coworker steals people’s snacks, a sales rep who rants on social media, and more

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

1. Coworker steals people’s snacks

I have a coworker, Popcorn Patty, who likes to steal large bags of pre-popped popcorn from the communal area of the office and sequester them in her office so no one else can eat them. She has even rummaged in people’s desks to steal popcorn. This is not communal popcorn. This is people’s personal popcorn. We are too small to have HR and she is the vice president of the company. She can afford it and often brags about how she can get this popcorn on her own.

She also takes people’s chocolate and other opened snacks. Last year, during the pandemic, she went into my desk and stole a half-eaten chocolate bar that had been in my mouth. It sounds silly but I was excited to eat the rest of it.

I am junior to her and is not necessarily my place to speak to her about stealing from other people, but it irks me. Any way I bring this up to her will make her defensive and she will treat me like I am an absolute jerk. I am prepared for the wounded animal act. But I am not certain how to bring it up in a way that is above reproach. How do I stop this popcorn thief in her tracks?

In theory, no one should need any particular standing to tell a colleague to stop stealing people’s food, but your office politics might mean it would be more effective coming from someone more senior, especially since she (a) seems not to care what anyone thinks and (b) reacts to criticism like a jerk. Is there someone else who can approach her — a manager, an admin who’s in charge of communal spaces, or someone who’s had success being blunt with her in the past? If not, can a bunch of you approach her together and tell her to knock it off?

That said, I’ve learned from writing this column that people who steal others’ food so flagrantly (she doesn’t even try to hide it!) are remarkably immune to complaints about it, so you might need to look into solutions that make the thefts harder for her logistically. If she were just stealing snacks from communal spaces, I’d suggest no longer keeping them there — but she’s going into your desks to take food! You could try the locking lunchbox solution that this person had to resort to, or even a locked snack cabinet that someone on your team keeps the key to.

2. Should I tell a sales rep her social media rants lost my business?

I’m a buyer with my own company and have a supplier sales rep who I’ve always really enjoyed working with. We go back over 10 years professionally. She’s always been vivacious, fun loving and very extroverted, someone you could always count on for laughs and good times. However, unfortunately she has gone far down the rabbit hole and over the last two years her social media has become full of racist, hate-filled, and paranoid, ignorant rants. Honestly, I’m concerned about how much her page has changed. I wait any day for her to be the next viral Karen. Professionally, I now have zero desire to work with her or support any of her products based on how ugly she has become.

I don’t need her products but do like them and don’t want to stop buying them but will stop as long as she is the rep. I don’t have regular contact with her professionally, so it’s not something that must be addressed but I do feel I should speak up based on my personal and professional values. (She’s more of a brand supplier rep then direct sales rep.) Should I inform her company why I will no longer carry their products and/or have a talk with her or just ghost it and figure she will sink herself eventually?

Inform her company. I doubt you’ll get anywhere by approaching her directly (people who go down this particular rabbit hole are notoriously difficult to get through to unless you can invest real time in working through it with them), but her company should know that they’re losing your business because their rep is spewing racism and hatred online.

3. My mentor just tells me what to do

Within the last six months, my manager recommended I link up with a coworker who is one level above me (we do the same job and have the same boss, she just has more time under her belt) to act as a mentor to me. She’d never done it before and I’d never had one before, so I expected some bumps as we figured it out.

The problem I’m encountering is that she simply tells me what I should do, rather than discussing, coaching, or asking questions. My manager knows this is happening and said it’s a common issue with new mentors, but didn’t offer much beyond that. The thing is, it’s triggering for me because my mother will do the same thing. She’ll offer guidance or advice on things that I know perfectly well to do for myself (think, paying bills on time or locking doors behind you, basic stuff). My mentor does the work equivalent of this, and I am at a loss how to ask her to stop. My impulse is to let out a bratty “I KNOW” but of course I would never do that. She tends to explain things to me that I am already aware of, as I’ve been with our company for two years and have been doing the work itself for over five, unfortunately she often advises me as if I’m brand new to all of it. As a result, I cancel our weekly meetings often, sometimes due to lack of anything new to report or say and other times due to not wanting to simply be told what to do.

What is a good way to let my mentor know that I value her experience and expertise, but we need to sort of level-up our communication styles?

You could say, “What would be most helpful to me from a mentorship would be coaching — not you just telling me what I should do, but talking things through with me and helping me navigate problems beyond just ‘do X or Y.’ Is that something you’d be up for instead?” You can also try bringing her specific issues you’re grappling with and saying right from the start, “I’m not asking you to tell me what to do, but I’d like to talk through some different options and hear your perspective on each of them” (or whatever would be helpful to you).

Also, since your manager suggested this mentorship and appears to know there are problems with it, ideally she’d give your coworker some coaching. So if the above doesn’t work, you could talk to your boss again and ask if she could try guiding your coworker on how to mentor more effectively. If that doesn’t work, I think you can tell your boss you’re not finding the meetings helpful because of your colleague’s style but you appreciated the opportunity to try it out.

4. I gave a salary range — but then I saw the benefits

I recently applied for a job that I am highly qualified for and asked for a salary of $80-90,000. I currently make $75,000, which is well below the current market value of my role. I was officially offered the job at $80,000 but upon reviewing their benefits package, I’d be losing about $15,000 in benefits if I switched, essentially taking a pay cut.

I declined the offer and they asked if I would reconsider if they went up a little on salary. I told them that after reviewing the benefits, I’d really need $95,000 to justify the move. This was out of their budget and they declined. I feel like the a-hole for countering outside my originally requested range, but that was before knowing their benefits. Am I the jerk? Is it rude to ask for detailed benefits sooner in the interview process?

Nope, you didn’t do anything wrong. I mean, if your current benefits are truly extraordinary and you know they’re unlikely to be matched somewhere else, you’d want to account for that in the desired salary range you give initially. But assuming that’s not the case, you had no way of knowing how this employer’s benefits would compare to your current ones. If they wanted to be sure you were factoring that in, they should have given you at least a high-level write-up of what they offer earlier in the process.

But this kind of thing happens and employers generally get it. They might learn to discuss benefits earlier in their hiring process as a result, which would be a good thing — but no one sounds like they were a jerk here.

5. Professional development courses after leaving a job

My employer recently approved and paid for me to take two expensive professional development courses that I have been hoping to take for a while and would be quite helpful in my career. The payment has already been made and I am registered for the courses using my work email. However, a job opportunity with a different organization has recently come up that I cannot turn down … and would start before these courses begin. Can I leave my current job and still take the courses since the payment has already been made?

Ethically, you should ask your current employer. They might prefer to try to get a refund or to transfer the registration to someone else. If neither of those are possible, they might tell you to go ahead and keep the courses if you’d like. But because it’s their money, it should be their call.

{ 631 comments… read them below }

  1. AnotherSarah*

    It doesn’t sound like the employer LW4 declined is a jerk–they just couldn’t meet the request….

    1. PollyQ*

      Kind of jerky to have sub-par benefits, if that’s the case, although it’s possible LW4’s current employer has fantastic ones.

      1. Panny Fack*

        If OP4’s original benefits are worth $15k, most companies’ packages would seem to be sub-par in comparison, even if they’re not objectively sub-par.

      2. LJ*

        I knew I currently had great benefits but I honestly thought this company would be comparable. The new company is about the same size and has the same net worth. The new company is also almost just as old as my current company.

        For context: The new company was offering 12 days vacation, I currently receive 19. They offer no bonus or pension, which I currently receive. They offer 4 weeks maternity leave, I currently receive 16+ weeks (no plans to have kids yet but one day). Health/dental/life would be an extra $2300 a year at the new company. I would lose 1% 401k match at the new company. No employer healthcare contributions, I currently receive $2700 a year into my HSA from my current employer.

        Was I just blissfully unaware of how good I have it?

        1. Allypopx*

          Honestly – yes. That’s a fantastic benefits package. It doesn’t sound like the new place has *bad* benefits, rather they’re so-so. Given where you’re coming from I’d recommend asking about benefits as soon as the compensation conversation is on the table. It’s gonna vary my company, and their benefits aren’t fantastic (4 weeks maternity jumps out at me) but they aren’t abysmal either.

          1. CleverGirl*

            Most places in the US offer zero paid maternity leave, so “only” getting 4 weeks wouldn’t necessarily jump out at me as “bad”. Only in comparison to 16+ weeks, which frankly is amazing (although SHOULD be standard).

            All of those benefits listed at the current job are far above and beyond what is standard, so you couldn’t really expect to see benefits at the same level at every place you apply. But you should adjust your asking salary to take that into account.

            1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              My state requires 12 weeks of partially-paid maternity leave, and a lot of companies go over that to 16, since “we are doing the bare legal minimum” is a tough sell when recruiting.

              It really depends on the industry. I have worked in three sectors, now, where those benefits are not “far above and beyond, ” but actually pretty standard. A typical package will be a 401k match up to usually 3%, 90% of medical premiums subsidized (less for dependents) for a solid low/no deductible plan, small subsidies for dental and vision, and 15 days vacation in the first year.

              That’s in professional services, where you live and die by the quality of your talent. It’s generally salary, not benefits, that decides whether you retain talent or recruit successfully, but that level of benefits is considered something of a floor. If a company offered substantially less, you would wonder about their viability or how they treated their people.

              1. No Longer Looking*

                Interesting – It’s been rather awhile since I saw a covered low-deductible plan. HDHPs with HSAs are becoming more the norm in my industry.

                1. Wittyrepartee*

                  I have a completely covered low deductible plan. It can be a little annoying to find doctors who take my insurance, but I also pay no extra to add dependents to my policy.
                  Government for what it’s worth.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            If you’re in the US, 16 weeks maternity leave and a pension is definitely not something you would expect to find most places. Bonuses are more common (and if they aren’t then you should certainly expect them to make up for it in salary).

            I will say for the PTO it’s often pretty easy to just say “I currently get 19 days of PTO, can you guys match that.” That was the only thing I negotiated at my previous job.

          3. Momma Bear*

            I agree. 16 weeks of maternity leave is amazing at most US companies. Is that fully paid? A lot of companies only offer a few weeks of short term disability and then up to 12 weeks FMLA leave unpaid. 16 paid weeks would be a huge benefit in part because that sets the expectation for new parents to have more than just a few weeks off after a new addition and potentially a respectable work/life balance.

            I might personally be willing to wiggle on the PTO if it was decent, had room to grow, or if they’d give me a week upfront (like I got when I took this job).

            A pension is really hard to find these days. What would you want in a 401K or stock options instead?

            All that said, it matters why you are looking. I left an on paper decent job with a horrible manager. There’s no amount of money that would have kept me there. If you are really stick a fork in it done, consider what you’d compromise on and move on from there. What’s your top three?

            1. LJ*

              Yes fully paid maternity! I feel like I’d be willing to give up the pension for the right salary increase but I just didn’t realize how much I “made” in benefits until this happened. So I’ll be more prepared next time. I love my job but there is no room for growth or advancement.

          4. Mid*

            And I get 3 weeks PTO, unlimited sick leave, 10% contribution to my IRA (no matching required, I just get that amount automatically), 12 weeks fully paid maternity leave plus 12 weeks at partial pay, and fully paid health insurance, as an entry level employee at my firm. So OP’s original benefits seem low to me.

        2. Nancy*

          Did you benefits increase based in length of time at current company, for example number of vacation days? If so, that is also something to take into consideration and ask potential employers about. You can also find a lot of benefits info online, either the company website or sites like glassdoor. Although review sites may not always be accurate, they can give a sense of what to expect.

          1. twocents*

            That’s what I was wondering as well. I have a lot of paid vacation time but I’ve also been at the company for 10 plus years. I wouldn’t expect my first year at a new company to provide the same level of benefits. I’d consider looking at what would a first-year at your company get vs what does a first year get at the new company and what does the scale up look like there?

            1. No Longer Looking*

              I don’t think it is unreasonable to negotiate for more than the typical starting PTO plan – if you are being recruited based at all on your years of experience, you should be compensated for your years of experience, at least as of year 2 at the company (first year they could reasonably expect butt-in-seat time until you get a good comfort level with the position).

              Companies are loathe to make those exceptions, but I contend that they are suffering from a terrible cultural habit of not properly recognizing and rewarding talent.

        3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Hi LJ. Your current company has an AMAZING benefits package. As I went from a huge corporation (fantastic benefits) to small company (decent benefits) to start-up (benefits? what are benefits?), I learned there is a huge variation in non-salary compensation.

          You handled this well. Going forward, I recommend you think in terms of total compensation, not just salary. When discussing salary with potential employers, you can always say “depending on your benefit package”.

        4. Observer*

          Was I just blissfully unaware of how good I have it?

          Yes. Your benefits package is definitely better than most. You absolutely need to look at benefits earlier in the game or ask for a higher salary. The company you turned down in a bit on the low side, but even better places are unlikely to have a package as good as what you have.

          1. R*

            I think it depends on the field. That benefits package is comparable to mine (although OP has slightly more vacation) and I’m also American, and have only been in my job for 2 years (vacation goes up at my firm the longer you stay)

        5. Paris Geller*

          Yeah, for the US, that is a fantastic benefit package. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else.

        6. Dagny*

          That’s a GREAT benefits package and it’s why you are “underpaid” for your role. The HSA is a tax-free, tax-free growth investment vehicle; you can’t make up for that with a higher salary. Four weeks of vacation (plus I assume, sick days) is great.

          1. No Longer Looking*

            As soon as I left my last company, my HSA imposed a monthly fee and started effectively stealing my HSA money. I’d hardly consider that an investment vehicle.

        7. SpaceySteph*

          Yeah these are really good benefits for the US. Pensions are becoming rarer by the minute, and 16 weeks of paid (?) maternity is extremely good (for contrast, I get 1 week paid family leave, 6 weeks short term disability for birth parent only, and the rest unpaid/using existing PTO)
          However if you don’t have any current timeline to have kids, I am not sure how much stock I would put in that particular benefit– a lot could change by then with this company, laws, or you might move jobs again.

        8. Cj*

          I wouldn’t assume that there will be a pension or bonus, and would include what you are currently getting when calculating a salary range for a company you am interviewing with. You can always say your required range includes whatever pension/bonus they may have.

        9. Koalafied*

          In the U.S. a pension is almost unheard-of these days outside of civil service, so that’s definitely something you’re unlikely to see elsewhere if you’re in the U.S.

          The 1% match on 401k is pretty low for a company that offers a match – 3-5% is a more typical range – but it’s probably an “average” benefit when you factor in how many companies don’t offer one at all. And I’m guessing the fact that you get a pension is why it’s on the low side, because they’re paying into your pension plan instead of a 401k.

          Bonuses are super industry-dependent and there’s definitely some industries where they’re expected and some where it would be nice to get one but totally normal not to.

          The mat leave you get is definitely very generous.

          The healthcare benefit is harder to pin down. The extra premium deductions could be the prospective employer cost-sharing less on comparable premiums, or could be that the existing employer gets much better rates so doesn’t have to put in as much to keep your costs low. If the extra $2300 a year is because your share would have gone from $10 per paycheck to $100 per paycheck, then yes, $100 per paycheck is a pretty decent/typical cost share and anything less than <$50/paycheck for all 3 coverages is an above-average benefit. If the extra $2300/year is because your share would have gone from $100 to $200 per paycheck, then your current benefit is decent and the prospective one would be on the low end.

          1. Cj*

            I understood the OP to mean not that they are going from a 1% 401(k) match to nothing, but that the company they interviewed with has a match that is 1% lower than what they are currently getting. i.e. current company has 4% match, other company has 3% match.

            1. Koalafied*

              Ahh, that would make sense. TBH part of me was thinking a 1% match is so stingy that you could argue the optics might be worse than no match at all…

              1. No Longer Looking*

                Agreed. My last company started a 401k “match” – they matched 0.25% of each percent, up to a maximum 1% match if you put in 4%. We were mostly too stunned and confused to actually laugh at this terrible offer. I mean, thanks for the free pennies, but it was some Olympic-level penny-pinching.

                1. Midwest Manager*

                  I worked for a company once that did 1% match for your first 3%, then .5% for the next 2% so you’d get a maximum of 4% match on a 5% contribution. The average employee was making less than $40k/year, so it felt really stingy if you only put in what you needed to get the match. Now that I’m more seasoned in the workforce, it seems that I was undervaluing that match and it’s generous by today’s standards!

                  (I’m a state employee now and locked into the pension system – which is FAR BETTER than any 401k plan in my field.)

          2. Cj*

            Also re health ins premiums and HSA: You are getting a $5,000 additional benefit from your current employer compared to the offer you received. But are you comparing apples to apples as far as coverage goes? If you have a $6,000 deductible before your current health ins plan pays for anything, and the other company’s ins has a no/low co-pay for dr visits and prescriptions, and a low deductible for other health care cost (that hopefully don’t happen every year), you might come out ahead.

        10. MassMatt*

          I’d say your existing benefits are very good and the benefits offered by the new employer is average or slightly below. Vacation/PTO usually accrues with seniority at most companies, in the US a at least, so getting fewer days is not surprising.

          I would say you need to evaluate the total compensation package where you are now vs: any offers. You say you are significantly underpaid where you are now, but it sounds as though that did not take your benefits into account. Employees often take benefits for granted, or have no idea what they actually cost/are worth, so you are in good company.

          But this experience shows how important all that stuff is. You said you were currently underpaid, yet asked for only $5k more than you are currently making. When you got the offer, you discovered the “increase” would actually be a big step down in overall compensation. You need to get that crucial info earlier to be able to evaluate an offer or even put a ballpark on your salary range. And beware of generic blather such as “competitive benefits”.

          1. Koalafied*

            Ugh, yeah, competitive benefits is so meaningless that all you can really glean from it is that the company does have benefits of some kind as opposed to no benefits at all.

        11. Daisy-dog*

          $2700 is a lot to an HSA contribution, especially if you are at the employee-only coverage level.

          In spite of the companies being similar in the levels that you mentioned, medical insurance is a beast and costs are affected by how much people actually use the insurance. Small companies that have a single large claim may be subjected to higher costs for years afterwards. That can impact the budget on how much they pay towards premiums and how much they contribute to HSA. I worked somewhere that paid 90% to the medical premiums with a $1000 HSA contribution, but the 10% premium remaining was still excessively high for the average employee. It also had a high deductible and that $1000 would not go far for anyone that did need to use their insurance.

