it was someone else’s juice that had been abandoned? Did they ever just say ‘Oops, sorry, my bad, I’ll replace it’?)

                1. LadyL*

                  I’m not sure I understand your distinction between abandoned and communal. If something’s abandoned, doesn’t it become communal by default? Otherwise the alternative is to let it just sit there until it rots and becomes food waste. I’d much rather see people eat stuff left behind than throw away perfectly good food.

                2. ceiswyn*

                  ‘Abandoned’ belongs to someone. That someone may have forgotten about it or gone away and left it for some reason, but they haven’t intentionally made it available to others.

                  ‘Communal’ has been deliberately given away.

                3. ceiswyn*

                  (And really, how do you tell whether something has been abandoned? I’ve had someone throw away my lunch because ‘that carton of soup had been in the fridge for ages and was clearly forgotten and past it’. Whereas in fact it had been three different cartons of the same kind of soup, and not forgotten at all)

                4. LadyL*

                  I think the definition of “abandoned” varies by office. In my office, you either label it or it’s assumed to be communal. Unlabelled stuff left on the table is the signal that it’s abandoned and fair game to eat. Unlabelled food in the fridge will get tossed out regularly. The system is clear and commonly understood by the staff, and in the years I’ve worked there I haven’t heard any complaints (although occasionally mixups occur). It sounds like your office culture is different, as is the OP’s. My point wasn’t that there is one right way or wrong way to do something, only that I don’t think the OP was wildly out of the range of “normal” choices. They just misread the situation, and apparently their office felt the need to escalate. It should have been something a quick apology would cover.

                5. Ceiswyn*

                  And a quick apology might well have covered it. Except that as far as I can tell, the OP at no point gave one.

                  This is why I speculate that the problem was part of a pattern of similar behaviour.

              2. Colette*

                I read it the same way – she took the juice at the beginning of break and no one came back to get it during her break.

      3. Tuxedo Cat*

        How did HR figure out the OP drank it? They surely wouldn’t have gone to extensive sleuthing (reviewing camera footage, swipe cards), would they?

        I think it something more than the juice. The OP seems really defensive, refusing to sign something that says what happened and even bringing up the housekeeper to corporate.

    3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      In our office, un-labled on center tables means “free, take this”. On side tables means “this is my own damn juice and I’m coming back for it, mitts off.”

      The escalation reported is bizarre. I think the takeaway for the OP at this point is, sometimes you have to apologize “sincerely”, even when you don’t think you’re wrong.

      1. some mammal*

        Agreed. I think everybody in this letter needs to chill. It’s really not something to get HR involved in, and “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise” should be more than enough.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed. Sometimes we have to apologize even we are pretty sure or very sure we are not wrong.
        OP, it’s odd that you have a hill to die on here. It’s bottle of juice. That is all it is. Just say, “Sorry, won’t happen again”, reimburse the person and get back to life.
        You may have thought you could take it, but someone informed you that you should not have taken it. Variations on this story happen sometimes. We think it is okay to park some where, until we find a ticket on the windshield. Then we know that it’s not okay to park in that spot. We all make these little mistakes from time to time, it’s not a huge deal.

        I tend to think HR was reacting to your reaction to the situation. Honestly, OP, when people dig their heals in that is when the problem gets worse.

    4. NotTheSecretary*

      As a seasonal temp it’s possible the LW didn’t understand or know the norm for that particular breakroom BUT the big disconnect here is that she doubled down on her right to drink the juice rather than accepting culpability and apologizing. In a normal situation, someone in this position could probably clear it up by saying, “Oh no! I’m so sorry! How can I make this right?” But, like AAM said, this probably wasn’t really about juice and the LW fixating on being “right” in the juice situation sounds like a serious lack of self-awareness.

  6. Jen RO*

    #1 – I think I your boss sometimes. After years of training people with various degrees of skill, I tend to explain the most basic stuff, because ibvaribly what was obvious to me wasn’t to them. It’s not a comment on anyone’s intelligence, it’s just trying to cover all bases. After I get a feel of someone’s level of knowledge I try to tailor my training to them… but sometimes I forget.

    1. The RO-Cat*

      Yeah, sometimes I get eyerolls from my friends when I get all trainer-y on them. My professional cognitive schemes kick in before I have any chance to slap them back and engage “friend mode”. It’s nothing about them, it’s all about me.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I tend to walk people through things from the start at times when that’s helpful. E.g. grandboss asked me how to put cinnamon glaze on a teapot. I said he probably knew most of what I was about to cover but that I’d walk through it from the start.

      Sometimes these things aren’t about person A informing person B, Hermione-style. It can be more of a commentary on what you’re all that’s for right then. The problem comes if it’s delivered Hermione-style or if you have other stuff – from past jobs, say, or your family of origin – that makes this particularly aggravating.

      I mean this very kindly OP, but there isn’t one objective natural reaction to someone who does this. Some people might feel like you do while others have different reactions. It’s worth looking at what’s fuelling yours because it might help you cope with how you’re feeling, which sounds really difficult.

      1. TL -*

        Eh, I’m really intelligent and really impatient and I get frustrated very easily when people are explaining things I know (even if it’s reasonable for them to think I don’t know). Nothing to do with my past; it’s just irritating and I don’t enjoy fighting the boredom.
        I don’t particularly read the OP’s reaction as unusually large; I think she’s just dealing with a justifiably frustrating situation.

        1. LQ*

          The best way to fight this is to appear very engaged, to be able to anticipate the next steps, to jump ahead with them without jumping on toes and being very specific with your questions. “I know that I’m doing this to show funders what we paid to grantees, I’m just not sure about the format of the number, did you want a comma or a decimal?” If you really DO get it then most people will back off on explaining why because they’ll know. (I work with someone who does appear to get it but then consistently makes the same errors, I don’t care if she’s bored and frustrated because she’s doing it wrong. I’m going to do the WHOLE explanation with her every time until she gets it right because she’s not demonstrating understanding.)

          1. TL -*

            When I say I’m impatient I mean it – if, for instance, the IT woman, who has never met me before, walked me through 3 steps that I already knew to get to the 5 I didn’t, I would be biting my tongue (literally) to not go, “Yes, yes, I know, I TURNED it off and on already!” even though it is completely reasonable for her to ask me to go through all the troubleshooting steps in order.

            So while it’s not something I deal withe frequently or consistently, when I do have to deal with it, my first instinct is not the most professional. (Luckily, I have learned to ignore the first instinct and be polite and cognizant that the person who trained me is kindly giving me their time and I should not be a jerkface in response.)

            1. LQ*

              Oh yeah I have this a lot too. “Hi, this is LQ I’ve restarted the machine, I’ve run the three programs you’re going to tell me to run and I’ve tried it on 4 different machines so it’s not the computer, it’s the profile.” “Ok so step 1 is to restart your machine….” Yeah. I have that one. If it is the same group and you can get the name of someone who will trust that you did the first 10 steps when you tell them you have then it’s like magic. (It took 3 years but I got it and I buy that person coffee or cake at least once a quarter.)

              1. TL -*

                I think for me, it’s more a “manage it on my side” thing. I have called IT once in the past year. It really shouldn’t be that irritating. :)

        2. Sherry*

          Totally. I think it’s inherently annoying to have people explain to you things you already know.

        3. Perse's Mom*

          There’s a bit of a line here, I think. If it’s specific knowledge you already know that’s being regurgitated to you, I can see that being annoying. If it’s a process or something that requires being put into practice… well, you don’t know what you don’t know.

          At my old job, it was a bit of both – even if someone I was training had experience in a similar role, they didn’t know how it was done at -this- employer, and I had no way to know their knowledge base or practical skills. I always had to start at the bottom, but I always explained why I was doing that and apologized in advance if it ended up being a bunch of stuff they already knew.

          Nothing would have irked/alarmed me more than training someone who was obviously irritated and bored by it. If you’re that annoyed at me explaining medications and logs, how will you respond when you have a hard time pilling a cat?

          1. nonegiven*

            To be fair, IT sees people that turn their monitor off and on again instead of their computer.

    3. Former Invoice Girl*

      “After years of training people with various degrees of skill, I tend to explain the most basic stuff, because ibvaribly what was obvious to me wasn’t to them. It’s not a comment on anyone’s intelligence, it’s just trying to cover all bases. ”

      This! I have had to write instructions for my colleagues for different things at work (mainly for programs that I used regularly and they didn’t), and I was scared they’d think I found them too stupid for including even the smallest details. But more often than not, things that are obvious to a more experienced user of a program are not at all obvious to those just learning to use it, so it’s better to err on the side of being too detailed than providing insufficient information.

    4. LQ*

      This. And I’d say more so if something like “people don’t know WHY they are doing what they are doing” has come up to boss recently. (Which in my office is …every day.) I have a new person I’m trying to train to do things and I’m not getting a good feel for what he understands and doesn’t. (He just says uhhuh and then does it, sometimes right and sometimes wrong.) So I’m trying out a variety of things to see if I can get a better response, which I’m getting to slowly. But this means I’m over explaining things to another coworker who has been here longer since when I’m answering questions it’s mostly to New Guy and I need to give lots of background.

      I’m trying to separate them out, but when you interrupt me explaining something to New Guy to ask an unrelated question you’re going to get more than you want because I also want him to listen to my answer.

      OP I’d totally just let this go as a quirk of any of the wide range of things mentioned here. You can’t change your boss’s language, but you can change the way you respond. Hopefully seeing all the people who do it for any number of reasons here will help you understand. Good luck!

    5. Tuckerman*

      I sometimes over-explain as well, especially when someone is in his/her first few months on the job. Or when I’m training someone who has been on the job a long time, but is insecure about learning new tasks (e.g., technology). I actually appreciated it when my boss did this when she was training me, because it made me more comfortable asking questions when I was embarrassed I didn’t know the answer.

    6. Liet-Kynes*

      “It’s not a comment on anyone’s intelligence, it’s just trying to cover all bases”

      Having taught a lot of classes and seminars and lectures on a variety of topics, I actually think defaulting to covering all the bases is actually not the thing to do. I think it’s really easy to lose your audience in too much detail, come off condescending, or get overly far off in the weeds when you do this. Teaching and learning are interactive processes.

      1. TL -*

        If you’re not a professional trainer, I think it’s understandable to err on the side of over-explaining, though. Especially in a work context; it’s probably not the best but most people aren’t professional teachers. They’re just trying to teach their coworkers enough to make them independent.

    7. Jaguar*

      Yup. I train people on stuff all the time and it’s always a balancing act between giving them enough information and the proper context for that information so that they fully understand it and not so much information that I’m insulting their intelligence. Generally speaking, insulting their intelligence is the easier problem to deal with than not giving them enough information to understand how to do something. I understand it’s obnoxious – I still get irritated when it happens to me (although, more in a “I already know this so let’s skip to the parts I’m unclear on” sort of obnoxiousness) – but it’s extremely hard to know what a person does know and doesn’t know. You’re trying to touch up the paint on a house in the dark: it’s easier just to paint everywhere.

      One strategy I find helpful as the listener is to start explaining back (cutting in if necessary) the problem to make sure I’m understanding it correctly and also speed along the parts I’m already understanding (as in, “So, if I were to do X, I should expect result Y?” sort of stuff). This runs the risk of being mansplainy, I guess, but it saves time, shows engagement, and generally leads to a more thorough understanding of the problem.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, please don’t feel guilty! I don’t think your boss will feel used, especially if you use Alison’s scripts. I mean, I wouldn’t feel used, and I’m maybe projecting and assuming your boss is a caring/reasonable person.