        12. a-m-a-n-d-a*

          I have very similar benefits with a 3% 401k employer contribution and i’m in the US. you left a rare company but it’s not unheard of. And companies/employers will need to be prepared to offer the robust benefits employees are looking for, if they want to retain talent.

        13. LikesToSwear*

          If you’re getting a pension at your current job, you do have it really good. I’ve been doing pension administration for ~15 years, and honestly, *I * don’t even have a pension. It’s a (slowly) dying field.

        14. tamarack and fireweed*

          I think the conversation about “amazing” vs. ok isn’t as helpful as knowing that your next job, to be worth your while, needs to come with a bigger salary package OR also have a very solid benefits package.

          I don’t know where this 8-90k range falls within what you see yourself earning over the next steps of your career – it covers an awful lot of jobs, and for some it’s a top-salary while for others there’s a lot of “air” on top. That would probably influence your decision-making too. (I wouldn’t advise anyone to, but I certainly have taken effective pay cuts to get where I wanted and it worked out money-wise in the long run. It’s a very personal thing, and you are not a jerk for looking at the numbers the way you do.)

          At least your prospective employer now knows that their packages aren’t competitive with a similar company they are competing for staff with. That’s good information for them to have, and I’ve seen companies shift on receiving it (probably not from you alone, but you’re a data point – and if someone really wanted you, they’re in some very salutary pain – the kind that can be a strong argument in a boardroom). It’s just that the timeline of the shift is too long to work for you right now.

        15. Ace in the Hole*

          I’m sure it varies by country and industry, but if you’re in the US those benefits are extremely good.

          For context, my employer (local government) is considered to have the best benefits in our entire county. We start at 36 days of paid leave per year (including both sick leave and vacation time), pension, no-deductible healthcare plan with $5/person monthly premiums, mediocre vison and dental coverage, and about $1000 per year of miscellaneous benefits like reimbursement for work clothes, gym memberships, education, etc. We do not have any paid parental leave, 401K match, HSA contributions, bonuses, etc.

          Sounds like your current employer is giving a similar quality of benefits… that’s really really good. If you’re in the US, they might be offering the best package among all their competitors in your state, if not an even wider region.

    2. July*

      yea, it’s more like NAH. The company in good faith stuck to the original range albeit on the lower end and while also not knowing the current benefit package that LW is enjoying. The LW also in good faith gave their desired range though without initially considering the current benefits and subsequently informed the company of the new range now with the additional information available.

      It’s a learning lesson for both parties though.

      1. Rayray*

        I agree here. No one did anything wrong, both parties were justified in what they did. My current benefits aren’t quite as good as OP’s but they are better than many and I think much, much better than most in my industry. I’ve considered job hunting but see other companies with benefits that don’t match up and it is definitely something I’m thinking a lot about.

    3. ecnaseener*

      LW only asked “am I the jerk” – no one suggested the employer was a jerk.

      I guess that AITA framework can be useful, but I was so confused thinking I’d missed that element in the letter!

    4. Lizzy May*

      I think the only “jerk” is the convention of not talking compensation early on in the hiring process. If it was something less taboo (and it does seem to be changing a bit but not enough and not quickly enough) the company and the OP could have been more upfront about compensation and both could have saved some time.

      1. LJ*

        Agreed! I felt so bad wasting time but I read that it is like “going for a kiss on the first date” to ask for benefit info during the interview process and can take you out of the running. If I had known their benefits I probably wouldn’t have continued in the interview process.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Given that it does sound like you may have unusually good benefits currently I think maybe when you get to the stage of them asking what salary range you are looking for you could try something like this:

          “I would be looking for a salary in the range of roughly $80,000 to $95,000, depending on what the rest of the package looks like. My current company does offer some particularly good benefits so I will of course need to take that into account.” And then you haven’t exactly asked them for their benefits, but they may choose to go ahead and share them with you to see if it makes sense to continue talking.

          (This is not something I have ever tried so I can’t personally vouch for it, but I think it seems reasonable?)

      2. iceberry*

        Agree – I can’t believe this is still going on and more companies have not caught on. Also this demonstrates the importance of providing information on total compensation, not just salary. Even at a high level, obviously not every details needs to be in the job ad, but salary, benefits, PTO, and any other notable items should be listed. It would save everyone a lot of time and energy if companies were just more upfront with this info.

        1. quill*

          Yeah, I think a lot of companies relied on “we can negotiate after the offer” because of the bad job market for the last, uh, decade.

      3. Rayray*

        Agree. I wonder if this is something that will ever change.

        Colorado recently made it law that job postings must post a good-faith salary range. Now you see companies hiring remotely but excluding Colorado residents just so they don’t have to post a salary range. Look up Colorado Excluded and see for yourself. It’s ridiculous.

      4. sambal*

        i’m extremely grateful that my current employer gave me all their benefit information when we scheduled our first phone call. the company has fantastic benefits and knowing that
        a. made me want to work for them
        b. gave me a better sense of what to ask for salary-wise

        why won’t more employers realize that we’re going to find out sooner or later!

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I do think there is definitely high correlation between how early a company shares its benefits and how good their benefits are! The good benefits can be used as a recruitment tool and the ones with bed benefits probably don’t want you to know until you’re already on the job or at least highly invested in taking it.

        2. MassMatt*

          This. Companies that treat their benefits as nuclear secrets are most likely not hiding something great. If they were great, why wouldn’t they want this info out there so job seekers flock to them? IME, Benefits described as “competitive” usually aren’t.

      5. PT*

        They probably did this on purpose. They likely knew OP had a better benefits package than they offered, and offered her a generous salary to get her to jump so she would not figure out that she was losing money until she got there.

        Companies do this *all* the time.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          I think that’s a bit unfair. From what OP described, the benefits that were offered by the company where they turned down the offer are pretty standard and without knowing exactly what OP pays for insurance and gets for a 401(k) match, potentially slightly above average. OP has a pretty outstanding benefits package, the HSA contribution they described is one of the higher ones that I’ve seen especially given they indicated they don’t have kids which usually bumps you into the highest ‘tier’ of employer paid HSA contributions.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I wouldn’t say they offered her a generous salary–they came in at the bottom of the range! A generous salary often *is* sufficient to make up for a loss in benefits.

          That being said, it doesn’t seem like their benefits are wildly far from average so I also wouldn’t think they were being particularly sneaky here.

      6. Koalafied*


        I’m so glad it’s gradually starting to change. It’s such a farce to pretend like compensation isn’t one of the most important considerations for a job seeker – so important that too low can easily be a dealbreaker that outweighs any and all positives about the job. Employers who want candidates to send in applications without yet knowing anything about the potential compensation would be like candidates wanting employers to set up interviews without yet knowing anything about the candidate’s skills or experience.

    5. Momma Bear*

      I think it was a legit give and take discussion. They offered, the LW reviewed and counter offered, and the company realized they couldn’t afford LW. Sometimes that happens. They will either find someone in their range or they will eventually figure out better benefits.

  2. JI*

    Re the food stealer, there’s the obvious option of leaving an opened apparently half eaten bar of Ex-Lax in your desk…

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I love this, though it sounds more like something one would do in the movies rather than IRL and have to deal with the consequences.

      In boring shitty reality, OP should probably either have no snacks, consume them in the car, or get a locking box. This lady sounds like she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do and she’s high up enough that maybe nobody will be threatening enough to stop her.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Many decades ago, I lived in a dorm situation with a food thief. Most people didn’t have individual refrigerators so we relied on the two kitchen area ones. If we wanted a cold drink, we’d stick it in the freezer for a half hour since there was never enough ice. The F.T. would sneak in and drink whatever was there. So we checked with a medic friend to determine a safe but effective amount of ex-lax, and made a large glass of chocolate milk. No more thefts! But this was long before anything and everything could lead to a lawsuit.

            1. DrunkAtAWedding*

              That’s a bit of a grey area though. If you fully intend to consume it yourself, and it’s in a private area that no one else should be accessing, never mind stealing food from, then is having the food in, say, an unmarked box “mislabelling”?

              1. Teapot Repair Technician*

                It’s not a grey area in this hypothetical case, because if you do this with the intention of deterring a food thief you do not “fully intend to consume it yourself.”

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Yeah, it may be hard for a court of law to determine whether you did it on purpose but it’s very clear here in the comment section that the suggestion is to do it on purpose.

                  Don’t do that.

                2. DrunkAtAWedding*

                  Yes, I understood the hypothetical. But it’s still literally your lunch in your desk. It seems like it would take a LOT to prove you were setting up a thief rather than just needing some medicine yourself.

                  Obviously – or perhaps not, given the responses – I am not suggesting anyone should actually do this.

              2. Yorick*

                But in this case (where everyone knows someone eats food out of people’s desks), you do have a reasonable expectation that someone else could eat it. So you could be liable if it causes them harm.

                1. Yorick*

                  In other words, something doesn’t have to have been *fully* intentional, with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, if you knew that your action could cause harm and still did it.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Wait I just had an idea – hear me out – what about mislabeling your own food, that you keep in a cooler bag in your desk, as “laxative”?

              (When my job was in-office, we all had desks that locked, so I’d just start locking my desk and keep the key on my personal keychain. I’m assuming OP does not have that option.)

              1. Phony Genius*

                Well, in the unlikely event that somebody needed a laxative in an emergency, and saw that and ate it, there could be a legal problem.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Now I’m worried, because I used to keep emergency supplies of my meds (loosely labeled – I knew what they were) in my desk. Knowing that, if someone had gotten into my desk, helped themselves to my meds, and experienced side effects, it would’ve created a legal problem for me, makes me not want to go back to an in-office job ever :(

                2. Butterfly Counter*

                  I’m hard pressed to think of a reason someone would need a laxative in an emergency and then just think, “Hey, this random person has them in their desk. I’ll take it without asking and not worry about going to the hospital or a doctor.”

                  Maybe, like, in a hostage situation where no one is allowed in or out, but then the legal issue would be with the hostage takers, not the person who has chocolates labeled at “LAXATIVES” in their desk drawer.

                3. Anononon*

                  How in the world could there be a legal problem in this scenario? Unless the person is in the medical field and is supposed to keep correct meds in their office, there is absolutely no duty that would confer liability in this case.

                  Are you an attorney?

                4. Gray Lady*

                  The person who was suddenly ill wouldn’t even know the stuff in the drawer labeled “laxative” existed, because no one but LW and the person who invaded other people’s desks would know that.

                  Also, I’m having a rather difficult time imagining a laxative “emergency” that didn’t involve the ER rather than just obtaining a laxative by the normal available means. Finally, “I thought it was a laxative and it didn’t work because it was just the ordinary food that it clearly appeared to be except for the label” probably doesn’t create a medical situation that anyone would have much grounds to make a legal claim about.

                5. SpaceySteph*

                  I used to keep a combined bottle of pills in my desk also (nothing too exciting, like advil, tylenol, zyrtec, sudafed) and we actually had a company training that said it was against policy to keep drugs in excess of what you would use in a single day outside of their official bottles. I wonder if this is why. But imagine going into someone else’s desk and just taking whatever pills you find?! Boggles the mind.

                6. Ace in the Hole*

                  I have trouble imagining a scenario where someone needs a laxative so badly it could be considered an emergency, but isn’t already in the hospital for impacted bowels.

                  The real concern is that it’s training people to unconsciously ignore warning labels on products, which could lead to someone eating something dangerous. But even that’s a bit of a stretch if it’s LW eating their own lunch with a handwritten label on it.

          1. Cait*

            I remember a letter where someone made extra spicy food for lunch and office food stealer took it and got sick and was hospitalized. He then accused the LW of trying to poison him and she got fired. Turns out Food Stealer and the HR lady had an office romance going on. The LW lawyered up and not only got her job back but got the Lunch Stealer and HR lady fired. I only hope for a happy ending like this one for this OP.
            I wouldn’t be opposed to her putting a little Ex-Lax or something similar on her personal food that’s in her desk (but not in the common area for obvious reasons). What is the VP going to do? If she complains to the higher-ups about it she’ll have to admit she was rooting through other peoples’ desks and stealing their food and if she tries to terminate the OP herself the OP can easily get a lawyer to take her case a sue the daylights out of that place.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, I would not do ANYTHING that could trigger medical consequences.

              Though would I purposefully try out snacks that, due to spiciness or whatever other factor, might put the office food thief off my food? Absolutely. Bitternut chips, tabasco popcorn, just go all in on no longer having “the good stuff” available for casual theft.

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              In that case, the food wasn’t booby-trapped. It was just the spice level the LW preferred. That makes a difference.

            3. Momma Bear*

              I was thinking of that letter, too.

              First thing I would do would be to secure my food. I have a locking desk drawer. If LW doesn’t have one, get one. Then they can say that they did their due diligence. I would also encourage the people being stolen from to go en masse to the boss. Not only is this person stealing food but what else might they be stealing? Office supplies? Looking at information systems they may not be authorized to? Etc. Someone rummaging through desks is probably not just taking candy.

              1. Cait*

                Agreed. What if someone leaves their prescriptions in their desk? Their tax documents? Personal mail? This is a massive breach of privacy and this woman needs to be dealt with by a superior because she is a huge liability to the company if she continues with this behavior.

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Don’t leave your tax documents or personal mail in your desk at work–it is company property and you don’t generally have an expectation of privacy there.

            4. Koalafied*

              I thought of the same letter, although food stealer wasn’t hospitalized in that scenario. He just couldn’t handle the spice level and it made him get short of breath and apparently he threw up – but there was no mention of him actually needing medical care.

        1. anon for this today*

          We had an ice cream thief in college. Some folks were pretty upset. They found a roadkill squirrel and buried it in a big tub of ice cream.

          Ice cream theft stopped.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I remember seeing your original post on that! I think I saved the screencap, too…

              1. KoiFeeder*

                I was living in my undergrad dorms at the time! Fortunately, it never needed to be utilized, but it seemed like a good screencap to keep around in case of necessity.

          2. LTL*

            Alright so I would NOT suggest OP use roadkill but how about something like… a plastic spider? Definitely something sizable and sturdy (you do NOT want anything small or even medium-sized, it should be too big for someone to put into their mouth, otherwise it’s a choking hazard). Something that won’t cause physical harm but may deter future theft.

            Or perhaps put a fake tarantula in the drawer where you keep your snacks lol. Not actually in the food but next to it.

      2. wayward*

        Seems like this whole scenario is a good illustration of why employers should take food theft seriously — employees getting fed up and taking matters into their own hands could be a much bigger headache. And what if the person preparing the lunch just wasn’t very careful about food safety or sanitation? Now it’s other people’s problem.

        1. Admininja*

          Yes, totally. Plus, it’s theft! I don’t understand employers that let food theft go but wouldn’t be ok with one employee taking another’s headphones or jacket. It’s not about the money- people get fired for stealing little things from coworkers. It’s like they figure they can’t stop it or assume a food thief must really need to steal to eat or… something?

          Assuming the president of the company is apathetic or impotent, there might still be things the staff can do about the VP who brags about affording food she steals from junior staff. For example, could you request to install staff lockers in the break room? It’s convenient for the staff (well, more so than not having the food stolen), it stops the thefts cold (most likely), & it returns the problem to the employer (lockers are expensive!). “We need lockers to keep our snacks & lunches safe from theft. This is impacting our finances & morale in X & Y ways.” If the thefts require you to leave work to eat when you otherwise wouldn’t have, say that, too. We had a terrible employee at Ex-Company, & proposing the company pay for solutions to the problems she caused was often the only way to get them to care. Sad but effective

          1. Admininja*

            Sorry- extra “not” in there. Meant to write that lockers are more convenient than having food stolen.

        2. NYWeasel*

          Not to mention the lack of productivity that occurs when all your lower level employees end up having multiple “WTF??!! Did Jane seriously just take that bag of popcorn into her office??!!” chats a day.

        3. Bilateralrope*

          I’d be tempted to leave a visible blood smear somewhere on inside of the container. My blood, so it’s not a health hazard unless someone else opens the container. If anyone asks, I’ll just say I had a nose bleed before work and must have missed a spot.

          But a locking container would be a better idea.

          1. RagingADHD*

            If Patty will eat a half-eaten candy bar, that’s unlikely to be a deterrent.

            This behavior is not operating on rational principles.

            1. Observer*

              Exactly this. This is NOT someone who is going to react to conventional actions. Because who on earth eats a half eaten candy bar?! Even if someone OFFERED it, most people would find a polite way to decline.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              In the middle of a pandemic, no less! Something is seriously off with Patty.

        4. Anonymous mouse*

          There’s at least one story on this site where a letter writer fell foul of this because the food thief stole their very spicy food and accused them of trying to poison them.

          In reality the FT just stole some food they effectively had a bad reaction to

          1. ecnaseener*

            I believe the update to that was a happy one! The HR person who took the thief’s side was found to be having an affair with them or something, and it was all straightened out and the theft victim wasn’t punished.

        5. Richard Hershberger*

          “what if the person preparing the lunch just wasn’t very careful about food safety or sanitation?”

          Or likes spicy food?

        6. lilsheba*

          I have to wonder why anyone is still a food thief during a pandemic? I would absolutely NOT touch anyone’s food in this day and age, above and beyond the fact I don’t steal food anyway.

        7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – food theft is theft, but it’s theft that has the potential to disproportionately affect those that have special diets because of allergies or medical conditions.

          Also, the morale hit to the office caused by this needs to be considered. If you just let things go to the point people feel cornered and forced to take things into their own hands you get all the crazy food sabotaging ideas that are now floating about.

      3. Amaranth*

        She could use a locking deposit bag. It would fit into her desk or bag and have enough room for several snacks. I’d recommend writing her name on it in Sharpie as if it ever goes missing its a whole other red flag…

        1. Dee Dee*

          Just for kicks, I just looked on Amazon for “locking lunch boxes” and they have many options. A couple of them were see-through so you could see the contents inside. The really mean part of me would want to get one of those so she could see what she was missing. But seriously, to avoid a huge drama thing, I think the only way is to get a locking container. The thing is, though, she’s stealing from multiple people so everyone would have to get one. (But I’d still be tempted to get a see-through one and keep a bunch of “premium” snacks in there, things you know she really likes. Do you think she would go as far as trying to break into it????? That’s a whole other level of crazy!)

      4. nonegiven*

        Wait for another half eaten candy bar to go missing and say, “I hope nobody steals my candy bar, I feel a cold sore coming on.”

      5. TardyTardis*

        I saw a picture on Quora where someone made a fish taco with Purina Salmon Shreds for a food stealer. Just sayin’.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Never do that, you can face charges or be fired for deliberately harming someone as much as they may deserve it. Remember the spicy food thief.

      1. John Smith*

        Funny, the manager could also face charges for theft but apparently calling the police for criminal offences seems to be ridiculed in the US. I’m expecting a roasting for saying that, but this situation is ridiculous. I’d get a group together and tell her in no uncertain terms that if anything else went missing in future, she can expect a visit from the cops. She can then either sack everyone or stop stealing.

        And is start looking for a new job, preferably with adults in charge.

        1. PollyQ*

          Calling the cops and having the cops actually come are two vastly different things. I’d be greatly surprised if “My manager stole my candy bar” elicited anything from the police besides a hearty guffaw. And I would be mildly surpised if that weren’t true pretty much everywhere.

          1. John Smith*

            Well if I’m ever in the US and fancy some popcorn, I’ll just Rob the local candy store with no fear of repercussions. :)

            1. Admininja*

              That’s a pretty narrow view & an awful stereotype. I don’t know of anyone in the US who would ridicule a store owner for reporting a theft. I’ve lived & worked extensively with people from other countries, & I don’t know anyone who would call the cops because a coworker took half a candy bar or a bag of popcorn. The perspectives here need calibration.

              “She can then sack everyone…” Yes, exactly, which is one of many reasons people don’t push back so hard as to involve the cops. I’m not willing to lose my whole income over stolen snack foods. For that matter, if this is a perfectly lovely workplace with Popcorn Patty as the only detractor, I probably wouldn’t even look for a new position. This is an easier problem to solve than finding The Perfect Job. I would be looking for other red flags & makings sure that’s the case, of course, but it’s popcorn- it’s not worth blowing up my whole work world.

              1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

                Um… at the risk of derailing, there have been quite a few DAs and AGs here in the US who have openly stated they won’t prosecute shop lifting if it is under a given threshold, effectively making it so the local police won’t respond to calls from local store owners. Admittedly it’s not quite ridicule that store owners are facing when a policy like this goes into place, but store owners being unable to report theft effectively is real.

                1. WellRed*

                  Do we really want public resources spent on prosecuting someone for stealing a bag of chips?

                2. Crivens!*

                  In response to WellRed:

                  Or murdering someone for stealing a bag of chips?

                  I don’t call cops because I don’t want someone being noisy or engaging in petty theft murdered by them.

                3. Tom*

                  The chances of the person you call the cops on being wrongfully killed by them is lower than their chance of dying in a furniture accident.

                4. Gray Lady*

                  Ask if the store owners if they really want to operate in a world where anyone can walk in and take anything they want any time at all with no fear of repercussions. Ask yourself if you want all the merchandise in stores locked up, all the time.

            2. Anonny*

              That’s stealing from a corporation, not a person. It’s only legal to steal from people. /snark

            3. Rose*

              Did you read the comment? The police aren’t going to come sort out a coworker stealing snacks from another coworker. Robbing a store isn’t the same and won’t get the same reaction, even if you think it should.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                Yes, that’s considered something that you need to be able to work out on an interpersonal level.

                If Popcorn Patty were knocking down strangers in the street & taking their bags of treats, that would be a different story.

                But she’s still terrible & needs to stop.

            4. Student*

              You’re confused about the mechanics of this in the US. It’s a matter of the people’s standing/importance in the eyes of the cops, not a matter of the size of the crime.

              If you steal a candy bar or bag of popcorn from a corporation, like a store or a movie theater, they will call the cops. The cops will show up. The cops may even shoot you over it (not the norm, but it does happen). You will go to jail for at least a little while. This is, very literally, how several of the larger Black Lives Matter protests started – black people getting shot over allegations of stealing $20 or less of stuff from a business.

              If you steal a candy bar or a bag of popcorn from your social “superior”, like your boss or a wealthier person, the experience will be similar. Cops will come, you will spend time in jail.

              If you steal a candy bar from your peer – a co-worker or someone of equal socioeconomic standing – then the cops will probably not show up. If they show up, at best, they may ask the thief to not do it again. At worst, you’ll both get told off by the cop for wasting their time.

              If you steal a candy bar from your underlings – people who work for you, or people who have lower socioeconomic standing, then the cops will probably not show up. If they show up, they will likely be deferential to you, but suspicious of your underling that you stole from. If you are a decent actor, you may be able to convince the cops to threaten or arrest your underling by alleging that this is a false police report, or claiming your underling is threatening you. At best, the cops will do nothing useful and leave. At worst, they will actively do harm to the person making the report of theft. And THAT is why no one is recommending the police be called over this.

              1. Observer*

                f you steal a candy bar or bag of popcorn from a corporation, like a store or a movie theater, they will call the cops. The cops will show up. . . . You will go to jail for at least a little while.

                It’s far from a slam dunk, for a number of reasons. But, yes it could happen.

                If you steal a candy bar or a bag of popcorn from your social “superior”, like your boss or a wealthier person, the experience will be similar. Cops will come, you will spend time in jail.

                Highly, highly unlikely.

                If you steal a candy bar from your peer – a co-worker or someone of equal socioeconomic standing – then the cops will probably not show up.

                Unless there is something else going on, the cops are NOT going to show up.

                1. Dr Logen*

                  I think you’re right that spending time in jail for stealing a candy bar from a “social superior” is unlikely. But getting fired? Pretty likely.

              2. Hi there*

                I get what you’re trying to say, but I am a criminal defense attorney, and I can’t get on board with the notion that someone will get booked into jail for stealing a candy bar or a bag of popcorn from their boss. That has an infinitesimally small chance of happening. Imagine how much more overpopulated our corrections facilities would be if people were being thrown in jail for minor office supply theft.

                1. EchoGirl*

                  Agreed, I think the difference has more to do with how it’s categorized — stealing merchandise, even something of low value is just different in the eyes of the law than one person stealing something from another. I suspect it probably has something to do with the extent to which small thefts can add up in a retail situation in a way that just doesn’t translate in a person-to-person scenario.

                2. EchoGirl*

                  Hit send too soon — meant to add that if the employee steals from their boss, there is a greater risk of internal discipline, but the idea that they’ll go to jail for it is pretty out there unless there’s unusual factors at play.

            5. quill*

              Oh no, they’ll come if it’s a place of business being robbed or shoplifted fom. But if your neighbor takes, for example, your lawn gnome? Unlikely that anybody will be bothered to do anything but tell you how to file a report

          2. EvilQueenRegina*

            Anyone here familiar with the In Death series by JD Robb? For those who aren’t, the main character Lieutenant Eve Dallas is constantly doing battle with a candy thief in her office. She might be willing to bust this one…

              1. Dweali*

                I would say this is plausible but it happened way before Peabody…I think it’s more likely to be Feeney :-)

              2. Grey Panther*

                I lean toward Baxter because he’s in the area anyway, but Dweall is right—Feeney is a strong possibility.

            1. Indeathfan*

              I can’t remember when the candy thief first struck, but I really want it to be Trueheart, just because it would be so out of character

              1. TardyTardis*

                But it happened before Trueheart showed up. Then again, he might have taken over for the original candy thief, who might have retired by now and passed on the Sacred Tradition.

          3. Empress Ki*

            But if you steal a candy bar from a shop the police comes. This is what I don’t understand.

            1. Myrin*

              They usually don’t, at least not where I am (not in the US).
              I just verified this with my sister who is a professional retail worker and she says that it depends on the circumstances but generally, one stolen candy bar won’t elicit a call to the police.
              You’ll be banned from entering the house for sure and also have to pay a fine but the police only get involved if the person in question has been caught stealing before, if they refuse to identify themselves, or if they become violent (and possibly some other niche scenarios that my sister just couldn’t think of from the top of her head).

                1. Myrin*

                  There are signs posted everywhere that that’s the (law-backed) rule; if someone refuses to pay, that’s another reason for police to come who will then collect the fine on the store’s behalf.

                2. StoneColdJaneAusten*

                  Essentially blackmail. If the store catches you and you don’t pay up, they will call the cops. The cops might not come and might not take it seriously, but if they do the problem is going to be so much bigger for you than if you’d just paid the fine in the first place.

              1. Ridiculous*

                The retail company for which I worked would not even ban thieves and would not allow us to call the cops for theft,no matter how egregious. We had a team of thieves who were going into stores, loading up carts with expensive men’s sneakers and women’s shoes and then run through the front door to a get away car. They stole at least $2500 per haul. We were not allowed to call the cops because corporate believed seeing cops in the store was detrimental to customer satisfaction.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  … how is not having product and inflated prices to cover the shrinkage not detrimental to customer satisfaction?

                2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  I can understand not wanting to call over something small – but not calling over thefts at that level is harmful to all the other customers because of the increased prices they’re going to pay to let the shop make ends meet around the losses.

                3. Just Another Zebra*

                  My first job was a store in the mall very popular with thieves. We were told at hire that the store had a several million dollar budget set aside for shrink (theft), and that we were not to confront anyone, or call the police. I still remember finding handfuls of clothes sensors stuffed into cubbies and drawers.

                4. ExtraIncome*

                  Is this company still in business and where exactly is the store? I need some extra income.


          4. The Other Dawn*

            I agree. I very highly doubt the police are going to care, much less send someone out, for someone stealing snacks from coworkers. They’d probably get a good laugh out of it. I’m in banking and we can’t even get them to come out for something like check fraud unless it’s above a certain dollar amount.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I think the dollar amount is key here. Candy isn’t “valuable” enough to waste police resources on. And it can be really hard to prove, anyway.

        2. SS Express*

          Even in countries where there’s no risk of police intervention leading to someone being unnecessarily shot, calling the police to report intra-office popcorn theft would likely be ridiculed.

          1. nelly*

            Yes. I have high respect for the police in my country, but this would be ridicculious… and a total waste of their time.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          In my region, the police won’t come out for a theft case where the value is under $10. I know this is a crime – but I will respect the desire of the police to focus more energy on more serious cases.

          (Caveat: if there is a long running pattern of small time thefts at like a convenience store then they will look into some surveillance thru cameras and the like to see if there is a pattern or connection. But I highly doubt they would get involved in employees in an office stealing food from one another.)

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            In my jurisdiction an individual can file charges for lower-level crimes without police intervention. You go down to the courthouse and talk with a commissioner, whose job in part is to walk you through this to find out if you have a real charge. If you do, this results in a summons and a court date. I would imagine that something like this would qualify, if you had evidence, which could be individuals willing to testify. That being said, there is boundless potential for this going very badly, from a workplace perspective.

            1. EPLawyer*

              THIS is an interesting option. Not the criminal one, but there is a civil cause of action called conversion. Where someone takes something of yours and makes it their own. Am I really recommending this? No. Lock boxes are the way to go. It stops the theft in a low key way without a lot of office drama. IF the VP makes a big deal out of everything suddenly being locked up, then she is causing the drama. OP and her co workers then can politely explain that they prefer to still have the food they brought in rather than have it taken.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Interesting option – but I don’t think this would work well in an office where the thief is known – and has enormous power over their victims (which yes makes it even worse, I freely acknowledge that). This needs to be handled in the office – and hopefully by someone who has more authority than the thief.

        4. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Intentional affliction of bodily harm (or whatever you want to call it) is a whole heck of a lot worse than stealing a candy bar, don’t you think? If the response to “she took my popcorn” is “let me make her suffer”, then either your popcorn is made from rare heirloom corn only found in a single field in Kansas or your sense of personal needs a reset.

          1. Anonny*

            I wouldn’t intentionally poison a food for a thief, but I also have no sympathy if like, they steal food and it has a flavour they dislike, or they’re allergic, or it’s against their religious food restrictions or something. Maybe ask next time, Pattykins.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I’ve never seen it with Ex Lax or the like, but I have seen a thief get their desserts after stealing sugar-free candy. It takes the body time to adjust to those…

              1. foolofgrace*

                I believe it’s xylitol that is the non-sugar sweetener that, if taken in large enough amounts (and actually they’re not all that large), causes extreme diarrhea. It’s a perfectly legal substance and is well-tolerated in small amounts. I found out about this the hard way. This is not to say I recommend having a stash of candies sweetened with this substance in one’s desk.

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I agree– I mean, you steal food, you get what you get. But there’s a huge difference between the thief not realizing there are, say, peanuts in the popcorn and intentionally putting peanuts in the popcorn because you know Patty is allergic and you know Patty will steal the popcorn. The first scenario is Patty’s fault, the second is yours and it’s cruel and dangerous. That’s a game I wouldn’t play, no matter how annoyed I was at Patty’s behavior.

              1. Littorally*


                Thank you for drawing that distinction. There’s a lot of vengeful fantasies around how to deal with food thieves and I find them a little disturbing.

                1. quill*

                  Yes, again, I draw the line at causing intentional medical consequences rather than just grossing someone out a little.

                2. Anononon*

                  Yup, and people splitting hairs about how it’s not “poisoning” something in the literal definition of the word. (General) you are intentionally medicating someone without their knowledge/consent – that’s incredibly concerning!!

            3. Observer*

              I wouldn’t intentionally poison a food for a thief, but I also have no sympathy if like, they steal food and it has a flavour they dislike, or they’re allergic, or it’s against their religious food restrictions or something.

              Sure. But that’s the key difference. Putting ex-lax into food is deliberate – no one is doing that to food they intend to eat. And if you (generic you) mislabel it? Come on. And that’s what AvonLady is talking about.

        5. DrunkAtAWedding*

          I’ve been wondering about that. I’ve gotten the impression that, in the US, it’s considered…cowardly? Childish?…to report things to the proper authorities. To be fair, I got that idea from TV, so it’s probably not accurate, but it showed up in so many places that I’ve been wondering if there is something to it. One example that comes to mind is an episode of Glee, when was nearly blinded when a rocks-based slushie was thrown into their face. Their teammates all agreed that “no, we can’t report it, that would make us as bad as [the rival team who just assaulted one of us]”. I can’t recall any other examples, but I know I’ve seen that sentiment elsewhere, that reporting a crime to an adult or an authority is somehow immoral or shows a lack of character. I’ve also seen someone express that idea online, in the context of a child reporting something to adults is childish and they should just learn to deal with it themselves. But being an adult DOES sometimes mean recognising that something is above your paygrade or will affect more people than you and handing the issue over to someone else.

          So…is that a thing? It’s fully possible that I – and the person I mentioned – have just gotten some false ideas from shows that are going for drama rather than realism.

          1. uncivil servant*

            Yes, I believe that teen dramas (where getting adults involved is the best way to kill the plot) are not the best source for cultural norms.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Plus in general on TV shows they often have to make up a reason why they aren’t reporting something to an authority figure or getting the police involved with serious crime, just because if they did then that’s the end of that plotline.

          2. Observer*

            Well, there is the whole concept of “snitching”.

            I have found that it tends to be applied more to kids (very unfairly) than to adults. But, yes, in some contexts “snitching” is considered a Very Bad Thing. This is far from universal, though, and is more likely to apply to things that don’t directly affect you than things like this.

            The pushback here is not about that, though. It’s about the practical reality that this is not something you really can report to the police and get any response.

            In a functional company, this WOULD be reported to HR, though, which would be expected to do something about it.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Nope, not at all. I moved to the US from a culture where it really and truly is (was? haven’t been back in a long time) not socially acceptable to report anything to any authorities. First thing my fellow immigrants warned me and my family about when we arrived here was “beware of Americans, they love to report people” (admittedly a problematic statement on many levels – we are all Americans here, and reporting people when it’s called for does not mean you love it and are doing it for kicks.)

            I can count on my one hand the TV shows I’ve watched in the last 5-10 years, and they were shows like Breaking Bad, The Handmaid’s Tale, GoT etc that I would not recommend as a primer on US culture.

          4. ThatGirl*

            Alongside snitching, there’s also the idea that you’re trying to get people in trouble instead of working things out yourself. PLUS there’s the fact that in the US, police often overreact and tend to shoot people instead of just helping or arresting them (especially if you’re a BIPOC). Like, George Floyd got killed over an allegedly fake $20 which is not something anyone should die over.

        6. fhqwhgads*

          The manager could indeed face charges for theft but there are specifically laws about booby-trapping. You can’t poison candy you expect someone to steal to “punish” them for stealing it. You can’t set a trap in your house if you expect someone to break into and rob you. “But they were committing a crime against me” isn’t a defense for maiming/injuring/harming someone.
          That said if I were in charge at this office and aware this person were regularly stealing from others (hopefully wouldn’t have gotten to the point of “regularly”) I’d fire them for that. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case in this office.

      2. MK*

        The spicy food thief eventually got fired, not the person trying to prevent the thefts.

        I wouldn’t do it with a laxative, but I might be tempted to make snacks using salt instead of sugar or an unconscionable amount of some really intense spice.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          Years ago, I made a petty revenge peanut butter and jelly sandwich for spouse. I remember salt and pepper being predominantly featured. And maybe onion powder.

          1. Don't take my damn food*

            I had to deal with a food thief in high school; my bag lunches were regularly stolen. Finally brought that situation to an end by making a particularly unpalatable lunch one day (chicken salad with salt as the main ingredient; Hostess Twinkie with Tabasco injected through those little holes in the bottom). Shazam, my lunches were very unpopular after that.

            1. JustaTech*

              There’s a lovely children’s book about a rabbit named George who keeps getting his lunch stolen by a bully, until his friend Harriet (a dog) helps him make a prank lunch. The tuna sandwich is full of cayenne pepper, the soup is full of vinegar, and my favorite bit, they lick the filling out of the Oreos and replace it with lard.

              It’s all food, so it’s not unsafe, but it’s not edible either.

              But really, that’s a solution for children who have no other options, not for adults at work. (Even if lard-filled Oreos would be hilarious.)

              1. LunaLena*

                I’ve also heard of toothpaste in Oreos as a prank.

                Another children’s book that deals with stolen lunches is Dear Mr. Henshaw. The main character solves the problem by building a burglar alarm into his lunch box.