    I probably wouldn’t mention that I used my sick leave for doctor’s appointments instead of interviews (I guess because it would never occur to me to use sick leave that way?), but you know your workplace/boss best and whether it makes sense to bring up that concern. Congratulations on your new gig!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Boss already knows they were for appointments and said OP’s health comes first. It would be such a huge leap to assume they were all interviews – and is anyone that good of a liar, really, to pull that off for that long? – and I worry that the full script could actually plant the idea in a ‘doth protest too much’ way.

      I think I would just use the first two lines which are perfect. Just thank your boss for their support while you’ve been coping with health issues.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      I don’t think it’s at all uncommon to use PTO/sick leave for interviews. Many a perfectly honorable person has left the office for a “dentist appointment” that was actually a job interview. Where I work, we don’t have to use PTO for routine appointments, but you certainly have to do so in lots of other places, and it doesn’t sound dishonorable to me. I mean, if you for example can’t take a half-day of vacation without giving two weeks’ notice or something, what else are you supposed to say?

      But repeatedly taking sick leave for lots of interviews is an entirely different deal – it’s several levels of deceit above one fictional dentist appointment – so I can see why the OP would be concerned. The manager went out of her way to be nice, and the OP wants to make sure that she knows that’s appreciated. I like Alison’s script very much.

      1. Not in US*

        I have an interview coming up and I’m going to use sick time. It’s an internal interview, I’m going to call in sick but actually work all day from home because my boss has made it clear that she does not want to know if I interview – I mean she’s bluntly told me not to tell her after the last time I applied for a promotion and didn’t get it. Based on several factors of the day of the interview, the only way I can not tell her is to call in sick (note: I’m not missing anything important). I’m not happy about it but honestly my hands are tied. Before I worked here I worked in an industry that was high turnover, people also called in sick for interviews a lot or had “appointments” it was extremely common.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I agree that it’s very common, and in fact, I’m kind of puzzled that so many people here seem to think it’s so rare. I don’t think I’ve ever done it, but if that was the only way…well, what other option is there except to stay with a company for life? If a company or boss, for whatever reason, makes it difficult for you to slip away for interviews without a cover story, and you can’t do it over lunch or after hours, what else can you say except “I don’t feel very well” or “I have a doctor’s appointment”?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’ve definitely taken PTO or vacation time to do interviews, just not sick leave. But I think it depends on the leave policies at your employer, whether these forms of leave are in the same “pot,” etc.

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              Yes, and also how rigid the company is in its days-off policies. If you have to give two weeks’ notice before taking a vacation day…well, that’s not very workable for some interview situations. If you need to move more quickly than that – or you don’t have any vacation left – or if the person who approves your vacation days is unavailable – you don’t have a lot of choice besides taking some sick time or revealing your interview plans.

  8. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 I think this is a know your office situation. My employer does not provide juice and if a carton was left in the break room it most certainly wouldn’t mean it was free for the taking. I’m sorry you got fired, but I’m addition to what Alison said there are a few things I just wanted to quickly pick up on. It isn’t very nice to say the housekeeper could have done it. They didn’t! Saying something like that won’t help, so it would be best not to continue on that track.

    Secondly, I was really struck by the idea that “the owner should have contacted me first if this juice was important to them”. It sounds like you might be taking this very literally? It’s not necessarily about the juice itself, or how important that particular juice is, but more generally about whether someone feels they can trust their colleagues not to take their personal items, and how they might feel if they can’t.

    I also think it wasn’t ideal when you said you would have reacted differently if the person had spoken to you directly. In a situation like this, the expected answer is something like: “Oh no, I’m so sorry – I mistakenly thought they had left it for others to take,” not that you would act differently depending on who brought the mistake to your attention. It sounds like your response could have escalated things a bit. Again, this isn’t really about the juice but how you might react to finding out you made a mistake and how you might relate to your colleagues.

    I hope you find something else soon.

    1. Kcat*

      Agreed. Attempting to pin the missing juice on the housekeeper, even though it clearly was NOT the housekeeper, is just rude and downright disrespectful. Not cool.

      1. Jeanne*

        I don’t think he was fired. I think all the seasonal employees were let go because the season was over. However, I doubt he would be rehired.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          To me that makes calling HR even weirder. If it wasn’t a firing and you might want to work there again or use them for a reference, calling and arguing with corporate HR doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, no matter who was right or wrong in this situation.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            It’s like a choose your own adventure of professional steps one wouldn’t/shouldn’t take, but scaled down to the size of a bottle of juice.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          Well, maybe not all seasonal employees- but the bulk of them. He certainly wasn’t on the list to be hired permanently.

          And despite HR’s assurance that he’s eligible to be hired again seasonally, I wouldn’t hold my breath, if I were him.

        3. LBK*

          Yeah, that bit confused me in Alison’s answer – given that he stated he was seasonal in the same breath as saying he was let go 3 weeks later, I assumed that meant the season ended so he got laid off, not that he was fired.

    2. Jeanne*

      I’m curious how he thinks the juice owner would know right away who took it. He said no one came in the room. I wonder if the owner complained and they used security footage to find out. Am I speculating too much? I’m not following the timeline too well.

          1. Sylvia*

            Can you imagine being the person told to review the footage to solve the Mystery of the Juice?

            Anyway, it could also be a small enough group of people for figuring out who’s doing what to be easy.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I was assuming someone walked by or looked in and saw the OP? I was curious, too, but our breakroom is more of a cubby or open alcove, so you can be “in” it, but people can just walk by and see you.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I was figuring something like they did come back to get their juice but saw the OP drinking it and didn’t feel comfortable with confrontation in the moment.

    3. Fictional Butt*

      That whole “I’d react differently if it was brought to my attention directly” thing is major. If you act pissy when HR brings something to your attention, why would they believe (or care) that you’d act nice if it was brought to your attention by the person who owned the juice? What matters is how you act in the current situation, not how you may or may not act in some other hypothetical situation.

  9. neverjaunty*

    “I stated that food, magazines, and newspapers are left on the breakroom tables for anybody to use” – yeah, except for the part where multiple people can read the newspapers and magazines, whereas once you drank that juice, nobody else could have it.

    The juice itself is less the issue than contorted rationalizations for ‘I really wanted that juice’, plus trying to convince other people that you’re right. Let it go, OP #4.

    1. jean marie*

      I’m really struck by equating the picking up of pennies with the consumption of someone else’s beverage.

      The whole letter seems to me to be a series of rationalizations. Instead of this isn’t my fault because (other people leave food on that table, papers can be communal, they shouldn’t have gone to HR, my girlfriend collects pennies) how about a simple “oh gosh, I thought it was up for grabs. So sorry.”

      The attitude is far more of an issue than the actual incident.

      1. Jeanne*

        I think you’re both right. An apology was what was needed. It could have helped.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, the contorted rationalizations really stuck out to me. They made it sound either like (a) OP has no idea that what they did was not cool; or (b) they’re more interested in winning an argument than conforming to office norms.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        Both most likely. I think “I’m the office food thief” aka “I stole something from someone” is a hard pill to swallow. I understand why he’s trying to justify/minimize (I think many people would), but it definitely makes him look worse in the situation. Own your mistakes and move on. I wonder how things would have played out if he had.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        The calling corporate HR after being let go (unclear if it was the end of the season or firing) was where the OP crossed the line for me. Up until that point, it was just griping to friends and family. Calling HR was a step too far in the, “you need to admit I am right” game.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Agreed. The OP is probably too young to get this, but – if it’s something that George Costanza would do, don’t do it!

  10. Lori*

    #4, Also, you said that you are a seasonal employee. In some places, that means that you have to watch your back, behavior, etc. even closer than a regular new employee. You are being evaluated and if you want to stay there or be hired as a regular employee, you have to follow rules to a t with no deviation. For next time, think of it as a long term interview.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Seasonal employees are very expendable. And as the end of the season draws near if business is slowing down some places will look for any reason to fire.

      OTH, I have seen places look for any reason to fire permanent employees. I saw a person get fired for taking mayo packets. The back story was the boss “just had a bad feeling about her”, she could not do anything right in the boss’ mind. He questioned every little thing, it was mentally exhausting for her and those of us who had to watch this were not doing well wit it either.

  11. "Computer Science"*

    #3, I’m thinking of that Chelsea Peretti standup bit where she dismantles a mean woman’s confidence by interrupting her mid-sentence and asking, “Have you been crying?”

    It sounds like your responses are professional and courteous, but you may need to draw some firmer, more explicit boundaries. Good luck with this!

    1. Dirty Paws*

      Yes. My first thought was that this guy was trying to gaslight her and was just really bad at it.

      1. Jeff #3*

        I never got the impression he is gaslighting me. Interesting thought though……..

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      All that said, as a general point, polling the other employees won’t get you reliable information if you’re the boss. They may just tell you what you want to hear.

    3. hbc*

      Yes, regardless of whether he’s doing it on purpose, it’s undermining. “You often ask me about my emotional state. I need you to stop doing that and start assuming that everything is fine unless I say so. If I do something to you that you don’t like, please bring that up specifically.”

      1. Jeff #3*

        I agree. I just don’t want to shut him down or push him away. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Try for a balance.

          “Gee, you ask me that a lot. Is there something you would like us to sit down and talk about?”

          I found sometimes with people if I volunteer to go into the thick of it with them the issue suddenly vanishes.
          What I like about this technique is that you are offering to have a longer conversation. You are being a kind and sincere person who open to discussion.

          Alternatively, you could go with something along the lines of, “Bob, you know we can talk about stuff when we need to. Because of this I need you to stop checking on my mood of the moment. It’s really not something two people who work together ask, so it’s kind of out of context. We are both here to concentrate on doing the work itself. Again, Bob, if there is something specific you would like us to talk about, I am all ears. However, the mood checks really have to go.”

          OP, I’d like to encourage you to say something. You know the expression, “If you give them an inch they will take a yard”? This is one of those times. You really cannot let him keep doing this. One tool I have found helpful is to ask myself what would I tell someone else in the same situation? Suppose you had a new hire who kept doing this, what would you say to the new hire? Suppose your top producer did this? Or your favorite employee? This line of thinking sometimes helped me to figure out what I would say to the Bobs of the world.

          1. Jeff #3*

            NotSoNewReader – Thank you for the strategy. I like the balance approach: being direct and stating my goal while showing the willingness to really dive into the reason he thinks that way. I’ve been willing to dive in before but I haven’t directly told him I want him to stop checking on me.

    4. Shay*

      I have a coworker who does this. It’s definitely undermining. (Passive-aggressive.) She does it when a woman looks perfectly normal — “OMG are you upset!” A frantic “WHAT’s WRONG!?!” I have stopped even acknowledging her presence it’s so obnoxious.

      1. Jeff #3*

        That is exactly what I want to avoid. He would probably have a complete melt down if I avoided him.

    5. INFJ*

      I can completely relate to OP #3’s frustration. It’s tough to feel like somebody has you under a microscope and every interaction with this person is a chance to be misinterpreted. You’re definitely in a position to be able to tell this person not to make any guesses/ask any questions about your emotional well being!

    6. Lora*

      I would start with the assumption that the guy is just insecure though. It’s a weird situation to be demoted and now under someone you used to manage. Like, really weird – typically people would quit or have one foot out the door. I know it would make me insecure as heck.

      I’m sort of a jerk when someone asks me this all the time, and I would start fake-smiling with all my teeth and asking if he is volunteering to get me a coffee. No? Then I am awesome, thanks. *Cheshire cat grin* For this sort of thing I am firmly in the “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer” camp.
      “Are you mad at me?” Yes. It’s all your fault. All of it.
      “Is everything OK?” We are all still alive and the world is still spinning on its axis, my friend.
      “You look upset.” I’m mourning the death of (rock star du jour).
      “You seem really stressed.” Hmmm? Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.

      1. Jeff #3*

        Lora, this made me laugh out loud. Thank you. If my directness doesn’t work, I will definitely use some of these. Love it.

    7. Kathleen Adams*

      So weird. I guess he’s doing it to undermine her confidence, but I don’t understand why he thinks this is an effective technique. I wonder if he read it somewhere? There’s a lot of bad advice out there. But then again, I don’t see why anybody thinks this would be effective for anything except generating irritation.

    8. SusanIvanova*

      Or when Doctor Who undermined the British PM with “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

    9. Jeff*

      I agree with having to get firmer and more explicit. This employee is a VERY sensitive individual and I don’t want to shut him down completely. My employees know they can come to me with anything and I will listen and do what I can to help; business or personal. He may be hurt for a while but it is causing me to avoid him like the plague. That isn’t good either.

  12. New Bee*

    OP#4, I’m reading your “Since I was a seasonal employee” bit as saying you were let go at the end of the season (not fired), and it looks like they’re open to hiring you back next time, which makes this seem like more of a philosophical argument between you, your girlfriend, and cousin. Besides the great advice you’ve received already, I’d be careful about having “last-word-itis”–your defensiveness, not the original mistake, could be what prevents you from being rehired. Now you know better, so you can do better.

    1. Confused*

      Came to say the same thing.
      It sounded to me like OP4 was let go bc 3 weeks after the juice incident the season ended. OP was going to be let go regardless of performance.

      A company that makes this big a deal + the 2 other strikes (in 1 season) + arguing with HR after the fact** = I would guess the OP isn’t going to be hired for a future season.

      **I don’t know how heated or argumentative it got w/ HR, but they seem to overreact so it wouldn’t surprise me if they read any back and forth as “ugh, this person is so difficult.”

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, unless I’m missing something, the “OP was fired” thought came from Alison and is actually not something stated in the letter – Alison, did you maybe mis-read something there? The HR headquarters even said OP would be hired again if she was needed.

        1. Myrin*

          I doubt it, too, but I still don’t think she was fired, which is what it says in the answer.

  13. Chriama*

    OP 4 – I don’t understand the points you brought up in your own defence. The housekeeper didn’t take the juice, you did. How does the relative price of the juice matter? I think you should have apologized – “I thought someone had abandoned it. I’m sorry I took it and from now on I won’t take anything not specifically labelled as communal or up for grabs.” Digging in your heels and insisting you didn’t do anything wrong makes people less sympathetic to you.

    1. lokilaufeysanon*

      I agree with you. Also, it makes me wonder if LW would have really responded in an apologetic manner if the juice’s owner had gone to them about it first. I think that’s just an afterthought, as the owner of the juice went to HR first instead.

    2. Sylvia*

      I think it would have gone more smoothly if OP apologized (“Sorry, I thought it was up for grabs like the donuts last week. Won’t do that again!”), but now it’s time to accept that Juice Drama has happened and move on.

  14. Ellen N.*

    #4, you need to rethink your view on taking other peoples’ food/drink. If the owner of the juice had been diabetic and needed the juice this could have caused a serious problem.

    1. Kate*

      Yep, that was my first thought too. When I was a hypoglycemic (still am hypo) low-income person who worked at a store in one of those retail parks, with no car, and who only had a 15 minute break to eat my lunch or dinner, someone taking my food would be really dangerous for me.

  15. Elizabeth H.*

    It’s just juice! Who cares? I think all the behavior in this story is equally lame. If you leave an unopened, un-marked bottle of juice in the middle of a common break room table for over 15 minutes and someone thinks it’s up for grabs and takes it, the correct thing is to assume it was a one time thing and don’t leave your juice randomly lying around anymore. If you’re HR and someone approaches you with a juice theft complaint, the correct thing to do is assume it was an error and wait to see if there is a pattern of food taking before court martialing the employee who took it. For op of this letter, the correct thing to do would probably be to assume these people are weird and you don’t want to work with them anyway. I’m most sympathetic to op because signing some official write up confession of theft over a bottle of juice you thought was up for grabs bc it had plausibly been abandoned is really over the top.

    1. some mammal*

      I agree. Here are some common sense rules:
      1. Don’t leave your stuff lying around, because someone will take it.
      2. Don’t drink juice that’s you found on some table. You don’t know where it’s been.
      3. If you are HR and you get a complaint about stolen juice, tell the thief it was someone else’s juice and not up for grabs.
      4. If you are the juice thief, say “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise,” and buy the person a new bottle of juice.

      the end. I mean, really

      1. Allison*

        Right. I wouldn’t report someone for taking my juice if I left it out, but if someone did confront me over taking someone’s food or drink due to a misunderstanding on my part, I’d apologize and promise not to do it again.

      2. JoJo*

        I think that adults should leave other people’s stuff alone, and you shouldn’t have to assume that your coworkers are thieves.

      3. Jaguar*

        And more importantly, who goes straight to HR because someone took your juice? Grow up and talk to people when you have a problem with them.

          1. Jaguar*

            Well, in the case of the letter, they seemed to know. But otherwise, if your juice has gone missing, I would hope that you ask if people have seen it as opposed to jump right to notifying HR.

        1. tigerStripes*

          Maybe the person who went straight to HR because he/she was uncomfortable dealing with the OP directly.

    2. JamieS*

      It’s theft regardless of what the item happened to be. No it wasn’t plausible it had been abandoned based solely on the owner not retrieving it in the time OP allotted.

      1. neeko*

        Agreed. I think bringing it to HR was an overreaction but OP should have just not taken something that wasn’t theirs or clearly marked as up for grabs. Setting an arbitrary time to deem it abandoned is ridiculous. Buy your own damn juice!

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        Yes, for some companies theft is theft, regardless of the value of the item. This is because it is difficult to draw on line of what dollar value of theft is “acceptable” vs. “unacceptable”. For example, is theft of $10 a problem? What about $15? What about $20? $50? Where is the line? Because of this, some level of serious discipline is appropriate for any theft. This sets the grounds for dealing with any further theft by the individual.

        All of that said, the OP seemed to handle this poorly. When an employer deems a behavior is a violation of their policies, it is always best to own up to it, acknowledge the mistake and reassure that it won’t happen again. By arguing the point, you are indicating that you don’t think it is a big deal and the company will not be assured that your behavior will change.

      3. Elizabeth H.*

        I think it’s extremely plausible and in fact, to my mind, my assumption would be that it would be much more likely abandoned than not. Like I said below, wondering if difference in workplace culture is the issue because in all the workplaces I’ve been in leaving food or drink in the break area (apart from something like a half-drunk frappuccino or your lunch bag with your name on it that is obviously mid consumption) means that it’s up for grabs. If you don’t have an office where people ever leave food in a communal space for others to take, I guess this could seem more unusual.

        1. JamieS*

          The letter explicitly states people leave notes if something is up for grabs so this clearly wasn’t an “up for grabs” company culture. Maybe OP didn’t know the culture but it makes more sense to err on the side of not taking what doesn’t belong to you if you don’t know the food culture.

        2. Starbuck*

          I’m in an office where the culture is very much “if you knew for sure that it wasn’t yours (didn’t buy it/bring it in) why on earth would you think you could take it without permission?” If OP works in a culture like that, I can see why this would be concerning, especially if it wasn’t the first time.

        3. tigerStripes*

          In your office, unattended food may be up for grabs. That’s not how it works in my office or in a number of offices, based on many of the comments on this letter. If a person doesn’t know if the food is available, the person shouldn’t take it. If a person incorrectly assumes the food is available, the person should apologize and pay the person back.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            As below, he did make the incorrect assumption that the food was available, but he actually had no opportunity to apologize and pay the person back because he didn’t know it had belonged to someone who still wanted it until the formal HR proceedings. He wrote in because he was upset that he hadn’t been given the chance to replace the juice and apologize – that’s the exact thing he wanted to do.

            1. ceiswyn*

              The OP totally had the opportunity to apologise and pay the person back. There is absolutely no reason why that couldn’t have been the first thing they said in the HR meeting.

              Instead, they apparently complained about the attitude of the person whose juice had been taken. I still don’t understand how they thought that was going to go well for them.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                It seems to me that he didn’t have an opportunity to apologize. he wrote “I admitted to taking the juice on the belief it was abandoned and I stated that if the owner had confronted me instead of HR, I would have done what I could to correct the situation.” He was dismissed for the rest of the day after this incident.
                Personally I think the attitude of the person whose juice had been taken is worth complaining about, but I agree it wouldn’t have been appropriate to do so in this setting. I just don’t see evidence that he did. It seems to me that he provided this contextual information due to the fact that he was already being accused of deliberate theft and it was beyond the point of simple explanation or apology.

      4. Kate*

        Yep! And not to be TMI, but what if the person only intended to leave it for 5 minutes to go to the bathroom, and was delayed? Or what if they honestly just forgot they left it out in the process of putting their stuff away?

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          This is so incredibly speculative though. Ditto the speculation above about what if the juice forgetter was diabetic. It’s like assuming the most complicated, convoluted possible twist and turn of events in order to make the OP seem as inconsiderate as possible.

          1. LBK*

            But it also seems speculative to assume someone meant to leave it there for others, and if you’re unsure, I say you default to not eating food you didn’t buy.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              Sure, given we don’t actually know the intentions and circumstances of the juice leaver anything is speculative, but the hypothesis that the juice leaver was unexpectedly stricken by some illness that urgently called them away from the break room for a period of time longer than 15 minutes, or the hypothesis that the juice leaver is diabetic and will suffer a health crisis without the juice that they left lying around in the breakroom for no good reason is more speculative and less likely. It’s basic statistical likelihood. Like the test question, “In college, Amy took courses in women’s studies. Amy is 30 now. Which is more likely, that a) Amy is a bank teller or b) Amy is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement?” The more conditions you add to anything, the less likely and more speculative it becomes.

              1. Jaguar*

                Speculative isn’t really a relative concept. Once you begin speculating, it’s speculative.

                I agree with you that people shouldn’t speculate on intent. But what I think you’re getting at is probability (which is what the conjunction fallacy is about).

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                My speculation would reliably be “Someone probably meant to drink this juice, but had to go deal with something.” That the something took longer than 15 minutes wouldn’t negate that reasoning. (And if they had come back in that time, OP was still drinking their juice.)

                Escalating to and by HR suggests that The Juice Is A Symbol of larger issues coworkers and management had with OP. So does trying to get their family, then friends, then the company, then Alison, to agree that they are right and everyone else wrong. Sometimes when everyone tells you you’re wrong, it’s a hint that you’re wrong. Even if Housekeeping could theoretically have taken the juice if you hadn’t gotten to it first.

          2. JamieS*

            I’d hardly consider stating the possibility the owner went to the bathroom “incredibly speculative”

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              Suggesting that the juice owner had some sort of “TMI” bathroom related incident or health issue is. If we are really pursuing this line of thinking, if the juice owner has IBS he shouldn’t be drinking juice anyway!

              1. Anna*

                I don’t think that comment was implying a TMI bathroom incident. By “delayed” I assumed they meant “popped off to the bathroom and got stopped by a coworker on the way there or back, either for a chat or to go and sort an incident”. Or any of a million things where you plan to nip out of the break room for 2 minutes and get waylaid.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  The comment said “Yep! And not to be TMI, but what if the person only intended to leave it for 5 minutes to go to the bathroom, and was delayed?”, that is what I assumed Kate was referring to.

                2. JamieS*

                  I read that comment as saying the suggestion of going to the bathroom could be TMI not that there was a bathroom crisis.

                  It’s very common where I’m from for people to preface any mention of the bathroom with phrases like that.

          3. ceiswyn*

            Do you seriously regard the idea that someone may have been delayed by something and left the juice out for longer than they intended as being ‘incredibly speculative’?

            That is the core point here; everything else is just backing it up with plausible examples of how the delay might occur.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              No, I felt that people were implying that something dramatic or sympathy-inducing happened to the juice abandoner, but maybe I misread this implication.