        2. PT*

          Just start buying exotic flavored candy bars, too. If you go into any grocery store that serves an upscale market they’ll have the fancy flavors like 90% cacao, or dark chocolate and chili, or sea salt and caramel or papaya mango. Or carob. Lots of people like these because they are good. But huge swaths of people just want a Snickers or a Twix and will think these are gross, and it’s a pretty safe bet Popcorn Patty is one of these, just by sales numbers.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Yeah, but those can run to $5 a bar and my pettiness is only overshadowed by my cheapness! And this jerk seems to hoard and steal just for the sake of it. Taking all the popcorn to her office? Taking a half eaten candy bar?
            Yeah, there’s no matter of taste here.
            Or logic at all.
            OP, there’s no way to “get through” to this person, convince her she is wrong. “How do I politely tell her not to be antisocial/criminal and have her like it?”
            I don’t think it’s possible.

      3. Jcarnall*

        It seems to me that if I leave a bar of Ex Lax in my desk, and someone steals it, I am genuinely not to blame for any consequences?

        It’s not like leaving it out in a common area where anyone might accidentally or “accidentally” consume it – in your own desk is a private space where you put stuff that’s not for sharing.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Except most companies consider the premises, including desks, as company space with no expectations of privacy and can be searched.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Searched, yes. Robbed, no. It’s not against the rules to have ex-lax in your possession.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I think as long as it is clearly labeled as what it is you are fine to have medication that looks like something else in the desk (think gummy vitamins still in the original packaging), but intentionally sabotaging food knowing it has a high likelihood of being stolen is something else entirely.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Right – but there are people talking about taking “it” out of the packaging, which I think could lead to bad things in this particular office with Patty. In its store packaging it’s hard for Patty to claim you “trapped” her and made her sick on purpose (but not impossible- do remember how spicy food thief letter started out, before the glorious update).

              1. Trisha*

                I’d leave it with no packaging – like put into a plastic baggie. If I were taking ex-lax to work because I needed it myself, I wouldn’t exactly be leaving it in it’s original packaging to advertise to the world that I needed help pooping. If she stole it and was angry, I’d respond with a bit of righteous anger myself – like, how dare you take my medication? Even if it happens to look like some yummy chocolate bits?

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  I think in most normal offices that would be fine – normal office in this case being an office not inhabited by a particularly bold thief known to go thru desks in search of stuff to steal. However, in this office I would be keeping it all in the original packaging so that thief can’t claim you tried to trap them.

          2. MK*

            That’s not really relevant; no expectation of privacy doesn’t mean any personal property you bring into the workplace is up for grabs by the company or their employees. Sure, my employer can search my desk drawers, but not take, say, a watch I happened to have left there.

            1. PT*

              Where I have worked, my work considered anything stolen from the workplace the employees fault for bringing it there. Even if it was in a locked office, desk, or locker. “We are not responsible for personal belongings.”

              1. Observer*

                Most employers have a policy that they are not responsible for employee belongings. That doesn’t mean they consider it the employee’s fault. It means that they will not reimburse the person. But, most places WILL fire or penalize the thief.

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  Right. If somebody stole my wallet from my desk drawer and went on a spending spree with my credit cards, my workplace would most likely fire that person, but they would not reimburse me for the money that person stole.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          If you leave it there because you plan to use it later, then no you should not be to blame. If you leave it there specifically expecting based on knowledge you and everyone in your office has that the boss is likely to take it and eat it then yes you are responsible for what would happen. I am not a lawyer but I believe you could be charged with poisoning them.

        3. L.H. Puttgrass*

          I don’t think it works that way.

          I am very much not up on the law here (which probably varies by state), but if you leave candy laced with anything (laxitive, insanely hot peppers, strychnine) in your desk, knowing that someone else is likely to steal that candy and eat it, with the purpose of getting back at that person for the theft—well, you can’t really say you’re not to blame for any consequences.

          It’s a much milder version of the laws that say you can’t set lethal booby traps in your house. There are actual cases—people rigging shotguns to go off when the door is opened, that sort of thing. The fact that whoever got shot was trespassing or committing a burglary isn’t a “get out of jail free” card for rigging up a device to shoot someone.

          I’d expect the same logic to apply to the bar of Ex Lax: if you leave it in your desk knowing that Popcorn Patty is likely to steal and eat it, you’re as responsible for what happens (legally, I think, and morally, I believe) as if you had put it in with her candy stash.

          1. doreen*

            I think that logically it depends what it is – keeping popcorn with peanuts in it or a bar of Ex lax in my desk doesn’t suddenly become assault because Patty steals it and thought it was peanut-free popcorn or a regular chocolate bar. After all, I’m free to keep OTC medication in my desk and I’m free to prefer Cracker Jacks to plain popcorn. Strychnine or another actual poison is different – there’s no way I’m keeping a strychnine-laced chocolate bar in my desk because I like the taste of it

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              The intent is what matters. If you have it there because you genuinely intend to eat it then you haven’t done anything wrong. If you put it there specifically intending that the thief will steal it and eat it then yes that does suddenly become assault.

              1. doreen*

                Leaving aside the problem of how would someone know my intent was for the thief to steal it unless I admitted it – I’m talking about a actual bar of Ex-lax, not some cupcakes frosted with chocolate laced with Ex-lax. Leaving a laxative- frosted cupcake on my desk might be llike a booby trap – but leaving a bar of Ex-Lax in my desk when each little block says “Ex-lax” on it seems very different.

                1. Observer*

                  Yeah, if someone left a bar of Ex-Lax that was actually labeled as such, then I don’t think that Patty would have any case. But if someone wrapped a bar of Ex-lax in a chocolate bar wrapper, that’s a different thing. And it’s going to be very hard to argue that it wasn’t deliberate.

                  That’s really the issue. Leaving something obviously gross that you can expect reasonable people to stay away from is not what people are suggesting when they are talking about the ex-lax.

      4. Cat Tree*

        Yep, with a few exceptions, an illegal thing doesn’t suddenly become legal just because someone else committed a crime first. It’s fun to fantasize though.

      5. Observer*

        Remember the spicy food thief.

        No. The spicy food thief was rehired and the HR person who fired them was the one who actually lost her job.

        The whole scenario is different – from a legal perspective, the person has absolutely NO obligation to prepare their food in ways that meet OTHER people’s requirements, as long as the food is genuinely edible (as it was) and the preparer takes reasonable measures to avoid cross-contamination in communal settings. Given that this was in the OP’s personal lunch containers, that was also not an issue.

        Now, an employer COULD choose to fire someone over this, but it would NEVER be considered “for cause”.

        That’s very different from deliberately setting up a trap for someone. I have a lot of sympathy, but it’s still a trap and is going to be legitimately concerning to any employer.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          No. The spicy food thief was rehired and the HR person who fired them was the one who actually lost her job.

          You’re misremembering that letter. The LW (the victim, not the thief) was initially fired, and was then rehired. The HR person and the spicy food thief were both then fired.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I’m not misremembering the letter. I recall that it was a very involved saga over a stolen lunch that involved lies, an illicit affair, sickness, and false accusations because one person decided that they were entitled to someone else’s food. I’d love to see an update to this letter because someone who consumes another person’s half-eaten chocolate bar may have underlying issues.

            1. Observer*

              There was an update. The OP’s boss did some investigating and fired both HR and the CW who had stolen the food, and re-hired the OP at a higher salary and some nice perks.

              1. LifeBeforeCorona*

                It was a long and strange spicy rabbit hole. People often have their lunches stolen without the resulting drama that the spicy food eater endured. It may turn out the popcorn thief’s backstory is just as convoluted. “Many years ago when she was a fresh intern her manager stole her snacks and she vowed eternal revenge on anyone who dared to leave popcorn unattended in the break room.”

              1. Observer*

                What exactly am I wrong about? While the OP originally got fired they were re-hired and the HR person (and their lover) got fired.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  You said that the spicy food thief was rehired. I was clarifying that the LW (who was not the thief) was the one rehired (with the food thief being fired along with the HR person).

                2. Jennifer Strange*

                  And I realized that I’m coming across as nitpicky there (apologies is that was just a typo on your part!) I just wanted to clarify who was rehired and who was fired in that story.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah, that’s one of those things that is satisfying to mull over in your mind, but should definitely not be done in practice. “She was stealing my lunch so I decided to lay a trap and poison her” is not considered acceptable grounds for laying a trap to poison someone. (I’m not sure *anything* is considered acceptable grounds for laying a trap to poison someone).

      The spicy food thief example is a totally different situation, because that was simply the OP’s lunch which she normally ate that spicy, so she wasn’t deliberately trying to poison someone.

      1. Dennis Feinstein*

        I immediately thought of the spicy food thief!
        I wonder if one of the LW’s coworkers (or the LW herself) could develop a taste for very spicy popcorn or chilli chocolate…

        1. LavaLamp*

          Is it really poisoning to suddenly develop a taste for durian? That might solve all your problems lol.

      2. TreeHillGrass*

        The word poison is being used quite loosely here. Exlax isn’t even considered toxic.

          1. Rose*

            You would NOT be on shaky pratap grounds for keeping common OTC medicine in your desk. Please stop spreading misinformation.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          No, it doesn’t have to be something you would find in a bottle with a skull and crossbones to be considered poisoning someone. If the intent is to cause physical distress to their body then you have poisoned them. Ex-lax is a valid treatment a person might need but for a person who doesn’t need it it may cause serious issues and of course any person may react poorly to something cause you don’t know what they might be allergic to or what conditions they might have that can’t handle whatever substance you gave them without their knowledge.

          Peanuts aren’t toxic, but if you intentionally feed them to someone with a severe peanut allergy then yeah I would absolutely say you poisoned them.

          1. Rose*

            No one is talking about force feeding anyone, or offering anything under false pretenses. If someone who is allergic to peanuts steals food out of your desk knowing they can’t reasonably know if it has peanuts in it, they’re pretty dumb and it’s 100% on them.

            No adult stealing and eating things out of someone else’s desk uninvited can reasonably claim to have been poisoned, period.

            1. Joielle*

              I am a lawyer and unfortunately it is not that simple. I know that seems like how it should be! But legally, it’s not straightforward at all – it really depends on the situation (state of mind, intent, jurisdiction, harm, etc.)

              Although it would be satisfying, the OP should not put out (or keep in their desk with their snacks) anything that they’re imagining the boss would steal and eat and have some kind of physical side effect. If the idea is that the boss would be taught a lesson by eating the thing, it’s a bad idea. Just put your snacks in a locking box (or a tampon box). Or develop a taste for something the boss wouldn’t steal (cricket crackers, maybe)?

              If you bring a laxative to work that looks like a chocolate bar, keep it with your meds or in your purse, not in your snack drawer.

              1. Anononon*

                Honestly, the amount of “legal” advice being thrown around in this comment section is ridiculous. Simply put, there is a much greater legal risk with setting traps compared to stealing a dollar candy bar/five dollar bag of popcorn! Judges aren’t dumb – they look at the totality of the circumstances, and no judge is going to buy that it was just a coincidence that ex-lax spiked chocolate was left in the same places where someone has been known to steal food.

                1. Joielle*

                  Yuuuuup. If “plausible deniability” is your best defense….. that’s not a good defense.

        2. quill*

          If it’s consumed as a medicine and not an actual food, you’re on shaky legal (maybe) and definitely moral grounds. Unlike the spicy food person, who genuinely prepared a lunch that they would eat but a thief might not like.

      3. X-Man*

        I don’t even get why we’re bringing up the spicy food thief. That story ended with both the thief and the crazy HR person getting fired themselves. It’s not some kind of cautionary tale cuz…the villains in said tale were summarily defeated and the LW got justice.

        1. Well...*

          I mean, the whole thing was super stressful for LW. In the end it worked out but I wouldn’t be inviting that kind of drama into my life. What if HR was never caught and he just stayed fired?

          1. ecnaseener*

            IIRC the HR person was having an affair or something with the thief. I guess it’s always possible, but it’s not like that’s a reasonably predictable outcome.

      4. MK*

        Leaving a half-finished snack that has some nontoxic substance is not deliberately trying to poison someone. I find it hard to believe that one could successfully sue because they got sick from food they stole. Maybe if the food was actually poisoned, there might be liability from leaving a dangerous substance unattended, but even then, I doubt it.

        1. Mongrel*

          Because if you deliberately adulterate your food in the hope of causing a food thief ‘discomfort’ it’s considered assault.
          Does it suck that there often seems to be no recourse? Yes, but ‘trap’ food is never legal and may have other implications.

            1. MK*

              It would be hard to prove, unless you made some kind of threat, like “if you ever take candy from my desk again, you will regret it”. Also, it would a lot more suspicious if the food has a laxative in it, which must have been deliberate, than if it’s just a snack spicy enough to burn your tongue or biscuits with salt and pepper, as the second could be personal preference or lousy cooking.

              1. nnn*

                I’m idly wondering what the legal status would be if you clearly labelled the adulterated food “Do not eat”

              2. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Right, so DON’T put the Ex-Lax in a Hershey’s wrapper; DO put it in a plastic baggie “so roaches don’t get to it”. And you took it out of the wrapper because you’d be embarrassed to be seen with Ex-Lax at work…right? ;)

                1. Ace in the Hole*

                  Whether or not you might get away with it, doesn’t make it legal. That just means you’re committing a crime without getting caught. It’s still legally (and in my opinion, morally) wrong.

                  Now if you want to do something unpleasant but genuinely harmless, like baking cookies with salt instead of sugar or adding copious amounts of garlic to your caramel popcorn… have at it.

            2. Tau*

              I’d consider the combination of it being well-known there’s a food thief in the office (especially if OP has complained about it/attempted to get the thief to stop/etc. before) and deliberately leaving a laxative that looks and tastes like candy in a location that’s been stolen from in the past to be pretty clear-cut myself. You’d have to do some serious fast-talking to explain that one to make you look innocent.

              Plus, let’s… not encourage people to commit crimes with the reasoning that they’ll most likely get away with it?

              1. StudentA*

                Right. This is kinda sad. People will get all kinds of creative just to avoid having an honest, genuine conversation or heck, keep their food locked away. There’s no point to stooping to anyone’s level.

                1. MK*

                  It’s also sad to have to keep snacks under lock and key because of one entitled jerk. After having an honest, genuine conversation that ended up with the entitled jerk, who is senior to them, becoming defensive and keep doing what they always did.

                  It’s also sad that people blithely suggest locking food, as if it is a simple and painless solution. It’s not: it’s adding extra effort and mental labor to one’s day, every single day. And it is creating an overall unpleasant environment.

                2. Observer*

                  It’s also sad that people blithely suggest locking food, as if it is a simple and painless solution. It’s not: it’s adding extra effort and mental labor to one’s day, every single day. And it is creating an overall unpleasant environment.

                  And poisoning someone (which IS what is being suggested!) is a good solution? It’s a terrible solution. It has all of the drawbacks that you describe and more, because you literally are trying to do significant damage to someone.

                  Sure, this is a dysfunctional workplace. And the OP’s best bet is to start working on an exit plan. NOT developing plans to commit insane acts. Talk about warping one’s norms!

                3. Jcarnall*

                  If this were happening to me (I know because it did) I’d have a couple of conversations with the food thief, then I’d move to a lockable container. I had a couple of people suggest to me at the time that I should spike the food with a laxative, and I dismissed that as an intrinsically bad idea.

                  But I was genuinely interested in the idea that if I took a bar of ex-lax chocolate to work, and put it in my own desk drawer, which is not a place anyone should be taking sweets OR medications from, I could be held legally liable if someone stole it and ate it thinking it was regular chocolate. I don’t see how that’s possible. My desk, my chocolate bar, don’t take without asking.

              2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                I think there can be some middle ground as long as it’s a case of “non-candy looks like candy” item is clearly labeled as what it is, is in your desk drawers, and brought in for your personal use – like calcium chews or gummy vitamins. But this is more like the Spicy food person – no, this is my personal spice level, this is my treatment plan with my dr for my own health needs (and I should be able to keep labeled health needs in my desk at work) without being accused of “trapping” the food thief.

                1. Tau*

                  Oh yeah, obviously it needs to be fine to store medication in your drawer for your personal use. And I admit that in OP’s situation I’d be tempted to start bringing in salmiak liquorice (or the chili-flavoured one I discovered recently). But people’s suggestions of, like, strategically placed laxative candy are… not that.

                2. jcarnall*

                  For a while I was taking three different medications, pills, at regular intervals through the day. I knew what each pill looked like (they were all different shapes/colours) and I knew when I had to take each one. I rarely bothered to take the original packaging in with them – I have a pill box, I used that.

                  (Had anyone queried what I was taking, I could and would have brought in the original packaging and the prescriptions, but nobody ever did.)

                  If I’d ever needed to take Ex-Lax at work, I don’t think I would have brought it in in original wrapper – I’d have kept the whole bar at home, broken off the piece I needed to take, wrapped it for safety, and put it in my pill-box.

                  If someone had then claimed I was legally liable for any ill-effects for taking my medication when they rifled through my desk looking for snacks and found what they took to be candy and ate them (the box I use for pills isn’t labelled DRUGS or MEDICATIONS or anything, it’s just a nicely airtight little box with a tight lif that I find convenient) then … well, I’d say they were wrong. My desk, my private pill box, my prescription (or OTC) medications, nobody else has any business taking them.

                  And I would say the same applies if you have a single square of Ex-Lax chocolate in your desk in a non-standard wrapper: if it’s there for you to take, in your desk, and you know what it is, the legal liability is on whoever steals this and takes it, not on you for having it in your desk.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              1) In this scenario where it is clearly common knowledge around the office and there is now this article as written evidence that OP knew from history their boss was likely to take it and eat it, that could all be used to argue it was deliberate.

              2) I am so extremely disappointed that this comment section today has so many people arguing that it is okay to commit a crime if no one can prove you did it on purpose.

              1. ecnaseener*

                “Could be used to argue” =/= “would hold up in court.”

                I realize you’re not directing this solely at me, but I was asking a genuine question – not advocating for anything.

            4. Observer*

              How is anyone proving that it’s deliberate?How is anyone proving that it’s deliberate?

              Come on! If food is mislabeled, put in different wrappers or spiked with ingredients that are not normally there, it’s not reasonable to claim that it wasn’t deliberate.

              Leave a bar of Ex-Lax in it’s original wrapping, and Patty eats it? That’s on her. Frost your cupcakes with it? And then leave it unlabeled? No one is going to be stupid enough to think that this wasn’t deliberate.

              1. ecnaseener*

                The comment I was responding to said “leaving a half-finished snack”…so clearly something the leaver was in the middle of eating themselves. Sorry for asking how that’s demonstrably a trap.