    3. Myrin*

      I agree with you on your first two accounts (regarding the reaction of the juice person and HR) but only to a certain extent on the third (regarding the OP). Exactly because it’s just juice, it’s really weird that that OP apparently didn’t simply apologise at any time during this whole process (the weirdness of this doesn’t cancel out the weirdness of reporting this to HR or HR’s overreaction, in both cases assuming that this was a first-time thing, of course); it’s no skin off anyone’s nose to follow up an “I thought it was abandoned” (which the OP told HR) with “I’m really sorry, I had a brain fart moment and it won’t happen again”.

      Even without an apology, the OP seems to have had the right idea initially: “I would have done what I could to correct the situation” which I assume would mean buying the juice person another bottle of juice (which is what I would offer as well had this happened to me). It’s everything else that is strange, though: even with HR knowing about it, she still could have offered to buy another juice; the fact that this was apparently a final warning, meaning there were other warnings before that, and OP doesn’t seem to connect this last instance to the former ones at all (as in, recognise that this could well be a “final straw” kind of thing); the mention of the housekeeper, who doesn’t have anything to do with this situation at all (although I understand where the thought comes from, but it’s a flawed logic); the somewhat robotic style of the letter, which makes it hard to really get “a feel” for the OP (although obviously there are simply people who write that way); the fact that there does seem to be a rule around leaving something abandoned in the breakroom (HR mentioned that one would put a note on the item in such a case) which OP didn’t know about yet still thought it was okay to take the juice (which is just incomprehensible to me, “just a juice” or not – the baseline assumption when you don’t know the rules should be that something that isn’t clearly marked as abandoned should be left well alone, not the other way around where unless otherwise stated every unattended item is up for grabs); the understanding that a reusable item like a newspaper or magazine is the same as a consumable; lastly, that I’m not sure what the OP expects to get out of all of this – does she want the final warning note purged? But even if that does happen, I mean, it’s a final warning; you are going to be on thin ice regardless.

      All of this gives me the feeling that there’s a whole underbelly missing to the ship that is this question; I’m basically not understanding anyone’s motivation, thoughts, or behaviour in this letter.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Verbal warning
        Written warning
        Final written warning

        In my experience they are used progressively, but a final warning doesn’t have to mean there were previous warnings. It can just mean the misconductIn the UK there are a number of types of formal disciplinary measures employers can use:
        was taken that seriously that a final warning was given straight away and the other steps were skipped.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          Sorry for the last comment I messed up copying and pasting it

          In the UK there are a number of types of formal disciplinary measures employers can use:

          Verbal warning
          Written warning
          Final written warning

          In my experience they are used progressively, but a final warning doesn’t have to mean there were previous warnings. It can just mean the misconduct was taken that seriously that a final warning was given straight away and the other steps were skipped.

    4. LBK*

      If you leave an unopened, un-marked bottle of juice in the middle of a common break room table for over 15 minutes and someone thinks it’s up for grabs and takes it, the correct thing is to assume it was a one time thing and don’t leave your juice randomly lying around anymore.

      This seems like an unreasonable reaction to me…I usually assume that I work with trustworthy adults who don’t just randomly eat anything in sight and/or take stuff that doesn’t belong to them. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere that I had to be that cautious about leaving my belongings around for fear of my own coworkers assuming that meant they were up for grabs.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Seriously. And “who cares if I took your food, it’s just juice!” is profoundly missing the point. It isn’t about the cash value of the juice, it’s that an employee took someone else’s food/drink without permission.

        Really not getting the need to insist everybody say in any situation is equally bad.

        1. Myrin*

          That’s exactly the point though, isn’t it? You – and several others in this thread – worked at a company where it was a known rule that any food left in Place X (the breakroom, a particular table, the fridge…) was free for anyone to take.

          The OP’s company doesn’t have that rule (its rule is “if the juice were abandoned, the owner would write a note on it.”, but OP only found out about that after the season’s end). And even if it did, the OP didn’t know of any rule whatsoever or else she could have used that as an easy defence.

          It is a general cultural rule, though, that you don’t just take stuff just because it’s sitting around all by its lonesome unless you know that it’s up for grabs (whether that be because of a sign next to it, because it’s in an area that is specifically designed for free stuff, or something else entirely). If you’re unsure about it, the only acceptable thing to do is to not take the thing (and maybe, depending on what exactly the situation is, find out if there is an area for leaving/getting stuff).

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        There may be some cultural things (I mean workplace/environment culture, not like different countries culture) at work here because to my mind, the office break room is a space where the default assumption is that if you leave a food or drink item lying around would plausibly mean it is up for grabs and you want someone else to take it if they would like. Sometimes the typical custom is to leave a “please take/eat” sign, sometimes it’s not, sometimes there are places in the break room food is typically left . . . There are places where it would be WEIRD to take something left lying around (doctor’s waiting room, cup holder ina
        movie theater, sitting on top of someone’s car, study table in the library etc etc) but it is such a common custom to leave food or drink out in a break room or a public space in an office.

        If you care about your juice so much that if you come back to find it and it’s not there, the course of action you decide to take is to go to HR, take more care with your valuable possessions.

        1. Sarah*

          I agree, this is super culture dependent. At my current office, people always either leave a sign or send out an email unless it is extremely obvious that something is communally up for grabs (for example, leftovers from a catered lunch that are still in the original large containers — but even then, there will usually be an email saying “There’s leftover Thai food, please come take some!”). So, it would be really odd to take something that wasn’t explicitly labeled or you hadn’t had someone tell you that you could have it. But, we also work in a small office where we are all very close to the little kitchen area, so it’s easier to coordinate this stuff. I can see how in a bigger office, you wouldn’t want people emailing out to 100 people every time there were a few leftover bagels! So mostly I think it’s a “know your office culture” thing, and if you DON’T know, don’t assume — either ask someone or just don’t take stuff until you have a better feel for things.

        2. LBK*

          Right, as many other people have said it varies based on office. But if you don’t know the convention in your office, I can’t imagine assuming the default is that you can take anything you see in the breakroom, especially one single item that doesn’t obviously appear to be a larger batch of food that would be normal for an office to share, like a plate of cookies or a pizza. Generally speaking, it’s a bizarre mindset to me to ever take something that’s not yours if you’re not 100% sure it’s up for grabs, and to me, “food on table in an office where you don’t know the conventions” is not a 100% sure situation.

        3. Tuxedo Cat*

          In the places I worked, food items left on a particular table or in the middle of any table were up for grabs.

        4. Gilmore67*

          So you are blaming the ” victim ” ( Juice owner )?

          This goes against everything we see about ” blaming the victim” articles and posts. It is the Juice guys fault that someone took his possession?

          So if was a car left open at night and someone took something you’d say…. well….. you left the car open soooooo, or… wow that person should not have gone into your car and stolen your GPS.

          You don’t take something that is not yours. You do not assume anything about an item you see sitting around anywhere that you can just have it. It is none of your business. Not for you too even care about or question. Period.

          Is this what we should teach kids? ” Hey Junior…. if you see some ding dongs hanging around on a table in the classroom, if you think they are just laying there for no reason…. just take them”.

          I certainly know not to take anything that is not mine and that I was not offered. ( a place of donuts that say…. free for all )

        5. JamieS*

          What was your default assumption regarding taking things that didn’t belong to you prior to working in an office with an “up for grabs” attitude?

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Views on “taking things that didn’t belong to you” in general, out in the world, in life has nothing to do with this scenario. This scenario is context based and specific, about food items in communal office break room, areas designated to be used collectively by employees chiefly for the consumption, storage or preparation of food eaten at work.

            1. JamieS*

              Yes it does. You’re disagreeing that the default assumption for food in the break room is to not take something that’s not yours unless you specifically know otherwise. Therefore what your default assumption was prior to working somewhere with a fast and loose policy on property ownership is very relevant.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                I have never worked anywhere with a “fast and loose policy on property ownership” and I don’t really appreciate the disparaging remark about my past and present work places. I do disagree that the default assumption for food, unlabeled, set on a breakroom table in an empty room with nobody around for over fifteen minutes, is not to take it to such an unassailable degree that someone who did take the food item should be called a thief and written up rather than assumed to have made an understandable error.

                1. JamieS*

                  1. Re: disparaging remark. You have stated multiple times that in your office when someone leaves something in the break room it’s assumed to be up for grabs. When that person originally acquired the item he became the owner. The policy in your office is that he ceases ownership of the item once he places it in the break room in view of others and leaves it unattended for any period of time. Otherwise, if he still owned the item, the person who takes the item is stealing and I presumed you don’t work in an office of thieves. IMO that’s a loose policy on property ownership. I’m not sure how that opinion is offensive but you seemed to have taken offense so I apologize for that.

                  2. We don’t know the juice was left unattended for over 15 minutes. The OP said within the span of 15 minutes he saw the juice, took it, and then waited out his break. The juice owner could have left immediately before OP got there. Regardless setting a time frame of 15 minutes before food is up for grabs is incredibly arbitrary and isn’t anywhere long enough to have a general consensus.

                  3. OP was a thief whether he intended to be or not (we’ll presume not) and some companies have a very hard stance against any kind of theft. In those companies a write-up is one of the least severe reactions and would be the minimum punishment expected. If that’s not the company’s general stance then there’s most likely other reasons for why the OP was given a final warning and reprimanded. It’s incredibly unlikely HR just targeted OP for the giggles.

                2. Elizabeth H.*

                  1. Part of what bothered me is that I think there’s a difference between food items and other various types of property in this context, especially in shared social settings. For example, if you have a bag of chips, or a pizza, you might offer some to a friend or colleague and go “Want some?” but you wouldn’t do that if you had just bought a package of hair ties or something from the drug store. As property, food is less permanent. See the thread elsewhere on this page where people were discussing sometimes taking a soda from the fridge and then replacing it. I suspect that most people would feel really uncomfortable doing that with something non-consumable, like a novel or a pair of gloves. In general, food is more of a fungible good. It seemed to me like “fast and loose policy toward property ownership,” sounded like deliberately trying to suggest an environment where theft is tolerated. Habitually leaving leftover food out in the breakroom in case others want it is not the same thing.

                  2. If the OP considered that someone had left it there for others to take (which I think was a reasonable assumption), it wouldn’t matter whether he saw it lying there for 30 seconds or 3 hours.

                  3. I think “thief” is over the top language and that there is a difference between taking something that you could have reasonably believed was free for the taking and outright theft. Like, say that I am out walking by the public library and they are getting rid of some books and have a “free books” table set out with a sign labeling them as free to take. I happen to be carrying a book I own, and while I’m browsing through the library’s free books I inadvertently set it down on the table. Someone else takes it, reasonably assuming it’s one of the free books the library is giving away. Would you call that person a thief? I wouldn’t. I think this situation is like that. It was a reasonable mistake that any average person could have made. My argument is that the concept of leaving food you don’t want in the break room for others to take is so common and widely practiced that it’s screwed up to treat it as theft rather than as a mistake.

      3. Someone*

        Reading this comment, I just realiszd that stealing someone’s food IS about more than the monetary value.

        If someone steals 5$ from you, it ends up in your mind as a missing percentage of your income and some lost trust in mankind – it’s abstract.

        But if someone steals food from you, it’s already become more than just money. It’s become a specified and scheduled experience in your day. Food brought to work is, generally, something someone a) likes and enjoys, b) has planned for and c) is looking forward to consuming during a moment where they relax and recover.
        Food stolen is like rain on a nice day EXACTLY at the moment when you finally have the time to enjoy the nice whether.

    5. Hekko*

      I’ve been thinking that maybe that was not a one off thing – as in this was not the first beverage or food item stolen. Not by the OP, but generally in that workplace – which would explain why the HR is so sensitive about the matter.