          1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

            No assault is direct threat or placing hands/direct contact with a person. Having something spicy in a desk drawer not intended for the person taking it is not assault. The person sought it out and consumed it of their own volition without the person’s to whom the desk “belongs” knowledge.

          2. TardyTardis*

            And yet I buy sugar free hard candy because I like hard candy *and* hate cavities. If it’s in an unopened bag and says sugar free, and the thief has a bad reaction, well, sucks to be them.

        2. Well...*

          I think if you try to harm someone and they get much sicker than you expect, you are on the hook for a lawsuit/criminal case. If the exlax goes as expected, you’re ok, but if the food thief is on other meds/has an underlying condition/accidentally gets a huge dose, then you could be in trouble. It’s risky.

          1. Batgirl*

            Plus it’s just simply not a conscientious thing to do! Messing with someone’s insides as a punishment for theft is using a hammer to crack a nut. I know it’s annoying, but c’mon.

    4. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I just had to laugh at this: “often brags about how she can get this popcorn on her own.”

      To the OP – take a little solace in knowing that the VP is a sad sad person.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah I feel really sorry for her. I would leave her out some sad snacks, like rice cakes or something.

        1. pbnj*

          I used to have a boss who would steal cookies and other snacks from people’s lunch boxes and lockers. Someone figured out that he didn’t like pecan sandies, so it ended up being the only kind of cookie people would bring. So while I don’t consider pecan sandies to be a “sad” choice, I would get some enjoyment by leaving out snacks that food-thief-VP dislikes/hates and watching them get huffy about it.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          It would tickle me if everyone in OP’s office kept only plain rice cakes in their drawers. The only reason they exist is to convey something better-tasting to your mouth.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            I would cut the label off of some tasty treats and paste it on said rice cakes.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “You think I can’t afford rolls?! I can afford better rolls than your cheap-ass rolls! I’ve got plenty of money for non-cheap-ass rolls!!!!”

        3. the cat's ass*

          Sad snacks! I love this! But seriously, get a locked lunch/snack box; leave your good stuff in your car in a cooler if that’s viable; use your locked office drawer; get a bike lock and LOCK a couple of drawers closed together; find a new job where the VP isn’t such a colossal sociopath.

        4. JustaTech*

          Unsalted plain rice cakes. Unsalted Matzo.

          That said, I once had a coworker complain of a stomach ache after eating very, very expired coffee-flavored lozenges out of the first aid cabinet.

      2. Colette*

        Yeah, I’d be tempted to reply “It’s OK, I know you can’t afford to buy your own snacks.”

        This seems like it’s one of two things – a compulsion that needs treatment, or a power play because no one can stop her taking their snacks.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          Each year at the holidays I send out a message saying, among other things, “Best wishes to all, including the haters and losers who don’t have popcorn money like I do.”

          That’s my little contribution to the spirit of the season.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes bragging about being able to afford popcorn is one of the oddest things I have read on this site I think.

      4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Yeah Pleaset Cheap Rolls, I was thinking when I read this that if VP is this openly terrible then the company probably has other red flags. That she has made it to VP level despite this kind of behavior makes me wonder what other kinds of train wrecks Company allows.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Possible the thief is a very extreme example of “kiss up-punch down” in action, but more likely there are also other things going on.

    5. MistOrMister*

      Yeahhh, I would never suggest that. You never know what is going,on with someone internally. If someone is already taking a laxative and you expose them to another dose that could, at the least, cause them some truly horrifying diarrhea. Or interact with medicines they’re on. Definitely not something a person should ever do.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          To clarify: this can be life threatening.

          It’s wrong to steal people’s snacks. But that doesn’t make it okay to do something seriously dangerous to the thief.

      1. Jam Today*

        Any person who legitimately has digestive issues significant enough to be taking medication for them, or is concerned with their food intake so that it doesn’t exacerbate the problem, is not stealing food. They are rigidly monitoring everything they put in their mouth, reading every label down to the last ingredient, and not eating anything with unknown provenance.

        1. Regardless of Personal Cost*

          Oh, golly, I wish this was true. I keep seeing brittle diabetics who’ve eaten cake, or people with a history of alcoholic pancreatitis who had some drinks, or just people who stop taking their antihypertensive medications then mysteriously end up in the hospital with hypertension.

          Not all people are good stewards of themselves.

      1. Forty Years in the Hole*

        I would (dream about) a well-placed dish of Haribo sugarless gummies…but that’s the snark in me.

        In Canada there’s a Criminal Code section on “applying a noxious thing,” which is pretty broad-based, but depending on the severity and intent, could get you up to 2 yrs, or up to 14 yrs.
        But for a laff anyway:

    6. Like, Totally Anonymous, Man*

      No, please do not suggest this. At my high school there was a “prank” where some kids gave the gym teacher brownies laced with something like ex-lax…and he nearly died because of an allergy to it. This is slightly different than what JI is suggesting here but downthread a lot of people get into suggesting things like this. It’s not likely to go wrong, but if it goes wrong it can go very, VERY wrong indeed.

      I am, however, in favor of hijinks like “spicy popcorn” or “every flavor jelly beans” as long as the person bringing in the food isn’t deliberately laying a trap with a known allergy situation (something with peanuts when the thief is known to be allergic).

    7. Dusting My Own Crops*

      Maybe get some Halloween makeup, put fake cold sores around your mouth, then go offer her the other half of your candy bar?

    8. stampysmom*

      No food (or teabag/hot chocolate) allowed to be left overnight in my offices. Mice and cockroaches like to come for your stuff. So this is no longer an issue.

    9. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Another thing you might try is mix some of the gross flavored Harry Potter Jelly Belly’s with some assorted regular flavored ones in a small bag of “assorted” Jelly Belly’s, leave it in your desk drawer, and wait for Popcorn Patty to steal them. That might stop her from doing it again. Haha!

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        They also have the Bean Boozled Jelly Belly’s that also includes gross flavors along with normal ones. Just put them in a different bag so Popcorn Patty doesn’t know what she’s walking into. :)

  3. July*

    #5 Please do as Alison has suggested. You may end up taking the courses if your employer has no one else to send anyway or you could be taking up a spot that could have been given to someone else who still works there that could benefit the company where you couldn’t anymore.

    1. Amaranth*

      Do employers really allow ex-employees to use those kind of reservations without paying them back? All the similar training I’ve gone to, I’ve been signed up as ‘from x corporation’ and its on all the check-in materials. I suppose you could call and tell the organizers to take off the affiliation.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Not all have an affiliation. I know of classes that don’t. I think it depends on the area. Also, it sounds like they might be doing online, and so there’s usually nothing like John from acme org. Unless it’s in the profile.

    2. 4CeeleenLV*

      However, it could also lead to ill will or being asked to repay the former employer for the cost of the classes. Many employers have a clause for professional development that requires some level of repayment if the employee does not stay at the company for X amount of time after the training. The idea is if the employer is paying for the course, they expect you to stay so they can benefit from what they paid for.

  4. AKchic*

    LW1: with the office structure as it is, your food thief has no reason to stop stealing food. Communal food will always be at risk, and probably purposely bought by the company in order for her to freely take so she theoretically won’t steal from individual staffers.
    Staffers are going to need to lock up their personal items. Locking drawers, locking snack boxes, etc., anything that is strictly “I have the only access and food thief doesn’t”. And expect your food thief to be furious. Expect that if the locking container can be thrown, it will be, possibly in the trash, or even into the parking lot. Expect the locks to be tampered with.
    This co-irker is a missing stair and management has been skipping around her for a good while. There is no fixing this gaping hole in the staircase. You pretty much need to rebuild the entire staircase. Unfortunately, management won’t do that just for “interpersonal conflicts surrounding food”. Which is why you document all of the times she’s stolen personal food, bragged about stealing food, how often she’s rummaged through personal belongings to steal personal food items (and had opportunities to steal other items, even if she didn’t), and what steps you’re taking to circumvent (locking, etc.) and how she escalates. Show that it’s more than food, it’s boundary violations, privacy violations, theft, and depending on how she reacts to the locks, possible vandalism.

    Good luck, and happy future snacking.

    1. Gammagirl1908*

      Also, I encourage LW1 to think of this is the real problem it is. This letter is written as though the problem is kind of silly and LW1 feels dumb making a big deal out of it.

      No. This is a big deal. This affects people‘s budgets, and that goes double when it’s a higher-paid person stealing from lower-paid people. This is also a power play, and that goes double when it’s a higher-up stealing from underlings. It is a privacy issue and a sanitation issue when your colleague digs through your desk and takes your half-eaten food. Then, people also have specific food issues and allergies, and taking the food they can eat may leave them without sustenance for the day or can trigger problems with diabetes or hypoglycemia or bulimia. For those of us who plan out our calories carefully, having someone come along and take our snack can throw us off for a whole week.

      That’s all on top of the fact that someone you’re supposed to respect at work thinks it’s… uh, funny to steal and brag about it.

      It’s one thing if a friend of yours comes along while you are eating and snitches a few of your grapes, but that’s not what this is. This person has a problem.

      This is a very big deal. It’s not silly. Feel free to unsmilingly and unapologetically lock up your popcorn and chocolate and treat this like the real problem it is.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Every word of this.

        And honestly the dysfunction and disrespect would be enough to have me looking for a new job. What a sucky environment.

        1. Despachito*


          I also perceive this as a power play, and a nasty one.

          (I remember a case of food disappearing from the communal fridge at my previous work. The main suspect was, guess who? The boss. Needless to say that nothing was done for fear of repercussions, and she got away with it.

          Seriously, what’s wrong with some bosses?

      2. CatMintCat*

        I have Type 1 diabetes. Someone messing with my snacks could lead to serious consequences for me.

      3. Forrest*

        Yeah, I agree, the lack of respect and the VP’s belief that they’re untouchable is the bigger problem here. What else does she feel entitled to help herself to? Why is nobody more senior concerned about this? Senior managers should be modelling the organisation’s values: what will other bad actors in the organisation feel empowered to do if senior managers think it’s ok to steal from staff?

        I think locking stuff up is the way to go in the short term, but the fact that you have to because you *can’t trust* your senior managers would totally sour me on the job. It’s not trivial at all!

      4. Not So NewReader*

        This makes me think about submitting reimbursement requests for the stolen food.
        The problem there is that the is no reimbursing the time and gas spent procuring the items.

        1. JB*

          The even bigger issue, for me, would be the cost of replacement items.

          Bringing in lunch (or snacks) from home can be quite cheap, depending on how a person handles their shopping. On the other hand, buying a replacement once you’re already at work, hungry, and discover your food is missing – your options are limited at that point and might all be more expensive.

          1. PT*

            I’ve worked places where there were very few places you could even get lunch nearby. Especially for hourly staff, and especially for people who did not have cars. Those people, if their lunch was stolen, would not be able to eat unless they got permission to take an extended lunch (thus losing pay) to take the bus (hopefully they had a pass so they didn’t have to pay bus fare) somewhere that sold food.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              I used to occasionally work at a site about 1 hour drive from town, and we all carpooled from the main office in town out the jobsite. The food you brought with you was the only food you would have for about 12 hours.

              I’m pretty sure a lunch theft there would have started a literal fistfight. Fortunately we were all decent human beings who didn’t steal from our coworkers.

      5. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        If my friend came along and snitched a few grapes I was eating while they were talking to me, they would experience my wrath. (Think the “Joey doesn’t share food!” line from Friends) LOL!

      6. cncx*

        yes, i worked at a place where i had the lowest salary and one of the highest paid who also had generational wealth would steal my lunch, then call me into his office while he was eating it. Big dysfunctional flex.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Stealing your lunch and then eating it in front of you? Certain people never left high school, did they?

      7. Cordyceps*

        Yes, absolutely. Came here to comment on the “power display” aspect of this. If it was just about the food, the VP would just steal it and not say anything. The fact that she feels the need to brag about it, is a whole other level of dysfunction. It’s a way to belittle the junior staff so the VP can feel superior. I’d be willing to bet stealing food is just one of MANY similar behaviors this VP exhibits.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      Totally agree on documenting this, compiled by a bunch of people so it isn’t received as one person’s griping and making them a target for retaliation. The offender is a vice president, which means there is a president above her who should be the recipient for the documentation. Of course this assumes there’s common sense at that level, which may or may not be the case.

    3. Poopsie*

      I was going to suggest the same: keep records. It might seem silly to catalogue half a bar of something being taken but it may have more of an impact. If you and all your colleagues keep a record of what was taken, when and how much the purchase price of it was it goes from ‘oh it’s just a couple of Snickers, it’s wrong but we have more important stuff going on’ to a black and white, hard to deny record ‘oh gosh, so you alone have had $30’s of personal property stolen this month?’. And then if they are seeing the same kind of info from other staff it shows the scale of the issue. Especially if you stress that it’s costing you and your colleagues financially as it IS your personal property and you are having to pay to replace it.

      Personal lock boxes are the easiest option, but if you are willing to bear it a bit more and take the records to a same level manager or the CEO keep records.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Was coming here to say this. Except I would take the record straight to the thief and say, loudly but calmly, “you owe me $30 for the food you stole from me this month. I expect payment by the end of the week.” If she didn’t pay up, I’d keep asking “where’s that $30 you owe me for the food you STOLE?” And if she had the gall to keep stealing my food I’d up the number accordingly. “Yesterday you stole my organic coconut milk dark chocolate bar that cost me $2.60. You now owe me $32.60 for food stolen from me since July 1st.”
        I’d also look up maybe what the minimum dollar amount is for small claims court. Not that I’d necessarily sue her, but it’d be fun to have that info handy…

        1. EPLawyer*

          Waaaay too much drama. You want the thief to be the source of the drama, not yourself. Do not make a scene about it.

          Get the lockbox, if it is damaged or thrown away, document it. If the lock is circumevented and the food stolen, document it. Then tell the person above the thief, this is what is it is costing us and lost productivity in having to keep track of our own food. Please do something. The higher ups reaction will tell you if this is worth sticking around for.

          1. Ella*

            I don’t know, I mean, I don’t think this necessarily has to be a big dramatic show. Just in front of people, casually go, “hey Maurice, you took £30 worth of food from me last month. Can you give me cash now or should I send over my online banking details so you can transfer?”. I don’t think that makes OP dramatic or causing any drama, just laying out the financial implications of what the thief has done.

            1. LDN Layabout*

              The thief clearly doesn’t care, all you’d be doing is making other people uncomfortable.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Wow. Way to perpetuate the problem. Any discomfort about a confrontation over the food thefts is 100% on the VP. Calling out the victim for bringing attention to the antisocial behavior of the victimizer for “making people uncomfortable” is a classic tactic of abusers to keep their victims quiet. I’ll assume the best, that maybe you just haven’t dealt with this type of person before, but please do keep in mind that the victimizer is causing the situation, if the victim speaks up and it makes people uncomfortable that is a GOOD thing; they should be trying to stop the triggering behavior that is the root cause, and they have every right to do so.

                1. LDN Layabout*

                  Do you actually understand what a trigger is or were you playing twitter callout bingo? At no point is the OP being triggered or abused. She’s being stolen from, brazenly. Brazenly enough that a public callout is going to make no difference to the perpetrator.

                  The people who’d be uncomfortable in this situation are their coworkers, who would also be fellow victims considering what OP has told us about the VP in question. They mostly likely do not have the power to stop the VP stealing, any more than the OP does. That’s why they need to report it to someone more senior.

                2. Despachito*

                  “Calling out the victim for bringing attention to the antisocial behavior of the victimizer for “making people uncomfortable” is a classic tactic of abusers to keep their victims quiet.”

                  This is something I’ve never managed to wrap my head around.
                  You are wronged, but it only becomes a problem when YOU begin to resolve it, and it is YOU who is making the waves/is petty. While this
                  should absolutely be on the perpetrator.

                  I have no advice, I am just ranting. I have been always stunned when I come across this thinking (way too often), and I will find any functional advice helpful and relieving.

              2. tamarack and fireweed*

                This reaction is one that’s outside my understanding.

                Maybe the thief will care if people start documenting it – without big scenes or anything, just visibly and calmly. Maybe the thief won’t start caring but the manager will. And maybe it’s just the first step in people leaving over it. Or everyone getting lockboxes. Or whatever the next step is.

                Offices aren’t places where *necessarily* everyone standardises on the lowest, meanest, most dysfunctional behavior! There’s such a thing as social pressure.

            2. Observer*

              just laying out the financial implications of what the thief has done.

              And playing right into the thief’s play.

              The thief KNOWS the financial hit. The more you make an issue of it TO HER, the more she’s going to do it. Think about it – she’s boasting that SHE can “afford” to buy this stuff on her own, but she would rather steal it from others who CAN’T afford it. Remind her that they can’t afford it and she’ll steal some extra.

          2. Eat My Squirrel*

            Well to be fair, I imagine myself being so angry that I’d barely be able to restrain myself from screaming at her with a stream of profanities and punching her in the face. Especially if I caught her in the act (my drawers or anyone else’s). So, “you owe me money” was my less dramatic conclusion. lol.

        2. Tau*

          In addition to what EPLawyer said, I have a lot of difficulty imagining a junior employee doing this to a VP who’s been behaving the way this one has and it ending well for the junior.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Ut I think it may get some movement on the problem if a whole bunch of lower level employees go in a group with lists to another manager (either at her level or above her) and make it clear to that other person this is a widespread and active major problem.

            (Or maybe I’m just hopeful that a display like this could get others heads out of the sand to stop the theft.)

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              Yup, i too think that a lot depends on the details. So, ok, the thief is senior to the LW and is a VP. What kind of place is this? One with 15 VPs some of whom are owners of the pilfered popcorn? And a handful of senior managers who may be a step below the thief but they have business units to run, and can make a good argument that This Is Not OK? Or is the thief the second in command with firm support from the boss-of-it-all and the rest of the office are all lower-level staff?

              The situation is much more shiftable in the first case than in the second.

    4. Ana*

      I kinda want to buy a whiteboard for the office and put a line in plain sight whenever something is stolen or bragged about being stolen.
      “Times X has stolen food or bragged about stealing:
      Date – date – date, etc.”

      1. pbnj*

        Since she’s the VP, you could start submitting expense reports for fun. Although for me, it’d be more something I fantasize about and not actually do. I would at least expense getting a lockbox or supplies to lock your food up.