    6. Grey*

      It’s just juice! Who cares?

      It’s just juice. You don’t need it that badly. Simply leave it there because it doesn’t belong to you.

      Same with things in the refrigerator. You don’t just help yourself and say, “It’s only a salad! Who cares?”

      1. LBK*

        Exactly. Unless you’re dying of thirst or about to go into a diabetic coma, I don’t see why it’s so critical for you to have a juice that doesn’t belong to you. What do you lose by just not taking it? It’s just juice.

      2. Nottingham*


        I would have cared a lot when I was working at Scrooge & McScrooges on very low wages and a tight budget. Because I didn’t have money to replace that juice.

        I would also have cared a lot when I was at AwkwardSite, and there were no shops within walking distance that I could reach within my 15min breaktime, and – again – I couldn’t afford to use the vending machines.

        Basically – it’s not ‘just juice!’ (or ‘just food!’) – when it’s irreplaceable – when you’re taking away the chance for a person to eat or drink that day

    7. INFJ*

      I couldn’t agree more. It sucks to be the person who left something behind and had it taken (and I’ve had a lot more than just juice taken when I left it behind at LastJob), but in this case it sounds like it wasn’t unreasonable for OP to think it was up for grabs.

      Also major side eye to the person whose juice gets taken and goes to HR. The reasonable response is to assume it was a one-time thing, and if it becomes a pattern, suggest better communication about break room rules (Caveat: Unless this is a serious, last-straw type of situation with the juice “victim,” which we have no way of knowing so it shouldn’t even factor into the argument).

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Well, the LW says this was written into his file as a “final warning” – that pretty directly implies that there have been other warnings, right? We don’t know what those warnings were for, because LW does not say – but we know there were some.

        So this is not a one-time, one-off mistake from the LW. There has been some kind of pattern in which there have been warnings. In that context, getting a formal warning from HR over what would otherwise be a little thing (taking a juice) doesn’t seem like such surprise to me.

        I’d be curious to hear from OP what the other warnings were for. Could be LW’s attitude/behavior/ sense of what is okay is off, or it could be a toxic workplace and he’s had warnings for things that just don’t warrant anything, but *something* seems up, one way or another.

      2. Bea*

        Given that his response was to defend himself for drinking the juice and equating it to sharing a newspaper, I get the feeling the coworker went to HR because the OP isn’t known to react well when confronted otherwise.

      3. JamieS*

        Why should the juice owner assume it’s a one time thing? We don’t know this is the first or only time their juice had ever been taken​. Also the only reason to not report a theft to HR is to protect the thief and a victim is never obligated to protect the thief from possible punishment for stealing.

    8. Tiffin*

      The fact that HR gave this person a final warning makes me 99.9% sure this wasn’t the only issue the company had with this employee, and the weird defense/rationalizations that were given instead of a basic apology reinforce that belief.

      I also really disagree with the idea that something left on a table after 15 minutes should be up for grabs. Adults don’t just take things that aren’t theirs unless they are sure it’s OK.

  16. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

    To LW #1: My supervisor does this too!!! It drives me up a tree, and sometimes I wont even ask her things because it is too annoying (I will wait and ask other people who probably know). I have no advice, only commiseration.

    1. 2 Cents*

      OP #1: My OldBoss was like this. I’d worked for her in pretty much the same capacity for nearly 6 years. If I had a question to clarify something, she’d explain the *entire* procedure to me like it was my 2nd week on the job. I knew, by then, that it was just her quirk, but it was definitely something I didn’t miss when I left that place. She had other ways of completely micromanaging me that, though I knew were her hangups, were completely demoralizing.

    2. Chaordic One*

      I’ve been in this situation and it sucks. If your boss was a man, I might think he was man-splainin’. I’ve also received this kind of behavior from a particular boss who was from a very wealthy family on the east coast and I think there was a class element to the condescending way he treated, not just me, but people in general.

  17. NZ tutor*

    #1 totally get where you’re coming from. I have a similar issue where my boss praises me for doing the very basics of my job (I tutor at a centre) -things like remembering to write down what we’ve been doing and keeping an eye on my group of students. He does also praise the less fundamental things I do though, so I have accepted it as a quirk and moved on. Took ages to do that though, I still have to remind myself to just smile and accept praise.

    1. Lora*

      Heh. Reminds me of an exBoss who was informed by senior management that he was too critical and didn’t praise us enough, so he should practice the “compliment sandwich”. Every time he said anything, no matter how nice, you knew there was a criticism coming. The compliments were invariably something completely ridiculous, spat at us through gritted teeth. One day he said how nicely I answer the phone, then was blasted about a thing completely outside of my department for two hours, and he couldn’t think of a second nice thing to say after that.

  18. some mammal*

    #4 – I think a simple apology should be good enough. Even though I agree you didn’t really do anything wrong. I would have assumed the juice was left over from a previous meeting, and was abandoned (like you said).

    1. some mammal*

      Sorry, I thought it was left in a boardroom. I see now it was in the breakroom. That’s different. But really, people shouldn’t leave their food and drinks standing around.

      And I wouldn’t drink something that I found standing on a table anyway. You don’t know where it’s been.

      1. neverjaunty*

        People shouldn’t leave their food and drinks standing around… why? Because less thoughtful co-workers might take them? Seems a bit circular.

  19. Kali*

    With the first one, I wonder if she’s thinking it through out-loud as she’s explaining, so the obvious stuff is for the boss’s benefit, not the employee’s. I always find things ‘incomplete’ if I don’t say the whole thing, even the obvious bits!

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Many managers are trained to always share the “why” behind the feedback. I think this might be the case. In general this is a good thing to do. In this case it is bugging the OP, but I wouldn’t take it personally. All bosses have quirks and do things that annoy employees. Even the best ones. As long as the OP’s feedback and reviews are positive, I wouldn’t take this so personally. This is most likely the manager’s style.

  20. GermanGirl*

    #1 The problem is that some things are obvious to some people while other things are obvious to other people. When you supervise or teach regularly, you meet people who need different details to make it click in their thought process. And some need the big picture because they lost track of that while plowing through the details. So your supervisor might just have had a “need big picture” student or supervisee and gotten in the habit of restating the big picture every now and then.

  21. hbc*

    OP1: I can usually deal with this if it’s the person’s style, but when it’s a regular digression of more than a sentence on a topic I know well, I will absolutely point out (nicely but clearly) that they are wasting their breath. “Yes, I know it’s important to tell the funder how much we paid, that’s exactly why I wanted to double check whether the numbers in these documents were correct.” It usually helps to follow up with a more detailed question to cement the idea that you’re past the basics. “Is there any reason why these documents don’t reflect the actual payouts?” Or “Are there any other places I should look next time that might include other hidden payouts?”

    The right answer is probably not to do this and let it go, but this is one of those personal hills on which I’m willing to die.

    1. TheBard*

      That’s basically how I also handle this, because it’s also my personal hill. I feel my irritation level going through the roof when someone starts explaining things to me that I already know, so to maintain sanity, I kind of have to nip it in the bud. And the detailed question usually works. I wonder if OP framed the question as “I know [insert obvious thing boss will likely explain] so I wanted to ask [specific, detailed question that makes clear you already know stuff]” would help get the boss out of over explaining routine.

      1. ceiswyn*

        In my experience with an explainer boss… no. No, it won’t.

        My boss once insisted on explaining why I ought to do a thing three months after I’d actually done it.

  22. MommyMD*

    This isn’t about juice. It’s about boundaries and you assuming you have the right to take whatever you want and rationalize it. Of course you do not take an unopened singular item. It was not a plate of cookies left out. You didn’t bring it, you don’t take it. If it were a 20 dollar bill accidentally left on the table would you take it? Your former employer thinks you just might.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      I disagree. If I got a candy bar or a singular cookie I didn’t want I’d leave it in the break room for someone else to take. I have also left an unopened bottle of Coke Zero in the break room for someone else to take (the vending machine mis-dispenses it instead of seltzer sometimes) twice. Are we supposed to throw out all items if there’s only one of them, because leaving a single unit of something would make the person who takes it a thief? How does that make sense?

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Right, in OP’s workplace, the norm is that communal food will have a note attached. If there is no note, it is not up for grabs. What you, Elizabeth H, did with your food in your office conforms to the office norms you all have there – but the norms in OP’s office are different. OP took something that was not theirs to take. Not a high crime and misdemeanor, but not okay for that office. And then didn’t apologize.

        Norms about what is communal vary by office. Therefore, seems like basic common sense and basic boundaries to not take things unless you know what the expectations are in your office for taking food that you see. Err on the side of *not taking things* if you don’t know and haven’t asked about it.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          It’s just juice though. This is such a bizarre and ridiculous overreaction. Even if people are incredibly touchy about food/drink in this particular office, the more reasonable response would be to be like hey, for future reference, here people don’t usually leave food out for others to take and if they did they would put a note on it. So if you see something left on the break room table don’t take it unless it has an explicit “take this” note on it.

          It sounds like the OP didn’t KNOW that in this office people don’t leave things out for others to take on a regular basis. If he/she had known that, we can assume he/she wouldn’t have taken the juice! The break room table also really had been established as a place for communally shared recreational items such as newspapers, magazines. I do understand the difference between newspapers and juice in that one is (at least up to a point) a non-rivalrous good and one is rivalrous, but it does set a general precedent of its being a common use area.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If it’s just juice, then you can just not take it. It’s just juice! You can buy your own if you really want juice.

            It’s nonsensical to argue that someone else’s juice is very important to you, but could not be very important to them.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            I think in many contexts, it’d be a weird overreaction – it should be handled with a quick “hey, just so you know” conversation. But the LW mentions this was a “final warning,” which strongly suggests there have been other warnings so maybe HR and the company had got to the BEC stage with him. Or maybe it is a crazy toxic workplace, I don’t know.
            But the LW says he called up HR headquarters to complain after the end of his seasonal employment (he hadn’t been fired for the juice! He went back to work the next day for the rest of the season), he told corporate that the housekeeper could have taken the juice even though that’s not what happened – so, I’m kind of thinking…. HR didn’t overreact because the LW’s reaction afterwards seems so… off. And he was told to go home at the *end* of the HR conversation, not as the opening salvo, it seems (if I am understanding the LW’s timeline correctly) so I am really, really not clear whether the warning and the “go home” were the result of the juice (silly) or the LW’s reaction to it (not silly).

          3. Hrovitnir*

            Why, why if you didn’t know, would you assume “I can take this” rather than “I’ll err on the side of caution and not take this unopened juice”? Clearly this was not an office with a designated table to leave unwanted food and drink, so it makes zero sense to me you’d choose the action that has a good chance of you taking something someone wanted.

            As for it being an overreaction, that’s pretty separate from whether taking stuff without asking is A-OK, but I fall in the “no idea why it went straight to HR meeting, but the final warning part sounds like it was part of a pattern” group.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              The OP did imply that it was a designated table to leave unwanted items, or at least that he acted under the good faith belief that this was true. In his letter he recounts, “I stated that food, magazines, and newspapers are left on the breakroom tables for anybody to use. . . .” I consider this to be a reasonable belief because it conforms to the practices of many offices. Clearly, the OP was incorrect in holding this belief, as his particular office, unbeknownst to him, did not follow this practice. But that doesn’t make it an unreasonable belief or indicate that he is necessarily a bad actor in this.

              1. tigerStripes*

                It would have been nice if the OP had apologized and paid for the juice instead of making excuses.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  The OP was not given the option of apologizing and replacing the juice. He clearly stated that he would have done this if he had been made aware that the juice wasn’t abandoned but rather belonged to someone who planned to come back for it. He was only made aware that the juice hadn’t been free to take when he was being formally cited by HR.