    5. Myrin*

      I very much agree with the record-keeping, but I’m not sure where you got “management has been skipping around her for a good while. […] Unfortunately, management won’t do that just for “interpersonal conflicts surrounding food”” from.

      As far as OP tells us, no one has ever brought this up with the president/potential owner before. Depending on the office’s/work’s structure, they might indeed not at all be aware of the food-stealing and would be aghast if they ever heard of it. Sure, the fact that Patty is the vice president means she was probably appointed by the president which in turn means they place a certain amount of trust in her and the fact that OP doesn’t even mention Patty’s boss might mean they’re just as useless but WHO KNOWS. If no one has ever approached them about this issue before and they seem at all like a reasonable person, OP should definitely talk to them as well.

      1. AKchic*

        I made the assumption based on LW’s words. She said that there is communal food free for everyone (like giant bags of popcorn, which the food thief takes and hoards in her office). In my mind, it makes sense that someone high up started a communal snack system to keep the thief from taking other people’s food. I’d bet that they all are on the same level, or near enough. Now, to avoid getting in trouble with whoever initiated the communal snack system, she steals from the lower-level employees while still raiding the communal snacks.
        It’s mostly power play, especially when the bragging is involved. It’s also a chance to snoop and push boundaries.

        The CEO needs to be made aware because I doubt the thefts stop at food.

        1. Yorick*

          That somebody started a communal snack system because of her stealing and therefore won’t do anything about it is a huge assumption. OP has not told us anything that leads to that.

        2. Myrin*

          Okay, wow, those are some surprisingly big leaps and honestly reads like one of the least likely ways this went down imaginable.

        3. the cat's ass*

          Agreed. We have communal food at my office, and one of the medical assistants would wait for the delivery from Costco and then hoard. It was one of the many reasons she was ultimately sacked (and what a performance THAT was). Balance of power is different here, unfortunately.

    6. Exhausted Trope*

      “co-irker”? Yes, indeed! I feel irked at the food thief on the Letter Writer’s behalf.

  5. Prefer my pets*

    Slightly different angle on 2…
    I’m actually really grateful when people put stuff like that on their public pages…it let’s me know what companies I need to avoid. If it truly is just this ONE sales rep/employee then I might give them a heads up why they are losing my business. The past several years I’ve taken to doing a bit of a deeper dive though…I check out the social media pages of any business I’m considering using but also the owners’ personal pages if I can find them, key employees, etc. I refuse to give money to people who think my friends & I are lesser humans. I am careful to NOT disclose to the company that is why I’m rejecting their bids for projects/services because frankly I don’t want them to become self aware enough to hide it from other ethical consumers while not changing their opinions.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Years ago when same-sex marriage was legalized my hairdresser went off on religious-based rant against it while cutting my hair. She had no idea how I felt about the issue or even if I might be gay. It was very uncomfortable being trapped while she worked on me. When she finally finished her rant I paid her (no tip) and never returned to that salon. Later, I tried calling the salon to speak to the manager but I never got a return call.

      1. Pennyworth*

        My father stopped visiting his podiatrist for something similar. Apart from the offensive diatribe my 90 year old dad was incensed that the podiatrist just assumed his opinions were shared.

      2. It's Growing!*

        I stopped using a hairdresser who got frozen over when I told her we’d just come back from Morocco and loved it. She evidently had a problem with enjoying a Muslim country. Her antipathy was pretty much on display.

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          When I got my hair cut in early June, I found out my hairdresser isn’t vaccinated and thinks it really isn’t necessary because he is young and healthy.
          Oh, damn!
          I did point out that he was dealing with the public all day, that the virus doesn’t care whether someone exercises and eats well, etc etc but I don’t know whether I made a dint. And I also could understand that in our city here in Canada, it was a little more difficult at that time for a working person to find a vaccine appointment. But vaccine availability has improved significantly since then, so I know he would be able now to get an appointment at the pharmacy which is RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the salon!
          So I will be due for another cut in a few weeks. I guess I will find out then whether I will be searching for a new hairdresser or not.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        A few years back my barber of many years retired, so I was making the rounds of barbers in my not-very-large town. I would mention that I had been a customer of the old guy, which is to say I was announcing that I was a potential long-term revenue stream (OK: trickle, but still…). The first one I went to made barber chit-chat by complaining about how many Mexican restaurants there are in town. I didn’t go back. I get this a lot. I am a middle aged white hetero cis-male. The sort of people who complain about too many Mexican restaurants often assume I am one of them. I keep track of who does this, and direct my business accordingly.

          1. Not hungry*

            Because he was really complaining about the Mexican *people* in the town.

            That reminds me of a time when someone at my company (very well known, progressive tech company), complained on a mailing list about how there was too much Indian food being served in the cafes. There was always a choice of food, it was about the target market for the food.

      4. Justme, The OG*

        My mom left a hair stylist for similar reasons. Although the name of the salon was a biblical reference so I’m not really surprised at their reaction.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            No, but that would have been hilarious. It was about hair being a woman’s crown and glory.

      5. Found a New Dentist*

        my dental hygienist did this last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests…it was so awkward her keeping going on and on about how “All Lives Matter” and she doesn’t understand how these thugs are all busting up windows and that’s why noone wants to come downtown and they deserve to be in jail” and I couldn’t even reply b/c her hands were in my mouth. i’ll never go back there. i canceled my next appointment and made an appointment with a new dentist.

        1. laser99*

          I cannot understand why anyone at all discusses politics at work. It is so clearly a recipe for disaster.

      6. The New Normal*

        I stopped seeing my chiropractor of nearly 15 years because he told me – a school employee who had just been vaccinated – that there was no reason for kids to wear masks or be home. I told him about one of our perfectly healthy student athletes who was literal hours from death due to COVID before his parents relented and allowed him to get a blood transfusion from someone who had recovered from COVID. The student survived, but had to learn to walk all over again. But okay, chiropractor, kids don’t get it.

    2. Old Admin*

      My (really great) osteopath turned out to be a Covid denier.
      I’m in a country that traces contacts of infected people. So when he asked me to lie about my appointments with him in case I got sick (“to preserve his business”), I stopped going.
      He sent me a number of emails asking me to come back – seems his other customers didn’t like his stance either – but I didn’t reply any more.

      1. tangerineRose*

        That’s horrifying, plus he asks his patients to lie. Who knows what other ethical issues he has.

    3. Elle Woods*

      I am as well. I live in a mid-size town and used the same carpet cleaning service for years. They’d always done a good job and were very reasonably priced. The last time they cleaned the carpet & rugs a few years ago, the owner was the one doing the work. A few days later, I looked up the owner’s social media pages. He had many, many public posts that were outrageously offensive (frankly, some were vulgar) and decided I’d never do business with the company again.

    4. quill*

      It is much nicer to not have to be interacting with someone in person. when their views that make you feel unsafe come up. Easier to back away slowly from your computer than the guy inspecting your teeth.

    5. Dasein9*

      Yes! No need to let abusive people in on how to appear less abusive. They can do real harm if they gain access to some parts of people’s lives.

      1. the cat's ass*

        Voting with your wallet is a good strategy. I’ve had to find a new stylist, dentist and chiropractor in the last 5 years. Not subsidizing racists, homophobes, anti vaxxers or COVID-deniers. I didn’t bother with a not, just cancelled all existing appointments and ghosted.

  6. Shinobi*

    LW3 – One of the things that helps me a lot as a manager is when people frame their issues or questions or discussion items with the full context of the problem and steps taken thus far. Sometimes people want to discuss a thing and they will start very open ended “I can’t get my widget to work.” Which leads me to start with all the obvious things like have you made sure your widget is plugged in?

    What helped me a lot was asking people to present the whole of what they have done so far so we are both discussing the problem at its current state. “I have tried everything to fix my widgets, I have turned them on and off again and even updated thier firmware, have you had this issue?”

    Perhaps if you are more proactive in this way with your mentor you can have a more productive discussion? “this is a complex series of things so let me give you the background”

    Its also helpful if you have a couple of things you are choosing between to outline those options? Rather than leaving things open ended. It’s a learning process for your mentor as well so thinking about what you really want to get out of those meetings is also good.

    1. Venus*

      I agree, and want to encourage LW3 to bring specific problems to the meetings. I have had a few mentorships and they evolved when I got good ideas from smart people, so I kept asking them for advice. They would only talk about things I brought up, except when asking for suggestions about their own problems.

      1. BradC*

        Adding my support to this idea – come to the mentorship meetings with very specific questions, hopefully less of the “how do I do this” variety that lead to the kinds of answers you’ve been dissatisfied with.

  7. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    #1: You could keep your snacks in your desk drawer with a note taped to the snack that says “Hands off!!!” Or “Buy your own snacks!!!” Or “What kind of person goes into someone else’s desk and steals their snacks???” Or something like that. If she gets upset, she will have to admit that she was snooping through your desk. And even if she is blatant about it anyway, at least she will be the one that brings it up and will look foolish.

    Also love the chocolate Ex-lax idea another commenter mentioned. Haha!

    1. EPlawyer*

      All Patty will do is take the food and leave the note. She won’t bring it up. If she could be shamed she wouldn’t be bragging about her hoarding.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        She would keep the note as a trophy. Keeping your food under lock and key is your best option.

    2. Windchime*

      I actually had this work, although my Patty was a housekeeping person who came around after hours and was taking diet Coke from a box under my desk. I put a not on the box that said, “Stop taking pop. This isn’t yours.” I was gone when she read the note; she tried to explain to a coworker that she had only taken one (not true) and it was because her blood sugar was low (but diet Coke has no sugar in it). At any rate, it’s worth a try. Patty stopped taking my pop.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes, but that’s a person who could probably lose her job over this kind of theft. Patty clearly isn’t concerned about it.

    3. Observer*

      If she gets upset, she will have to admit that she was snooping through your desk. And even if she is blatant about it anyway, at least she will be the one that brings it up and will look foolish.

      Patty is blatant about it. And she is not going to feel foolish about bringing it up – she’s already said much worse.

    4. Ponytail*

      Could you feasibly put a more strongly worded note in, I’m thinking with actual swear words, and then, if faced with possible managerial intervention, say that you didn’t write them, that your partner (who packs your lunch) did, and they were an inside joke between the two of you?

    5. Nonny Meese*

      Back in the Before Times, when we had an office, I’d keep salad dressing in the communal fridge. I put a note on it saying, “Help yourself, but be advised that I lick the drips!” (And I did. This was a drippy sort of salad dressing.) No idea whether anyone used it, but at least they were warned.

  8. MeowMixers*

    “Popcorn Patty” – I love that name. I had a coworker who drank out of my half-used bottle of Diet Coke in the fridge, that had my initials. She told everyone that it was an “accident” but she didn’t even have soda that week. It was normal for us to leave food overnight. I was upset because I saved it for when I came in at 6 am to work (I worked till 10 pm the night before so I was exhausted). I hate coffee. So I was pretty grumpy that morning. I wish there was a solution, but people who steal are going to keep on stealing. I would leave my food in my lunch box or backpack.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Someone once took my half-empty clearly labelled Contigo water bottle. I found it on their desk and took it back without a word to them.

    2. Pennyworth*

      Didn’t someone here once say she successfully hides can of soda in empty margarine containers in her office fridge? Popcorn Patty might be deterred by a similar ruse – put the real snacks into something like a tampon box.

      I’d also leave completely empty snack packets in my desk drawer – so she would wonder if someone else beat her to it.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This is the best suggestion I’ve read so far. It will work until Patty gets her period (I don’t imagine she buys her own supplies).

      2. Batgirl*

        That’s a genius idea! There are also lots of hideaway containers you can buy on the web for backpackers to stash valuables in. I’ve seen faux sunscreen bottles etc that you can stash things in.

        1. Clisby*

          This thread had me going down that rabbit hole, too. I found one where you could hide your snacks (non-refrigerated only) inside a hollowed-out dictionary. Holy hell, Batman.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Or find a ruined book (maybe you can ask the library if they have something like this that they’re going to throw away) and make your own.

            Much better than the Ex-Lax idea, which could cause serious problems for the person doing that. Well, maybe if the Ex-Lax is clearly labeled, it would probably be OK, right?

  9. June*

    Only a lock box will solve the problem of your immature food thief. A heavy one with a good lock. You can talk yourself red in the face to management and the entire time she will be stuffing down your candy.

    1. L6orac6*

      Do this when you move onto another job!, this boss is liable to give you the sack, she sounds that petty.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        No need for any identifying information as to their source. Just leave them someplace where they will be stolen.

    2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Oh lawd, do this to only your worst enemies. I had a run in with a similar product. ( sugar free cookies) Its the sugar substitute that gets you. When it has a warning that says “This product may have a laxative effect” on the package, yay, heed that warning. Twelve hours after I consumed the devil cookies, it was…unstoppable to say the least.

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah, I buy sugar free products and you very quickly learn to only eat a small portion!

      2. Cranky lady*

        Yup. Sorbitol (used in many sugar free gums/candies) is actually prescribed as a laxative.

      3. Anonny*

        I’m diabetic and those warnings are one hell of an understatement. A more appropriate one would be “this product will make you sh*t out your entire digestive tract and also your soul if you eat more than two per day”.

        1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          I can attest to that. Theres a uniform from Cintas somewhere out there that I just threw away along with everything else I had on cuz it caused a utterly and fully involved crap-cano before I could reach the bathroom. I havent eaten any sugar free anything since. Beware the evil.

    3. Pennilyn Lot*

      Just to check – you get what you’re suggesting is illegal? Like it is not legal to intentionally try and poison someone or try and make them ill with food, even if they’re annoying. Illegal in the sense that you might get punished for it. It does not matter that it’s with a legal substance. It is not legal to intentionally harm someone like that. Whereas legal or not, stealing someone’s food in the office is not rising to the level of police business.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s a legally – available food (not medical) product with the appropriate warnings written right on the package. It’s not disguised as anything.

        That’s very different from an unwrapped half X-LAX bar (looks like chocolate, doesn’t say X-LAX).

  10. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    OP1 – not a real suggestion, but if she goes through people’s personal belongings, could you go through her purse to find the amount of money your stolen snack cost… you know… to pay for it? Or just stand at her desk and say “that candy bar was 75 cents” and hold out your hand?

    Also when she brags about stealing stuff, I would respond, “What a strange thing to be proud of. Why are you happy/excited about taking things that belong to other people?”

    But for real, that is infuriating and everyone suggesting locking lunchboxes is probably your best bet (even better if you can get everyone to get them so her food supply is completely cut off).

    1. MistOrMister*

      I like the idea of walking up to her and demanding payment for whatever she took!! Granted, I don’t think she would pay, but that would open up a whole convo which could be satisfying.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is making me think. I wonder if OP could ask for a raise since she MUST provide snacks for Popcorn Patty and this is cutting into her take home pay.

      2. ecnaseener*

        I just worry that Patty would sneer at LW for caring about the cost of a chocolate bar, especially if it is like 75 cents. LW would have to be comfortable doubling down on the “yeah some of us aren’t paid as much as you which makes it even more egregious that you steal from us”

        1. Not always right*

          Where are y’all finding candy bars for just $.75. Where I live the lowest price is a dollar. (Unless you luck up on a sale or have a good coupon) usually they are closer to $1.50 to $1.75 each for a decent sized bar.

  11. John Smith*

    #LW5, you might want to check what your employment contract states. In the UK, it’s common to have a clause that requires the employee to reimburse the employer if they leave the company X years after taking a course.

    Personally, I’d be struggling morally to go on the course. Not only would the employer no longer benefit from having a more qualified employee, but it may be that their finances have been stretched by paying for this. Even if they could afford it, it feels a bit cheeky to me.

    On saying that, if it were my current employer, I’d probably snatch whatever I could from them to make up for all the shit they’ve put me through the past few years.

    1. Ina Lummick*

      I found this weird when I learnt this but the vast majority of jobs in the US do not have an employment contract (I think it’s how you can start and leave/be fired with no notice.) Which is how it can be more tricky to navigate as it isn’t explicitly stated anywhere.

      1. Mockingjay*

        If there’s a company handbook it can be in there. Many companies have employees sign an affidavit that they’ve read, understand, and comply with the handbook policies.

      2. Allypopx*

        For something like this US companies will typically have some kind of written policy at least.

    2. Virginia Plain*

      It would still be worth checking whether you are liable to repay training course costs if you leave within a set time. If the payment has been made on the basis that it will benefit you whilst working for the company it kind of makes sense – why should they pay to benefit another company? Even without a contract it could be in the employee handbook (it can be there in the U.K. – my husband is dealing with this situation right now, from the finance/hr side).

    3. AcademiaNut*

      With the repayment clause, is this a course the employee has asked to take or one required by the employer? And can the employee then refuse to take the course because they can’t afford to repay the fee (or don’t want the financial liability)?

      1. SarahKay*

        At least in my company ordinary courses that the company decides to send someone on don’t come with repayment clauses.
        The repayment clauses are where the company has spend on a course specifically requested by someone, that tends to be slightly outside the scope of their everyday work. For example we have someone doing a degree, paid for by the company, and if that person chooses to leave within two years of finishing the degree the fees have to be repaid. (Exceptions for if they’re laid off or become medically incapable or working.)

    4. Storm in a teacup*

      Another UK bod here and I had a similar circumstance where my contract stated I’d have to stay in post for 2 years after a postgrad course that work had funded or end up paying part / all of the cost.
      In the end I negotiated with my new company they would cover costs as a part of my package so someone the LW could consider doing too.

  12. nnn*

    I really want LW1’s office to coordinate and one week bring in nothing but really weird, non-snack-like food and leave it around the office as though it’s a snack, just to see what Patty steals. Like, bring in a lemon sliced up like it’s an orange, or a ziplock bag full of peppercorns, or leave a can of baked beans open on your desk with a spoon in it.

    1. Jackalope*

      That actually sounds kind of fun. And as opposed to the ex-lax listed above, isn’t likely to hurt someone unless, say, they are really not paying attention and throw a handful of peppercorns in their mouth. (But they’re still actual food…) Also, Meyer lemons can totally look like pale oranges and taste good in tea with honey. Totally something I’ve eaten in real life before. (Including once eating a full lemon since I peeled it thinking it was an orange….)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, this is a much funnier and not illegal idea. I would pair it with having publicly unattractive snacks like the half-eaten can of beans and also hiding a candy bar in my purse that I carried with me all the time so I could have actual good snacks too.

        Plus if she actually ate the weird snacks then you would know for sure this is not about liking the food and either some kind of compulsion or a weird power play. In either case I think the best long-term solution is definitely a personal lock-box.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My dad bought a bag of weird-looking oranges off the grocery store discount rack once, got home and peeled and ate one and was like “These are the weirdest tasting oranges I’ve ever had.” My mom looked at them and was like “That’s because they’re Meyer lemons.” And my dad, who finds the idea of wasting food absolutely abhorrent, ATE THE WHOLE DAMN BAG ANYWAY over the next couple weeks. My mom was about dying laughing when she told me about it. (Then they came down to visit me and I met them with a big tray of home-baked lemon bars. The eyebrows I got from my dad were epic – husband’s response to them was “So THAT’S where she gets it!!” )

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Your examples are hilarious! My thought was a bar of unsweetened baker’s chocolate.

      1. Caliente*

        Yes! I remember trying to eat those as a kid when my mother wouldn’t buy us candy!

    3. Gammagirl1908*

      Ha! Like, a bag with a whole eggplant, some Brussels sprouts, and a bag of flour.

    4. Batgirl*

      I would bring… coffee beans in a candy dish, a resealable yoghurt tub filled with a mayo and mustard sundae, and citrus peel curls in a snack bag.

      1. JustaTech*

        I was at a shop once where they used a little cup of coffee beans to hold the pens folks used to sign credit card receipts. I was chatting with the clerk about the pens and she told me they used to use M&Ms, but people kept eating them (covered in pen marks, yuk!) so they switched to coffee beans, only to have people occasionally eat those too!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Some people just can’t help themselves around what looks like free food…

    5. LizB*

      Mix together skittles and m&ms in the same container. Develop a taste for chili lollipops, or ones that have an insect suspended in the middle. Season everything with cilantro oil, hope she has the soap-tasting gene.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Perhaps just a jar of cat treats, set out like they are m&ms. I would be most curious to see if this lady eats them. They won’t hurt her if she does.

    6. skeezix83*

      Or a bag of dog biscuits from a fancy dog-bakery. Some of those treats look just like real pastries and come in a fancy little bag! And they are made with food-grade ingredients…. such as liver flavor extract

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Three Dog Bakery sells doggy “oreos” in both vanilla and carob at Target.

  13. L6orac6*

    The boss is gross, a half eaten chocolate bar that’s been in someone’s mouth before she finishes it off and finishing someone’s drink, you don’t know if someone, before has drank out of the bottle or poured it into a glass. But interesting it’s usually the people who can afford it do it, is it for the thrill? Or just because they can.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I think it’s a combination of 1) a huge lack of boundaries, 2) compulsive eating and 3) a power differential. When I was a teenager (and in that phase where I fed myself a lot either through having a part time job in food service or being old enough to go out with friends), my mom would eat leftovers in the fridge that were mine all the time. When I’d ask where _____ went, she’d deny it but there was nobody else who could’ve eaten it. Usually after a huge fight she’d admit she had eaten whatever it was, but insist I was wrong for “making her feel bad about it.” (Mind you this communal leftover policy definitely did not apply when it was something of hers.)

    2. RagingADHD*

      It’s dominance behavior and a form of bullying.

      If she were just a compulsive binger, she would be covert and not brag about it.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        I think if there were any sense of shame, if she was doing it despite feeling ashamed, that would be a sign there was something deeper going on. Bragging about it? Take her at her word – she’s doing this because she can.

    3. Twisted Lion*

      Especially in the age of covid this just icks me out on another level. Just… what.

    4. Tuckerman*

      This is so odd and the fact that this and similar things happen more than I’d expect (based on the letters/comments I’ve seen on this site) makes me wonder whether there is some biological/genetic basis for this behavior. Like a less extreme version of Prader-Willi Syndrome. Regardless, I think I’d keep my personal food locked up.

  14. Professor Dirigible Plum*

    #3 Have you and your mentor ever had a conversation about what you actually want and expect out of it? Probably time to have one now.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      This is a great point. I can see how being told basic stuff you already know would not be useful. I was a professional mentor a couple times and we started with what the person I was mentoring wanted to get out of our conversations. Additionally, it might help to change the frequency of the meetings from weekly to something like monthly so you’re having meetings with specific agendas and topics rather than trying to fill time that may not be needed every week.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I’ve mentored people and been mentored and you need absolutely to start with a conversation about what you want from the relationship. It’s critical to understand where you’re each coming from and have a shared goal. Otherwise it’s just frustrating.

        I also think weekly is far too often as you need time to act on the suggestions made and process the discussion. I meet my current mentee monthly and she lets me know in advance what it is she’d like to discuss or how we should use the time. I meet my mentor about every 6 weeks (because diary time is difficult). You might want to suggest decreasing the frequency.

      2. LW3 OP*

        We did have one the first day we met and at the time neither of us knew what we might get out of our sessions since it was new to both of us. The first few conversations were situational – similar to what people have said here, “what did you do in this situation?”, stuff like that. But I think my manager’s idea for this had a broader scope, maybe more how to deal with frustrating situations and ambiguity rather than a how-to on tools or the work itself. The issue, which I didn’t put in the letter to Alison, is that my mentor/coworker is at a point in her career where I think she’s phoning it in. She doesn’t have the same level of skill that I do, so she only does say, A-B where I do A-D. So some things she can’t really advise me on. I suspect my manager put us together because we’re both outsiders – she’s fully remote in a different state, and I’ve had a very hard time breaking into the social circles in our office (my manager has too, it’s systemic to our city).

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      +1 – I’m wondering how this mentoring arrangement was presented to the co-worker (or how she interpreted it). I feel almost like she’s taken it more that OP needs help with performing at her existing role, rather than to develop professionally.

      I think the manager has failed here. She’s given the co-worker the task of mentoring OP (and, it sounds like, other people to mentor others like OP) without any real backup on what’s expected, how to accomplish it or any resources they can use, etc. It is a common misstep by mentors but the response can’t just be “that’s the way it is” surely?

  15. Cambridge Comma*

    It sounds like it’s not about the snacks, but about the power for Popcorn Patty. I don’t know how you fix that. I can imagine her taking a whole lockable lunchbox.
    Keep receipts and submit expenses for the items maybe?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Someone up above recommended everyone start keeping a tally and go with all of it at the end of the week/month for a while to report just how much is being stolen (this has the added benefit of dissing out any other patterns may exist about the thefts and show the higher ups just how big of a problem this is). I think I would go with the recording what is stolen along with trying to make my food far harder to access for the thief.

      1. Gumby*

        What about making a sign indicating that the snacks are intended to be purchase – a mini snack store on the honor system. If part of the joy for Patty is stealing stuff from specific people thus foiling their planned lunch / afternoon snack, this might make it less attractive. Worth trying once anyway. Of course, she may just steal it anyway if she’s driven by “any food I can find.”

        My other mean-spirited thought would be to express my concern for her finances, out loud, in front of someone whose opinion she values. “Oh, Patty, just the person I wanted to talk to. I just wanted to know: are you doing okay? Has your family fallen on hard times? I noticed that you stole food from my desk and I feel just awful that you were reduced to that in order to get just half a candy bar. You know you don’t have to keep up appearances around us. I’d be happy to take you to 7-11 and buy you your own snack.” Hopefully she would be shamed into not stealing any longer before the town-wide charity bake sale to benefit her family. (Though if there were a chance, at ALL, that she really is in financial trouble, I wouldn’t do this. Even people with high salaries can be overextended.)

  16. learnedthehardway*

    LW#3 – I think a part of the problem here is that the mentor really isn’t the right mentor for you. The person is just too close to you in level. Ideally, your mentor should be someone enough levels above you that they’re able to provide good advice about things like how to progress your career in the direction you want to go, what higher level / strategic things you should be aware of / considering, where the industry is going, etc. etc. They’re supposed to be able to provide perspective about what is over the next mountain, not on how to tie your shoelaces (which it seems your assigned mentor is more or less doing.)

    Perhaps find some way of suggesting to your manager that being so close in level means that this isn’t the best situation for either of you as you’re closer to being colleagues than anything.

    1. Venus*

      Not necessarily. I didn’t want that type of career advice myself as my options were clear and I could easily do that research, whereas I needed ideas on how to navigate office politics.

      I agree with the earlier commenter, where LW3 needs to decide what they want and if their mentor has that knowledge, as they did say that they value their mentor’s experience so it could work (I also strongly agree that weekly is way too often, and it should be monthly at most)

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Not necessarily. At my former job, new hires got connected with a mentor who was on their team. The mentor would be the same as you just more senior and have been there for several years. It was supposed to be a way to connect and get help with anything such as what would you do with X client or whatever.

  17. X-Man*

    Every time we get a story like this I have the same suggestion: fill where you normally store your food with mouse traps.

    But in this non-cartoon reality I actually suggest documentation, from all of you as a group.

      1. Luke G*

        I mean I was definitely wondering how mousetraps would solve the problem of an unhelpful mentor, so thanks for clarifying :D

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      lol it wouldn’t work. A friend once had a dog who was such a skilled food thief that he emptied an entire potato chip bag without the bag leaving the desk or triggering the mousetrap that was set in front of it. (Please don’t do this to a dog, btw). I imagine Popcorn Patty would be that skilled as well.

  18. Ro*

    LW1 sugar free snacks. They have a really strong paxative effect but are fine in a small number. Unlike tamperijg with food you have plausible deniability if it is traced back to your food “I’ve been trying to cut down on sugar. I didn’t expect my snacks to be stolen and I didn’t think she’s take all of them”.

    Alternately if you are able ask whoever is above her for a raise to cover the expenses of snacks stolen from you as it is throwing off your budget or ask if you can expense them.

    It maybe she has decided the is “quirky” and people are amuaed so maybe “wow why would you brag about that” or “taking people’s food could reallt throw off their budgets/mess up blood sigar in diabetics and it is a real abuse of power for a senior staff member to do so” could either humiliate her into stopping or encourage others to speak up.

    But you know your workplace and how safe this is. I’d look for another job. They don’t care about you and anyone who lets a vp behave like this isn’t going to be in business long.

  19. Healthcare Worker*

    You might find it helpful to remember your mentor doesn’t know what you know.

    I’ve seen this lots in healthcare where people move quickly.

    This is a tactic that’s worked for me, both as a trainer, and as someone learning

    ‘Hi mentor,

    I’m working on task X
    I’m going to do a, b, c as that’s what I know
    I considered x, y, z but decided against it due to *reasons*

    Can you please let me know your thoughts or if there’s anything I haven’t considered?’

    1. Forrest*

      The problem isn’t just the VP herself, though, it’s the organisation’s reluctance to do anything about it.

      There are two sides to a behaviour: one is what motivates it, and the other is the impact it has on other people. If a behaviour harms other people– and stealing property does! — the organisation has to deal with it. If it’s compulsive behaviour, that should affect how they deal with it. A good and compassionate organisation can try and work with her and support her in getting better, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have a duty to minimise the impact of her illness on others. Compulsive behaviour doesn’t mean everyone just has to wave their hands and pretend it didn’t happen and that no harm occurred.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Sadly, it does seem like a lot of organizations respond to compulsive behaviors with enabling or ignoring it, rather than trying to get the person help in managing their compulsions. Remember the organization that was insisting employees either wear two rings and watches to be balanced or not wear any, and line up in alternating gender at the bus stop to accommodate their OCD coworker?

  20. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: “Popcorn Patty”:

    Since Patty is the VP — both Vice President of the company and Very Proud of her thievery — expect any anti-theft measures (even replacing all snacks with notes in your locked desk saying “Get your own popcorn, Patty”) to be met with a write-up or firing.

    1. Greige*

      Hmm, I don’t get the sense that the workplace is overly punitive. Kind of the opposite, actually. I think it’s more likely she would laugh at OP’s efforts if there is any way Patty can circumvent them. And probably suggest OP get a new job if not being stolen from is so important to her.

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        It would serve the company right if that whole office quit all at once. Won’t happen, though.

  21. Morning Reader*

    I don’t know if this would work for food, but, a coworker taped a note to a pen that said, “stop thief!” That pen was still it there when I retired years later, even though it no longer worked.

  22. I'm just here for the cats*

    #1. Rig a drawer so that when it opens it explodes with confetti and glitter. She couldn’t get mad, because she had no right to go into your drawer.

    I also recommend finding a coworker who has hight spice tolerance and find the spiciest popcorn or chips you can get.

    I wish she was just taking food and not bragging about it, which shows what type of person she is. If she wasn’t bragging I would go to her and say, I have specific dietary needs and have to purchase X products that are expensive. When you steal my food it leaves little for me to eat and reduces my budget.

    I would also take a salty approach and go to my manager and say, since popcorn Peggy takes my food I have specifically budgeted for. Because of this I want an x amount either refunded by Peggy or I would like a company raise.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Rigging the drawer is a bad idea, since it’s OP’s drawer and would be OP’s mess to clean up. Cutting a small hole in an otherwise unopened candy bar to stuff glitter inside the wrapper, on the other hand…

      In case you’re wondering, non-toxic glitter exists.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Even better idea. They could use the edible glitter, like what they use in bakeries.

        And they could totally make it so they could say it was a prank against them. Like they could put a candybar attached to a card and have it look like it was from a friend or something. Then when the snack thief opened the bar and got glitter bombed the letter writer could claim innocence. “what! oh no! Did you get that from my drawer? That came from my brother. He is such a jerk and likes to play pranks.

        Makes me think of the guy who had someone in his apartment building stealing his packages so he rigged one to explode with glitter when it was opened. Found out who it was because they had to get their carpet replaced because the glitter wouldn’t come out.

    2. BadWolf*

      I guess I’d expect a VP has a right to my desk drawer at work. Although at any reasonable workspace, I would only expect a manager (or above) to go into my desk on a work-need-only basis.

    3. Essess*

      The drawer is company property so they have every legal right to go into your drawer. They don’t have a right to go into your purse that is in the drawer without your consent since the purse is private property.

    4. Observer*

      She couldn’t get mad, because she had no right to go into your drawer.

      What makes you think that. *She* clearly thinks that she DOES have that right – she BOASTS about her behavior.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      Stealing your employee’s snacks is supremely shitty–but your company owns your desk and your boss likely *does* have the right to go into your drawer. Again, not saying it’s okay to take any food they find in there. Just that you won’t get far trying to argue she had no right going into your drawer.

  23. BatManDan*

    There appear to be two common misreadings of the LW#1’s post: it never says the organization has declined to do anything about it – apparently, it’s never been brought to the attention of anyone above PP. Secondly, it does not say that PP is bragging about stealing the popcorn; It says she is bragging about being able to AFFORD the popcorn. (I’m assuming that the bragging is cover for the stealing….”the thief can’t possibly be me, when I can afford to buy it myself.” But, that just a guess.)

    1. Forrest*

      Yeah, you’re right! LW should probably try escalating this to her manager as a starting point, either singly or as part of a group. I don’t think it’s something she necessarily should try and directly address with a VP herself unless it’s a *very* small company.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – if this hasn’t been raised with other managers yet – then try that first. I also recommend going with the group approach with everyone bringing ledgers of just how much has been taken from them. Those two together may impress upon other managers just how big and widespread this problem is.

    2. Observer*

      It says she is bragging about being able to AFFORD the popcorn. (I’m assuming that the bragging is cover for the stealing….”the thief can’t possibly be me, when I can afford to buy it myself.”

      Unlikely – from what the OP says it sounds like it’s been brought up with her, and she gets offended. But not that she’s denied it.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I may be misreading or reading too much into the letter but I got the impression there’s basically only one person above PP in the company. Not that all the middle managers couldn’t be looped in, but if she’s the #2 at the org, I can see how it would feel a lot harder to do anything about it since it requires anyone who wants to do something about it to go several levels up.

  24. ProdMgr*

    The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier is a book that every new mentor should read. The first time I used his approach, I was shocked at how little I talked during the 1:1 with my direct report, and at the end she said “this was really good, thank you.” It’s a short book and it made a huge difference for me.

    1. LW3 OP*

      This is great, thank you. I’ll read it myself and see if there’s anything I can glean or pass onto her.

  25. PJH*

    In theory, no one should need any particular standing to tell a colleague to stop stealing people’s food,

    It’s theft. Why isn’t it being treated as – you know – theft?

    Would anyone at the business be quite as sanguine if they were stealing something else, like reams of paper or the petty cash?

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      The thief is a Vice President who is Very Proud of her thievery skills. Raising a fuss can get OP fired.

  26. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW1: Unfortunately, since Popcorn Patty is a vice president, she may simply forbid people to bring locking lunchboxes and the like to work. You may simply have to stop bringing snacks to work altogether or keep them in your car.

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      If Popcorn Patty did something like forbidding lock boxes so she couldn’t steal peoples snacks, that would be ridiculous. If it came to that I would find another job.

    2. Wall noodles*

      The response I’d love to see to Popcorn Patty unfortunately would cost you money. But if she were to come into work and find her office filled waist-high with popcorn… (or even just bags of popcorn)
      Instead of labels that are attempted deterrents, which feed into her power-tripping thrill ride, have you and your co-workers team up to mark *** everything*** in either personal or communal space “Reserved for Patty” (add cost? calorie count?) It won’t help from the food compulsion angle, but may remove the gotcha’ glee she’s getting from the theft aspect.

  27. BookMom*

    LW4: don’t feel bad! Benefits packages can vary widely, and they are a crucial part of compensation. On my last job search, I turned down a job that met my salary needs but had really terrible PTO. The hiring manager even tried to negotiate more for me, but they wouldn’t budge. I’m at a stage of life where having some time flexibility is more important than an extra $5k.

    We’re beginning to normal pay range transparency in job ads, but not benefits. Everybody says “excellent benefits”, and it feels tacky to ask about details until getting to the offer stage. They need to know if their lousy benefits are costing them candidates.

    1. LJ*

      Exactly! I wish I knew the benefits sooner so no one wasted their time but I read that asking for benefits during the interview process is akin to “going for a kiss on the first date” and would likely take you out of the running. I wish it wasn’t so taboo!

      1. EPLawyer*

        I think Alison has addressed this. Remember interviewing is a two way street. If you are out of the running for merely ASKING about benefits, then do you really want to work there? What else would they treat you badly for asking about?