                2. ceiswyn*

                  And at the point where the OP was asked about it by HR, they had the opportunity to say ‘I thought that juice was up for grabs, I didn’t realise it belonged to someone. I’m terribly sorry; should I replace it?’

                  Instead, they had a go at the person they’d wronged and gave a frankly bizarre justification involving the housekeeper.

                3. Elizabeth H.*

                  I don’t see any indication at all that the OP didn’t attempt to say that. The way the issue was presented, it seemed to me like it was a done deal and already much beyond the point of being able to simply apologize, explain it was a mistake and replace.

                  I don’t think the statement about the housekeeper is bizarre. The OP said that to indicate that because it was left lying around for a long period of time, it could just as easily have been thrown out by someone else making the reasonable assumption that it was abandoned.

                4. ceiswyn*

                  In my world, fifteen minutes is not ‘a long period of time’.

                  And what the housekeeper /might/ have done is entirely irrelevant. The housekeeper /might/ have thrown it out; or the juice’s owner might have come back and drunk it before that could happen, as they obviously intended to do all along.

                  OP /definitely/ took juice that wasn’t theirs and started making excuses about why that was OK, /after/ being made aware that it wasn’t OK.

                  That’s not OK.

  23. Gandalf the Nude*

    OP #4 – One thing that’s standing out to me is that you’re treating your belief about things left in communal areas as a hard and fast rule when it isn’t. There are some offices where you would be right that the juice being left where it was meant it was up for grabs. But there are other offices where something’s only up for grabs if it is specifically labeled as such. You can’t just decide the former is the way you’ll handle it everywhere you go because you like it better or because it’s how your first job did it or whatever. You have to find out what the norm is in your office and go with that.

    And you should definitely err on the side of not taking something that is not meant for you. Assume it’s not yours to take unless you learn otherwise, either by the norm of your current workplace or by a note or label. And regardless of whether they violated the norm or you violated the norm, and regardless of how you find out about it, apologize and attempt to make it right if you take someone’s stuff. Don’t push the blame back on them.

  24. MommyMD*

    I work with a nurse who takes offense to anyone double checking or clarifying any order with her. It’s exhausting. She takes personally and is affronted by the most common of inquiries when none of it is done to attack her or is a reflection on her skills. No one wants to work with her.

    1. LBK*

      I have a coworker like that, too. In his case it’s because he worked for a manager for a long time who only double checked things or asked for clarifications when she believed he’d done it wrong and was preparing to yell at him for it. I get that he has a kind of work PTSD from her as a result but man, it’s really annoying when trying to collaborate with him, especially on things only he knows about.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      One would think she would understand that in the medical industry, double-checking and clarifying would be a good thing and is pretty important. But some people just take any comment or inquiry about their work as a personal affront. I’ve worked with people like that, too.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Many arenas are like this.
        I worked one place where, well it was not rocket science, the work was pretty basic. The catch was the speed of the workflow was INCREDIBLE. Everything just moved so fast. Double and triple checks were necessary for survival.
        But where I checked people’s work, I encouraged them to double check with me on things when they needed to. I would rather have answered the same question five times than have a bunch of bad work. The idea of reciprocal checking really helped, we grew into a culture of asking/checking through out the day and it lowered the error rates substantially.

  25. MommyMD*

    I’m a physician and when I take any time off for medical or dental appointments which is rare, I get a note. It’s not required and I’ve work 20 years at my hospital. I give it to the department manager who is not considered my superior or boss. Each time I am told it isn’t necessary. I answer that I want it on record that the time was legitimate and it’s important to me that no one would ever think I abused it.

  26. Collie*

    OP #5 — that was me this year, too! When I interviewed, I more vaguely said “appointment,” but when it was an actual doctor’s appointment/procedure, I specifically said “doctor’s appointment.” I didn’t go Alison’s route, but I mentioned it after to a coworker who kind of supervises me (this place is weird), basically saying, “The doctor’s appointments were real — not just excuses for interviews!” And she was totally fine with it — of course, it depends on your relationship with whomever you’re talking to as to what/how things are appropriate to say. Congrats on the new position!

  27. MCMonkeyBean*

    #1 – Definitely don’t take that personally! Do you have any reason to think she *only* talks like that with you? My boss is similar and will over-explain things and take forever to do it. I go in with a simple question and he gives me a ridiculously long answer, explaining the same thing over and over in slightly different wording. I just smile and nod and chime in with the occasional “uh-huh” when he asks “do you get what I mean?”

    #4 – Stealing juice is far from the world’s biggest offense, but the fact that you are so adamant that you didn’t do anything wrong at all is indicative of larger problems to me. Unless there is an office fridge stashed with free juice for everyone, there was no reason to think that juice was up for grabs.

  28. HisGirlFriday*

    My office (of < 10) people had a food thief. I'd bring in the frozen meals and pop them in the freezer. The first time someone ate mine, I thought, 'Oh, maybe they thought it was theirs, I'll label it.'

    So I did. And it got eaten again.

    The third time, I labelled it, and I happened to be in the kitchen and saw the box, clearly labelled, 'HisGirl' on the counter and the meal in the microwave. So I waited until the microwave dinged that it was done, took the meal out, and headed back to my desk. As I was walking to my desk, I passed my BEC co-worker, headed toward the kitchen. She saw the meal on my plate and said, 'Oh!'

    Never happened again, though, that someone stole my lunch.

    1. LBK*

      That is insane. I just cannot fathom the gall of people repeatedly deliberately taking things they know aren’t theirs like it’s no big deal.

  29. embertine*

    OP1, I think that your boss is probably a “talk-to-think” person, where she says things out loud in order to think them through. This is probably not a reflection of you, and just her way of mentally getting all her ducks in a row. I sympathise, because I am very much a “think-to-talk” kind of person and this kind of wittering sends me batty, but unless she really only does it to you I wouldn’t worry.

    1. N*

      +1 I have a coworker like this, and I was starting to get really angry because I thought she was explaining the obvious to me as well. I did some research on how to communicate more effectively in the workplace and realized that it was just what embertine describes–it’s a tic of more linear thinkers and people who like to do their thinking aloud. I’ve found that I can get around this by being very literal in what I ask for (so instead of, “What needs to happen on this project” it’s more “What is the specific budget information that I need,”) and then let any other comments roll off my back.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Going the opposite way, I had a cohort got very miffed with me because when she asked for help with a problem because I fell silent while I thought it through. Or tried to think it through, she interrupted me every few seconds to say, “You don’t believe me do you”. I had to go through my thought process out loud to get her to stop saying that. It took me longer to figure it out because of talking out loud, but she saw that I did figure it out in the end.
        After that I was more aware that some people get really nervous if the person they are talking go grows quiet for a moment.

        1. Amey*

          I am a big talker but I find it helpful in that situation to verbalize what I’m doing, e.g ‘Bear with me a second while I think it through.’ People often feel like you’re waiting for them to add more, or don’t know how to answer them and this just clarifies what I’m doing.

  30. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’ll bite on #4.

    I would never take anything I just randomly saw someone left out, but I have appropriated soda that has been left in the communal fridge for a week or more. Where I work has a lot of temps and if their assignment wraps up suddenly sometimes people forget things.

    If I took anyone’s soda I’m sorry and I’ll buy another- but in my defense I was falling asleep at my desk and the person didn’t touch the soda for a week as opposed to 15 minutes.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Whoa, that would be seriously out of bounds at my workplace. Soda lasts forever; I may buy a six-pack and leave it in the fridge for a couple of months as I work my way through it.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        There’s a rule here about only bringing what you want for the week for the fridge due to space- I should have clairified. So things get eaten/drunk within the week, unless forgotten about.

        1. Elise*

          OK, but before I quit my Diet Coke habit, I’d bring a can every day and drink it in the afternoon. To anyone else, it might look like the same can had been there forever. I would have be majorly pissed if I went to get my post-lunch Diet Coke and it was gone (even now thinking of the satisfying pop of the top makes me want one).

      2. Q*

        Leaving a six pack in the fridge for a couple of months would be seriously out of bounds at my workplace. We have an issue with not having enough space for everyone’s food so it is seriously frowned upon to bring more than your one day worth of sustenance. One can in the fridge would be ok. But leave the other 5 in your desk until you drink the cold one.

    2. Tiffin*

      Just be sure it’s the same soda instead of a different bottle/can of the same kind brought in each day.

      1. Kate*

        Yep, I would put a sharpie mark, a star or something on the bottle’s bottom, then see if they disappeared.

        1. Electric Hedgehog*

          Sometimes I’ll swap a warm diet coke in my lunch for a cold one in the fridge… but I never steal outright, and I’ll put the warm one in the back. But I might be screwing up someone’s super secret marking system, so I’ll watch for that.

          1. Elise*

            Eek, but what if the owner walked in right after you for an ice cold soda and it was warm? I mean this is obviously a minor offense, but seriously, Diet Coke is very important to some people! :)

  31. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    OP 4, I was you once. I went from an office where food left in the common area=fair game! Enjoy to a place where food left in common area=if it isn’t yours, don’t touch. When I first started working there, someone had left three peaches out and I grabbed one. Later that day, an email went out from my boss saying that someone’s food had been stolen from the break room and that people need to not take what isn’t theirs. I was mortified. I immediately went to my boss, told them I took the peach, apologized like hell, and offered to run out and replace the peach. She did reprimand me slightly for not asking someone whether food left out was up for grabs before taking it, but told me she appreciated my apology and said she’d pass on my offer to replace (was not taken).

    After this I learned a few lessons that worked well later in life:

    1. Sus out the food culture before taking anything that isn’t clearly up for grabs. Err on the side of caution

    2. If you screw up apologize and offer to make amends. Do not justify or try and explain why you were right. You weren’t right.

    3. If you have any doubt at all if it is communal, even the tiniest, don’t eat or drink whatever it is

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I like that you use the word “mortified” because Alison used it in the letter about cruel gossip on company time and company systems–feeling mortified can be a positive thing, because you don’t ever do the initiating action again.

      And just in general, I want to work with people who feel mortified when they accidentally, with no ill intent, mess up. Rather than vigorously defend every single action because they are always right.

    2. Hrovitnir*

      Aw, but you’re not OP because you were mortified and learned “oops, I need to look out for office norms” when you ran into an issue! I also feel like a handful of peaches look more like up-for-grabs than an unopened juice, but that’s neither here nor there.

  32. Allison*

    #1, I’m extra sensitive to being spoken to like I’m stupid, because I’m short, I’m a woman, and while I’m in my late 20’s I look pretty young. Older women often speak to me in very mothering voices, patting me on the shoulder, like I’m a little kid. People of all ages over-explain things to me. I always figure it’s because they assume I don’t know much, it hasn’t really occurred to me until this thread that overexplaining is a habit, or something people do to help themselves go over or process information. So I, like you, should probably try not to take it personally. But it is tough, when you’re sure at least some of the people who do this *do* think you’re a little girl who knows nothing, and needs extra help learning things.

    Also, this is for the people who do have a habit of over-explaining even to intelligent people: we’re going to try not to take it personally, but it would also be awesome if you could also learn something from this thread, and help meet us in the middle – people don’t like having things over-explained to them. You now know that it sounds condescending. Could you maybe try to stop? Or at least preface the over-explaining with “you may know this already, please bear with me, going over it out loud helps me too.”

    1. INFJ*

      I enjoyed reading your thoughtful perspective on this. I can’t help but wonder, would the over explainers know they are over explaining? Since none of us can be inside another person’s head and know what they know, I imagine it could be difficult to strike a balance. I like the idea of prefacing common/general information with “you may know this already…”, but on the other hand, I have been on the receiving end of that statement when I DIDN’T already know what the person was telling me, and that didn’t make me feel any smarter either!

      So I think the explainer has responsibility to keep it as much to the point as possible, and the person receiving the information has responsibility to accept that it’s not an insult to their intelligence if they are told something obvious that they already know.

      1. Allison*

        I guess that’s a good point. Maybe they could ask themselves “if this person has been in ___ for X number of years, is it likely they already know this?” or they could ask “are you familiar with X?” or say “stop me if this is old news to you.”

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          Or the person getting the feedback could just state, “thanks for the feedback, I know _____ is important to include, that is why I was trying to include it.”

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        I don’t know about other overexplainers, but my spouse is an overexplainer who can at times sound very patronizing. I’ve mentioned this to him on several occasions, but his response is essentially, “I’m not intending to be patronizing, so there’s nothing I need to change.”

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I wonder if my partner has a 2nd family. As you are describing him quite accurately. Sometimes above sentence is followed by “and you know I am this way, so I don’t know why you get so upset.”

    2. Amber Rose*

      There’s no way of ever knowing how much explaining passes the “over” mark though. Sometimes an explanation I think is pretty normal is brushed off with a frustrated “I got it” and sometimes it’s met with a frustrated “but then how do I do X and Y and…”

      Also I basically never notice when I’m thinking out loud. I have tried. I don’t know if there’s a trick to it or what but I don’t realize it unless someone calls me on it. I once (long, long ago) apparently spent an entire week narrating myself because I was thinking about something I was writing. I had no idea. When I realized it though, I was pretty embarrassed.

    3. Chinook*

      “Also, this is for the people who do have a habit of over-explaining even to intelligent people: we’re going to try not to take it personally, but it would also be awesome if you could also learn something from this thread, and help meet us in the middle – people don’t like having things over-explained to them. You now know that it sounds condescending. Could you maybe try to stop?”

      I was one of those people and was ever so grateful that my Awesome Boss Jon actually took me aside and explained it to me in a very sympathetic way. He recognized what I was doing was because of my teaching background, he said, because his mother was a teacher and did the exact same thing, and recognized that this was a remnant from another life, not a sign of my attitude towards my colleagues.

      He also was able to give me specific examples of what I was doing that needed to stop and I hope I took them to heart. I know that I still slip into “teacher mode” if I am not careful (and I have learned to “code switch” when dealing with new co-op students and anyone with English grammar questions) but I am forever grateful that someone pointed this out to me in a kind way.

      1. Chinook*

        I should add that I have a couple of ESL colleagues who come to me with the grammar and vocabulary questions; I don’t interrupt meetings with an in-depth parsing of a sentence. My reward is being able to have discussions that include explaining that a “hops farm” does not grow bunnies (complete with charades).

  33. mamashark*

    OP 1 – I find two different areas where I over-explain processes to employees. First is when it’s a new employee and I want them to know some of the background for why we do something, not just what/how we do it. I’m hoping to foster the ability to make judgment calls further down the line by increasing their understanding of the whole picture. Second, though, is when I’m talking but not getting any feedback for whether my employee is understanding what I’m saying, and that’s when I most often tend to get too detailed. Are you maybe giving her poker face? It might help to be sure that you’re giving her the conversational feedback that lets her know the message is received and absorbed.

    1. Amey*

      Yep, I agree with this. I do exactly the same thing – giving a newish employee context (which I know they need, but they may not think so at the time) or continuing to explain because I’m not getting any feedback that suggests I’m getting through. But both of those things can easily go overboard and this is a reminder to be more wary of that – and to trust people when they say they’ve got it even if you don’t feel sure.

  34. Jessesgirl72*

    I do sometimes overexplain myself, but I try to keep it brief. It’s not always clear what the person does already know and I find that a short “why” helps people remember it for the future.

    It may just be a bad habit from dealing with someone who isn’t stupid, but does have some pretty large and unexpected gaps. Just like you can get bad habits from toxic bosses, you can get bad habits from toxic or less-than-ideal reports.

  35. Q*

    In my workplace, anything in the refrigerator is off limits. Anything left unattended on the counter or table is up for grabs. We did have an incident once where two people both brought in Lean Cuisines and then one person cooked and ate the wrong one. Once we figured out what happened we all had a good laugh about it. It sucks the OP got fired over this. The person who brought the juice should have said, hey, that was mine. And the OP should have say, hey my bad. Here’s some money to go buy a new one.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      He didn’t get fired- he was let go at the end of the season.

      And since he was asked to sign a “final warning” notice, normally this would mean there were issues with him leading up to this.

      1. Andrew*

        The final warning meant that I (OP4) could not be hired or rehired no matter how hard I work.

        1. Antimony*

          Right, because your response to this issue was unreasonable and meant they did not want to have to work with you.

          It’s not always just about the quality of your work, it’s also what you are like to work with. And your behavior and attitude over this incident makes you undesirable in that regard. This is what you seem to not get.

  36. Amber Rose*

    OP1: People doing this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It makes me feel like I’ve been robbed of my decision making. And honestly, some people seriously do this deliberately in order to mess with others. I’ve met them.

    It’s also something I’m guilty of doing accidentally. I over explain, or I talk out loud to myself in a way that looks like I’m explaining something when I’m just working through some thought.

    It would be a different matter if this was paired with a review where you were told that you weren’t making enough decisions for yourself. Since that isn’t the case, this is really one of those things where you need to take a deep breath and accept it as a weird quirk.

    1. Orlando*

      I don’t know why no one has mentioned the “my sandwich” episode from “Friends” yet.

        1. Orlando*

          I was so careful, and searched for “friends” and “sandwich”. :D

          But yeah, reference copyright belongs to Creag an Tuire.

    2. Allison*

      Someone should really make a reusable “paper” bag with “dead dove: do not eat” written on it, for fans of the show!

  37. Darth Brooks*

    My first week in my current job, someone removed my name from my new coffee creamer in the fridge, opened it, and helped themselves. I felt violated and extremely angry. If I’d found out the thief felt the way the OP here felt about taking that juice, I’d be even more angry. Don’t take people’s stuff. You know it’s not yours. Buy your own juice if it’s that easy for you.

    1. WPH*

      This. I get the people saying “it’s just X.” But if it’s “just” X and you know it’s not yours do without it. You know it’s not yours is the only thing that matters.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I think this is disingenuous though – actions don’t occur in a vacuum devoid of context. There is no reason to default to “do without it” as opposed to the opposite if you genuinely believe that somebody left it to be free for the taking.
        Say that you are really hungry and someone left a pizza out in the lobby which is totally abandoned and a couple slices are missing and there is a thing of paper plates next to it. It’s more likely it was left over and someone put it out than that a small group of individuals were having an exclusive pizza party and all rushed away to watch a meteor or something, and were definitely coming back for their pizza despite having been outside staring at the sky for 15 minutes. We have a lot of students where I work who are food insecure and we try to leave leftover food out for them as much as possible. It would suck if everyone had to err on the side of “it’s just pizza, I’ll do without it” when the pizza would have really helped. That is clearly not the case in this situation – I’m not trying to speculate about motivations in this situation or in office situations – but using it as an example to try to demonstrate that there is no logical reason to follow “don’t take anything without incontrovertible proof that it is free for the taking” as a blanket rule. You can follow a lower standards blanket rule, like just beyond reasonable doubt. Even in the absence of incontrovertible proof (a “free to take” note on the juice) OP thought beyond reasonable doubt the juice was free to the taking. He thought wrong, but it wasn’t unreasonable. In my view.

        1. MegaAnon*

          But this instance isn’t about food insecurity. He wanted the juice. He took the juice. He knew the juice did not belong to him.
          He never mentioned that he was really thirsty because if he was, water would have done. He wanted the juice. He clearly did not know the food culture of the office. Believing and knowing are two different things and one will get you not rehired.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I tried to be very explicit about the fact that I wasn’t suggesting food insecurity as a possible condition that related to the LW#4 scenario.

            Rather I was using it as an example of it being a needlessly strict standard of proof (many people are saying that you should never assume something is free unless it has a sign on it, no matter how logical it might be from the context that it was in fact free).

            I think it’s fine to take the juice in the scenario as OP described just because you want it. I think the person who left juice that was really important to them in the breakroom unattended is more in the wrong than OP for taking it. It is different from if it were a wallet you found on your chair at the movie theater or a pair of sunglasses you found at the CVS counter or something. Those situations are not reasonable or logical situations for someone to have left something to be taken freely, so it is illogical, and wrong, to assume it’s abandoned and take it. The context matters a lot. Food items left in a communal breakroom ARE logical situations for someone to have left something to be taken freely.

            Apparently despite its being a reasonable practice, this custom does not happened to be practiced in OP’s office, so it was a mistake. I’m not saying it wasn’t a mistake, I’m saying that it is really not black and white theft like so many people seem to be saying.

            1. tigerStripes*

              I really don’t think the person who left the juice was more in the wrong than the person who took the juice.

            2. Antimony*

              So how much food and drink have you stolen from colleagues, to be so invested in defending this behavior?

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                I’ve never worked anywhere where there has been a problem with people taking other people’s food. Most of the places I’ve worked have had extra food lying around constantly in communal areas (like on the break room table). It’s not a really uncommon custom. Other people have said as much elsewhere on this post.

                I just find many people’s attitudes on this to be disproportionately self-righteous and absurd. If you run crying to HR when someone accidentally takes your juice they didn’t know was yours, you probably need some more excitement in your life.

        2. Gilmore67*

          “ there is no logical reason to follow “don’t take anything without incontrovertible proof that it is free for the taking” as a blanket rule.

          There is proof…. it is not yours. You did not buy it. You already know that. Why would this be unreasonable for someone to understand? ” Hmmm that juice looks good, I think I will take it. I know I didn’t buy it but I will just assume I can just take it” I mean really? That makes sense to you and you support that?

          You can then make that statement for anything. “ I needed a pen so I took one off Wilma’s desk. I didn’t know I couldn’t take it.”

          I am seriously confused by your post. Not to be mean I really don’t get your logic.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Can you explain a little more specifically what you are confused about? I was referring to the difference between incontrovertible proof and reasonable belief. I think reasonable belief is sufficient to act and in my opinion this situation met reasonable belief. It is not unreasonable that a sealed food item left unattended in a communal breakroom area where other communally used items like newspapers are typically left, would be deliberately abandoned and free for the taking. It’s reasonable.

            Your post doesn’t make sense to me either. We are not talking about proof of whether or not someone else originally bought the item (obviously someone else did originally buy or possess it), we are taking about proof that the juice wasn’t deliberately abandoned (there is none).

            When I said “there is no logical reason to follow ‘don’t take anything without incontrovertible proof that it is free for the taking’ as a blanket rule,” I was emphasizing the difference between incontrovertible proof and reasonable logical assumption. I think the latter is sufficient and that the juice being abandoned was a reasonable logical assumption.

            Also, this has absolutely nothing to do with taking other objects originally owned by someone else in other contexts. It just has to do with seemingly abandoned food left in communal break room locations. So no you can’t “then make that statement for anything.”

            1. Gilmore67*

              This whole situation is not that hard….. you do not assume anything about anything that does not belong to you. I am sure you are a nice person but you are making this too hard.

              If it is not yours don’t take it. If it is not yours do not take it. There is no assuming anything in this situation. The item doesn’t belong to you. Plain and simple. You do not launch into any sort of ” debate ” with the statements you are making about “incontrovertible proof and reasonable logical assumption.” He flat out stole it. If it is not yours it is none of your business.

              The taker of the item has NO right to assume anything. The taker has NO right to assume why the item is there and then to decide what they are allowed to do with said item. The taker had no proof it was for him to take.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                He did not “flat out steal it.” Your generalizations apply to the world at large in most situations. This was a situation where a person made a mistake by assuming that food left in a communal office break room was up for grabs. He didn’t steal it, he assumed in good faith it had been left there as free food for anyone who wanted it. This is a common practice in many offices and he simply made a mistake by not realizing his office didn’t follow this custom. If you look around on the Ask a Manager site, there are countless posts and comments from people complaining that their office constantly has free food lying around! You can see for yourself by looking at the site how normal it is. I appreciate that your very basic rule of if it’s not yours, don’t take it applies to most situations in the world but this situation is very context based.

                1. tigerStripes*

                  If he thought it was free for the taking, why didn’t he apologize and offer to pay for it when he found out it wasn’t? Most people would be mortified. He seems to think he did the right thing.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  I am trying to work this through. I grew up around “don’t take it if it’s not yours”.
                  I think the hard line is for purposes of clarity. If a person wants to keep themselves out of hot water, or wants to keep their actions transparent to all, this rule will help them to get there.
                  Indeed violating that hard line rule, seems to have caused some problems for OP.

                  The hurdle I am having trouble with is the good faith part. If a person makes a sincere mistake then it is very easy to apologize and make good. But that is not what happens next here.

                  Workplaces vary widely. At a new job it’s best to ask before jumping in to anything.

                3. Elizabeth H.*

                  I don’t understand why people are assuming that he didn’t try to, or want to, apologize and offer to pay for it. He explicitly said “I admitted to taking the juice on the belief it was abandoned and I stated that if the owner had confronted me instead of HR, I would have done what I could to correct the situation.” What else would this mean but apologizing and replacing the juice? He also said he felt “the owner should have contacted me first if this juice was important to them.”

                  I really cannot see why anyone thinks it’s reasonable that, if you accidentally left a bottle of juice in the communal office break room table and someone took it by mistake, and you found out who took it (probably because you saw the guy blithely drinking the bottle of juice, imagining he had done nothing wrong, as opposed to skulking around in the shadows gleefully snickering over his ill-gotten gains) you would go to HR and accuse this person of grand larceny, rather than just go to the person and say “Hey dude, that was my juice, I left it there by mistake and intended to come back for it. Do you mind buying me another one or paying me back for it?”

                4. AMPG*

                  Because his own recounting did NOT include an offer to replace the juice, only a defense that, IF the owner had contacted him directly (instead of going to HR), he would’ve tried to make it right. But he clearly feels that the way the complaint unfolded somehow absolves him of wrongdoing.

                  Most of the comments seem to indicate that going to HR may have been an unnecessary escalation, but the OP’s own words make it pretty clear that he’s looking for ways not to accept his own role in this, and it’s not that much of a leap to suspect that he might act this way in other situations at work, which is why the juice’s owner could have felt that a complaint to HR was the way to go.

                5. Elizabeth H.*

                  I don’t see the difference between “an offer to replace the juice” and a statement that “IF the owner had contacted him directly (instead of going to HR), he would’ve tried to make it right.”

                  It didn’t strike me that he felt that the way that the complaint unfolded absolved him of wrongdoing. Rather that the “situation” had progressed to the point where it wasn’t an option to replace the juice because he was already being treated as if he had deliberately stolen it, without the opportunity to replace or pay back the juice abandoner.

                  It didn’t strike me that the OP is “looking for ways not to accept his own role in this.” It seems to me instead that the OP believes he should not have been written up for theft, and is looking for ways to demonstrate this is true. I agree with him that it wasn’t theft and shouldn’t have been written up as theft

                  Regardless of whether or not the juice abandoner or other employees have other issues or problems working with OP, and regardless of whether or not these hypothetical issues or problems are well justified (we don’t know, there might be other well justified issues), it seems clear to me that he should not have been written up for taking the juice because it was an accident. If it was a final warning, like if we pretend that he had three writeups already and the 4th writeup is the final warning, he should still have three writeups, not this fourth juice writeup.

        3. ceiswyn*

          “Say that you are really hungry and someone left a pizza out in the lobby which is totally abandoned and a couple slices are missing and there is a thing of paper plates next to it. It’s more likely it was left over and someone put it out than that a small group of individuals were having an exclusive pizza party and all rushed away to watch a meteor or something, and were definitely coming back for their pizza despite having been outside staring at the sky for 15 minutes.”

          However, the probability that the pizza was acquired by and for a small group of individuals who just happen not to be here at the moment is not actually a small one! It is, in fact, quite plausible. It would be ridiculous for me to assume that it is DEFINITELY not the case and take a slice of pizza that I know does not belong to me.

          What I might do is ask anyone passing if the pizza is generally available. If I’m really food-insecure and hungry I might go back into the office and ask if anyone knows anything about the pizza. What I won’t do is take a slice of a pizza that isn’t mine and then have a go at the pizza’s owner when I’m called on it, because that would be bizarre.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Also, “say you’re really hungry” or “say you’re really thirsty” should be immaterial in whether any unguarded food or drink you come across are yours for the taking.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            Have you ever wandered away from a pizza that you really wanted in a public area that college students hang out in?

  38. Bea*

    I feel for your struggle with finding an Office Manager position that suites you given how much crud is dumped under that title now. I’m blessed to be a full cycle bookkeeper as well so that weeds out a lot of positions where they want a glorified front desk position without using the term receptionist.

    Bring up the payscale when working with recruiters or outside sources. You should be making more doing the office management youre looking for, that’s a huge flag right there. Like any posting for a bookkeeping job that is at a $13 hourly wage, I know that isn’t going up be anywhere near my style of gig at this stage in my career.

    Sometimes you won’t weed out that kind of thing in the preliminary stages though. I’m just now settling into life not being the first one on the phone, despite my position in each company being high and respected.

  39. Orlando*

    #3 I remember back in university, for my thesis, I needed to collaborate with another student. He was the most mild-mannered, easy to get along with person you could find. One day, I made a comment about how he looked out of sorts. He denied it. A bit later, I repeated my comment in front of other people (because I was a little brat). He snapped at me, which was something I had never seen him do before.

    Back then I dug my heels and became defensive (like I said, brat), but, today, I’d apologise profusely. I don’t have any useful input. I just wanted to validate your frustration and send you my sympathy. I understand. Someone making assumptions about your mood is really really annoying. In my case, I was way out of line, and the guy was a peer. With a subordinate it must be worse.

  40. Ruthie*

    OP#1, I end up training a lot of my colleagues on how to assemble teapots. One of the things I quickly learned is that things that seem obvious to me aren’t as obvious to other people, so I no longer assume what other teapot makers know. I end up walking everyone through the same process. That means that sometimes I tell people that the lid needs to go on top of the kettle and they’re like, “Well duh!” And sometimes they’re like, “Oh that’s how you do it? I had no idea?!” Consider that others haven’t been as quick as you and rather than being insulted (though I completely understand why you’d think that), give yourself a pat on the back for being ahead of the curve!

  41. Janelle*

    LW1: My boss does this. “Write Bob an email, so open your email, start a new one, type in…” I want to strangle him every time. It is RIDICULOUS. I have learned however that this is due to how HE is thinking. HE needs that clarification in his head to explain it. I only realized this after I found out his daughter had a type of learning disorder and witnessing her have to process the same way.

    That being said it still drives me ABSOLUTELY NUTS! I feel like he must think I am a pure idiot. I mean the man even tells me to sign my name on an email. Ya thanks Captain Obvious. I am looking for new employment due in part to this as we work side by side all day and it is straining my ability to do my work without, ya know, going to prison. (there are other reasons as well but this is a big one)

    1. Hana*

      High-five of commiseration. Two years in and my more senior coworker still walks me through setting up a word document in our usual format. I had a ‘duh’ tab running every time he was Captain Obvious – ended up happening too often to keep track of!

      I knew when it was time to leave when I found myself at the same point you’re at. Best of luck to you in finding new employment! I have just a bit of time to go and I already feel so relieved.

  42. Statler von Waldorf*

    #4 – I have a feeling I’m way off from the consensus on this one. Unless the LW was a diabetic who was in urgent need of sugar, I would have fired him on the spot for theft instead of waiting three weeks for the season to end. Maybe, and I do mean maybe, if he had immediately expressed regret, offered to re-imburse, AND cited a major misunderstanding of office norms, I would have written him up instead. Maybe.

    I don’t tolerate thieves. Not even a little bit.

    1. JoJo*

      I’m with you. Stealing food is no different from stealing money. The LW knew damn well that it wasn’t his property and there’s no excuse for taking it.

  43. Jaybeetee*

    I will say, in whatever fairness to OP4, that at many jobs I’ve worked at, food left on the breakroom table is considered communal. But if it were me, and just a single juice sitting there, I probably would have left it alone.

    I did have an incident when I was younger though, when someone had brought in cupcakes. Later on I was back in the breakroom, saw there was one left, and grabbed it. Next day, I found out that one was being saved for one of the volunteers who hadn’t been in the day before (older retired guy), and he was rather put out because I guess the manager had even emailed him that there was a cupcake waiting for him! I honestly had had no idea, I bought him two new cupcakes as soon as I had the chance, and even then it became an office joke for the rest of the time I worked there. To this day, even if I know the food is communal, I never take the last of anything!

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      That’s pretty funny – and I think it’s absurd to be put out about that, if the “saved” cupcake was left on the plate exactly like when there were multiple cupcakes that were put there collectively for the group, as opposed to moved to a different location or even left there but set onto a napkin with the guy’s name written on it or anything. Are you just supposed to know that the last remaining one is supposed to be left for that guy who wasn’t in the previous day, as if it is Elijah’s cupcake or something?

  44. Erin W*

    OP2 – I was the constantly called the “office manager” in my previous role (primarily by those who had been with the company for a long time). I really did not like that title, as my main job was to handle human resources. I started referring to my position as the “firm administrator”. It seemed to help rid the position of the “office manager” catch-all duties and stereotypes….sometimes.

  45. Katie Fay*

    4. At the company I currently work for (and the one previous, and the one previous), the communal lunch tables are also where we put items for sharing (home-baked goodies, half-eaten birthday cake, leftovers from lunch meetings, unopened drinks left over from lunch meetings). These are left out in the open with the assumption that someone will come along and help themselves. Food in the refrigerator, whether labeled or not, is assumed to have an owner and isn’t randomly appropriated.

    So, leaving food out where I come from isn’t stealing.

    LW’s company is kinda nuts.

    1. neeko*

      Right but that is the culture at your job and everyone knows the rules. You didn’t just walk in and decide that those were the way things worked. It’s really not that uncommon to have offices that aren’t free-for-alls when it comes to unaccompanied food. What if the person was in the bathroom and didn’t want to take it with them? I do think going to HR was an exteme step.

    2. tigerStripes*

      I’m confused. Do you think LW’s company is kinda nuts because they have a different policy than your workplace? Any number of people have commented on their policies about food left out, and this is not the only company that has this policy. Are the other companies nuts too?

  46. Roker Moose*

    Re: #1 I have a co-worker slightly senior to me who does the same thing. It drives me crackers, frankly, but deep down I don’t think she means it to be as condescending as I interpret it.

  47. SleepyMel*

    OP #3- you just need to get some sunglasses , and the next time he asks if you’re ok, you say “I’m more than ok, I’m *awesome*” while slowly putting on the shades…

    1. Jeff #3*

      HA! I love it. It actually might be a good way to get my point across using humor and not shutting him down. He is a delicate flower……..

  48. Robin Gottlieb*

    Hi All,
    I’m the Office Manager from question #2 and want to thank everyone for the helpful replies. I decided to change my resume to Office Operations Manager to more accurately specify what I do. Now I just need to find a company looking for an Office Operations Manager. Thanks again!

  49. Imaginary Number*

    For OP #4: If it had been my workplace, taking the juice would have been a totally reasonable mistake. Food left over from work events in always left in break rooms and conference rooms. Sometimes that involves trays of food, but often it’s just one or two cans of pop or bottles of juice (if it was breakfast.) A lone bottle of juice in any communal area (other than the fridge) would have been assumed to be from that.

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