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      In my experience, the companies who genuinely offer excellent benefits are very open about what those are (for example, it’s in the “about us” or “our people” or recruitment section of their website).

      For example, a company I looked at recently detailed theirs including life insurance, income protection, annual bonus, pension, as well as softer things like snacks and leisure.

    3. Justme, The OG*

      Agree. Part of why I won’t leave higher education is that I earn a ridiculous amount of time off every year (like 46 days off with sick, vacation, and holidays). I know I’m underpaid but the benefits are worth it.

    4. Sled Dog Mama*

      Yeah when people say oh our benefits are excellent but then you find out they have only ever worked at the one company and never even interviewed anywhere else it makes me crazy. I’ve worked for 2 different companies and interviewed with a few more who willingly handed out info on benefits. The 3rd company (ABC) I’ve worked for didn’t give out info on benefits until after you start (yeah there were so many other red flags there I never should have accepted the offer). I found out 2 days before I started that I wouldn’t be eligible for health insurance coverage until I had been there 90 days (other companies have been 30 days at most, and my current company your health insurance starts the day you start). ABC also had one bucket of PTO that was also to cover national holidays (some staff had the option to work national holidays but my division did not). So this worked like during recruiting they say 5 weeks vacation and national holidays but what they actually mean is you get 25 days vacation but you are forced to use 7 of those to cover the national holidays when your division is closed and you aren’t allowed to work. And if you wanted to take any professional development courses that time came out of your PTO, there was absolutely zero support for professional development at ABC.
      My current employer offers 4 weeks vacation and national holidays meaning you have 20 days PTO to use however you see fit plus we pay you for these 7 national holidays on top of your PTO. New company also offers up to a week of discretionary professional development time.
      So written our my current employers PTO allowance looks less but I actually come out ahead, and that’s before we get into the actual ability to use the time off. The people at ABC thought they had great benefits because management told them these were great benefits but they never looked around to see if there was anything better.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        One place that I worked told me in the interview that the benefits were amazing. The medical coverage was. Everything else was awful. It is subjective – based on experience, what an individual values, etc.

    5. No longer shocked*

      Yeah… I was told vacation pay is outstanding. It’s five whole days *after* you work 365. For 5 years. Then you get, *gasp*, ten.

  28. CQ*

    LW 1:

    So I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and I’m in a lot of social-media support groups for people with BPD. Just yesterday, in a Facebook support group, someone posted about their addiction to popcorn and asked if others have similar food addictions. I honestly wonder if this is your coworker or if addiction to popcorn is a more common problem than I originally thought.

  29. Squirrel*

    1. Snack stealing: Can you fit a small tampon box in your drawer? Empty it and stash your snacks in there. Maybe a couple decoy tampons on top.

  30. it_guy*

    #2 – The best solution is to contact her company and tell them about the social media posts, and tell them you want another sales rep, and if you don’t get one, you’ll do business elsewhere. That shows them you are interested in their product, but don’t want that sales rep.

  31. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    #1. Three words “Ghost Pepper Chocolate”. Seriously leave a bar on your desk or in your desk, and when she eats it she will be in for a surprise!

  32. whistle*

    I agree with the other commenters saying that Popcorn Patty will not stop and all you can really do is hide/protect your own food (in addition to making sure someone above her knows the extent of the problem, as it was not clear in the letter if this has happened). I would probably job hunt over this, but if there are other reasons to stay, I have one other suggestion I haven’t seen on here.

    You could set up an anonymous email, or a few, and email her each time you know she’s stolen something asking her to stop. You could also cc other relevant people on these emails. I suspect this will not get her to stop, but it could lead to her ranting about it at work and being disruptive in other ways that will get her disciplined by the people above her in the company.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Or she just ignores the emails.

      Someone this blatant DOES NOT CARE about how she is perceived by others. An anonymous note telling her stop is just a big green light to do it more.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Lol I find myself following you upthread to keep agreeing with you: yes, the key point from the letter is Patty brags about the thefts. She would just brag about the emails too.

  33. Workfromhome*

    #1 The ex lax thing also came to the top of my mind but I understand in the weird world we are in that it could result in some odd consequences (I do wonder if the odd thief has say a peanut allergy and steals a candy bar that has peanuts who will be to blame)

    Maybe use the bank method. everyone put a Kit cat bar in their draw (has a red wrapper) but paint the wrapper with red dye. Then you will see the thief walking around with hands covered in red dye. A few “you’ve been caught red handed ” might be enough to get a reaction.

  34. MuseumChick*

    LW1, I don’t if this would work with Popcorn Patty but wanted to off the suggestion. I have found feigning ignorance is a good strategy in this kind of situation. So, for example, lets say you were to plant some popcorn in your desk. Waiting until it goes missing and then, and when Patty is in earshot

    You: (Loudly but in a neutral tone) “Hey, has anyone seen my popcorn? I left it in this draw this morning.”

    (If Patty actually answers)

    You: “Oh, I was afraid I was going crazy! That is actually my snack for today I’ll take it back, thanks!”

    (If Patty does not answer)
    Calmly and neturally go to a few people and ask if they have seen your popcorn and then go to her. Make it uncomfortable.

    You: “This is so weird. I left it in my desk this morning and now it’s missing? Do you think someone is playing a prank on me? Who is the world would actally go through a coworker’s desk and steal popcorn?”

    Then repeat everytime it happens.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Except everyone knows its Patty taking stuff. She DOES NOT CARE. All you would get is disciplined for being disruptive over your missing popcorn.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes, based on LW’s letter Patty would proudly own up to it. Probably she’d brag and taunt you. She most definitely would not meekly give it back.

  35. Andrea*

    I read an anecdote awhile back where a guy got so frustrated about his food being stolen that he brought in a pot brownie, and then anonymously reported that someone was using pot at work, and they all got tested, and the food stealer got fired.

    I doubt that it ever happened (it has a ring of “and then everyone applauded” to it), and it’s a terrible idea that no one should ever try. But it’s a nice revenge fantasy.

      1. Wisteria*

        You would be feeding an intoxicating substance to a person who cannot consent. It’s a terrible idea, and no one should every try it.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I think when the person opens with “I am evil,” they know it’s wrong. You don’t have to explain why it’s wrong.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I use cannabis when I’m not working. I’d be peeved if I had to be tested for this, and possibly fired over it. Also, as Wisteria says, do not dose someone without their informed consent.

  36. Workfromhome*

    #1 I wonder if you see Patty munching on a treat stolen from your desk that you could just walk over and blatantly start rifling through her desk. When she incredulously asks “What are you doing going through my desk” you can answer “well I saw you eating the candy bar that was in y desk so I assumed we are at a place where my stuff is your stuff and your stuff is my stuff. Was I wrong?”

  37. It’s A Trap*

    LW1 – This is more for your own entertainment (and that of your co-workers) – but the pet supply store we frequent has dog cookies that look like human cookies. I’d buy one and leave it on my desk. When the inevitable theft occurs, you loudly bemoan “oh no! Has anyone seen the special cookie that I bought for my sweet dog, Mr. Chops?” (If you don’t have a dog, it could be for a friend’s dog.)

    This won’t deter Popcorn Patty, in all likelihood, but it would be funny. You could all pretend to not know where the cookie went and then jokingly ask “who’s a good boy?” in Patty’s presence.

    One other suggestion: in several places where I’ve worked, keeping food in your desk attracts mice. It would be a shame if a mouse trap in your desk drawer injured someone who was there for less than noble purposes…

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I recently saw this happen. I think it may have been in the comments here or somewhere else. I can’t remember the specifics but the poster would bring in cookies from a local bakery and a coworker would always eat them. So she went to the bakery and got some dog snacks that they made. They were completely safe, made with human food, just not tasty to people. Well the cookie person grabbed the cookie off her desk and took a bite and promptly spit it out. Told her that the bakery must have screwed up on the cookies because it tasted horrible. She then said it was a dog cookie and the person never stole again.

      So OP could do something similar. Buy some dog cookies that look like people cookies. Put them in her drawer. Then after the VP has taken them wait a bit. Then when the VP is in ear shot say “Has anyone taken the cookies that were in my desk? They were for my dog (or friend/family members dog if OP doesn’t have a dog).

  38. Colette*

    #2 – Yes, inform her company, either to ask for another rep or to let them know that she is costing them business. But if you want, you can also tell her. It likely won’t go well, and you won’t change her mind – but I’m of the opinion that it’s good for people who have fallen into that trap to know that not everyone agrees.

    1. ecnaseener*

      They definitely know that not everyone agrees. It just feeds their ideas that the whole world is against them, or too stupid to see the truth, etc etc.

  39. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    A friend in my hobby club once told me one of his coworkers kept eating all of the cookies like a hamster. People would bring in either homemade or store bought. So another coworker made chocolate chip cookies with salt instead of sugar. The hamster stopped eating them. I don’t think this method would help the LW since the thief is the VP. That is disgusting a half eaten chocolate bar was stolen and I assumed was consumed by the thief . I had a coworker who would reuse tea bags used by other coworkers by digging through trashing can and taking them and putting the bags in his water bottle. Didn’t believe it until I saw him do that with my own eyes. Yuck. Anyway perhaps LW should ask other coworkers what they have experienced. Ideally, owner of company should be notified food missing from desks. I don’t think you want to accuse the VP as the thief. If the work environment is toxic in other matters and you don’t think it would change, I wouldn’t be the one to stir the pot so to speak. If I was in this situation, I would keep my snacks in my bag or purse. If I wanted to leave food at my desk, I would put the snacks in a box or bag with a padlock on it. To misdirect the thief, I might get some sugar free candy and put it in a different spot in my desk. Still, you shouldn’t have to do any of this. You should be able to focus on your job and not have to worry about someone higher up stealing from you. It’s ridiculous.

    1. Medusa*

      Your co-worker was gross, but at least he was taking things that had already been discarded rather than stealing out of people’s desks.

      1. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

        True. He wasn’t stealing people’s food like LW’s situation . However, the company had free tea bags….brand new available to all….in the area nearby the trash can he was getting the used ones. So….yeah, I will never know the reasoning behind him using tea bags from the trash. Sad lol.

        1. nonegiven*

          Y’all could have put a labeled bowl on the counter for ‘used tea bags.’ Probably a ‘going to waste’ thing or maybe he liked his tea weaker.

  40. Stina*

    LW 1
    Time to make room in the office supply budget to keep this VP stocked with popcorn and chocolate. Buy the Costco/Sam’s Club sized bags and leave them on her desk daily. I’d say do the Ex-Lax thing but the retaliation by the VP could be horrible.

    The president of the company needs to be made aware that the VP is stealing food from lesser paid employees and bragging about it. This reflects horribly on the company and its leadership because if this VP has no qualms about stealing from those who do not have her resources and cannot protest without danger to their employment, what else is this VP doing to clients or the company itself?

    1. Allypopx*

      I wonder if that would even help or if VP gets her jollies stealing from the lesser paid employees.

    2. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Putting snacks in the budget means that Patty wouldn’t get to steal from company employees.

  41. James*

    I find the willingness to inflict harm on a person over some snacks to be somewhat disturbing. I had a coworker who stole snacks at one point. It was annoying but compared to some other aspects of the job a pretty minor annoyance. Plus, I learned that I could lure him into my office by keeping snacks on my desk. He’d pop in to take some of my snacks, and I’d be able to say “Hey, while you’re here, have you looked at that report I sent you?” Once he realized what was going on he began to purchase snacks to put on my desk on occasion. If I buy the snacks I get what I like; if he buys the snacks he can get what he likes.

    I get the “revenge fantasy” angle. But at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves what kind of person we are. Are we the kind who revels in the suffering of others? Is their pain really the important thing here? For my part, the answer is no (and believe me, I’ve had cause to consider this at length, for far worse issues than petty snack theft). My focus would be–in fact was–on keeping my snacks available. Whether the other person suffered or benefitted was irrelevant to me; I just wanted to have my pretzels.

    1. Tom*

      Think of it this way: the snacks are purchased with money.
      Said money was earned via trading bits of your life for it.

      1. James*

        Reminds me of the father from “October Sky”, berating his son for wasting company resources welding his rocket. Given how welding works the total waste was likely less than a nickel, and could have been a benefit to the company–it’s a way to train new welders at no risk to the company (as opposed to having them learn by welding structural components and getting someone killed). It’s incredibly petty.

        Yes, I trade a portion of my life for the money I use to buy snacks. Given the cost of snacks and my pay rate, we’re talking a few seconds. That’s hardly worth potentially killing someone over, and it’s certainly not worth the mental damage that reveling in imagined torture inevitably causes. I’ve seen the end of that road, and it’s absolutely terrifying.

        1. Paris Geller*

          Ok, that’s the cost of snacks and YOUR pay rate though. That could be a significant amount of someone’s weekly budget. It’s theft!
          No one is advocating potentially killing the VP! Most suggestions I’ve seen are something like a laxative or spicy food. I agree it’s not worth going down that route for multiple reasons, but no one is suggesting lacing a candy bar with arsenic.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            5 seconds on google will yield a number of results on people ending up in the ER from consuming laxatives without their knowledge.

            NEVER mess with food. You never know how someone else’s body will react, what they are allergic to, what conditions or medications might cause serious issues from what you thought of as a “harmless” prank. Yes, obviously someone with medical conditions shouldn’t be eating random shit they find in their employee’s desk, but that doesn’t make it okay. It’s just never worth the risk.

            1. Ro*

              Genrally if it is something the person who it was stilen from intends to consume personally it would be hard to punish them. I bring pre mixed laxative to work because I suffer from chronic constiparion, it looks like home made juice but I drink it for medical reasons. No one has stolen it and is kept in my locker (and also labelled) but if someone did steal it what happened would be their own fault.

              Its the same as if someone has an allergy but they steal someone’s food and it has the allergen in.

              Don’t take other people’s food you don’t know what is in it.

              Deliberately booby trapping food is not ok but really if you take food someone else intended to consume you take a risk that they out something in it which is fjne for them but not for you.

              See the story about the guy whose coworker stole their ultra spicy lunch (the op liked ultra spicy food and it wasn’t their fault coworker didn’t).

      2. Colette*

        So $2 in snacks is worth seriously harming someone?

        We’re all going to spend money in ways we don’t like, and lose money due to things outside of our control. If you can’t afford to bring in snacks that are going to get stolen, don’t bring them in, or keep them with you.

        1. Allypopx*

          “If you can’t afford to bring in snacks that are going to get stolen, don’t bring them in”

          That is a WILD takeaway from this situation.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          Do the math: $2 a day for 5 days a week for 50 weeks is $500. That’s two car payments.

          If you can’t afford to bring in snacks that are going to get stolen, don’t bring them in, or keep them with you.

          LW is keeping them with her. We should expect to have a reasonable right to keep our personal items in our desks without having them stolen. And this is a really crappy line of reasoning.

          1. Colette*

            I don’t have the impression that the VP is going through the OP’s desk when she’s there. She’s taking snacks from the kitchen and from people’s unattended desks.

            The OP should be able to leave food at her desk without it being stolen – but she can’t. She has limited options – but deliberately poisoning the thief is not one of them.

            1. Mental Lentil*

              Removed this (and the sniping that followed); legally, this is indeed problematic and for good reason. – Alison

              1. fhqwhgads*

                If you’re only putting those items in the food because you expect it to be stolen and aim to harm the thief, they are. This is addressed many times upthread. It is a very illegal thing to do unless you plan to argue that you intended to consume that yourself as is, and never would’ve expected someone else to consume it in that state. When your defense is plausible deniability, you’re not in a good place.

        3. Jennifer Strange*

          If you can’t afford to bring in snacks that are going to get stolen, don’t bring them in, or keep them with you.

          So now employees should just starve at work because a higher up has no decency? Glad to know we’ve reached that point.

          1. Colette*

            What is the OP’s option?

            The VP shouldn’t be stealing, but she is. The OP can make it harder for her, convince someone with authority to take action, or accept that her snacks will get stolen.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              No one is arguing that, but your comment was all different colors of victim blaming.

    2. HR & Cats*

      But isn’t that sorta the point – they don’t have their pretzels, because VP keeps eating them? I get in the grand scheme this isn’t life altering stuff but you shouldn’t have to purchase additional food on the regular so that you can have food to consume after others have stolen some and you shouldn’t have to purchase food to lure someone to your desk to do your job. There’s a certain amount of managing around others you have to do in the workplace but to me that crosses a line. I’m happy to email someone instead of call or schedule afternoon meetings only for someone who prefers it but that’s too far, imo.

      1. James*

        I agree that it’s too far. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what’s the important thing here? Is it managing the food issue? Or is it inflicting pain and suffering on another human being? People advocating poisoning the person–let’s call it what it is, these people are advocating poisoning the VP–have their focus on inflicting pain and suffering. I don’t even get the sense that they care about the food anymore; the issue is causing harm.

    3. Simply the best*

      If a little bit of pain is the only thing that’s going to stop the stealing? I’m not that fussed about it.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Sending someone to the ER is also a possible, and foreseeable, outcome. Be fussed about that.
        There are other options to try

    4. Mental Lentil*

      I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like having the stuff I purchased with my money stolen out of my desk.

      I’m also the kind of person who will put a stop to it. At this point in my life, I don’t care what their position in the company is.

      I realize that many people are not in the latter position. Hence, the revenge fantasies.

    5. Angstrom*

      In a civil society, not stealing is part of the social contract. The only ethical exception is dire need or to right a wrong, neither of which applies here.

      From a legal standpoint, stealing from someone is causing them harm.

      From the evidence presented, Patty is making a deliberate choice to steal from her colleagues.

      Actions have consequences.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        From a legal standpoint, drugging someone is causing them much greater harm than stealing their candy bar. And yes, that includes planting booby-trapped food that they stole from you because you fully expected them to steal it.

        This comment thread is just fucking wild today. How are there so many of you who think this is an acceptable response to the situation. WTH.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, exactly. “They stole my $3 popcorn” isn’t going to be a good defense if you put them in the hospital or kill them by doctoring food, even aside from it being wildly out of line.

        2. Tau*

          Agreed. Like… sure, the OP’s situation is really infuriating. Sure, having your snacks stolen can put people in a really tight spot, especially if they’re e.g. diabetic. I’d be outraged if this were happening to me, and I feel for OP. But it’s astonishing to me how lots of people seem to think escalating to bodily harm is anything other than a massively disproportionate response.

        3. Tali*

          Even more shocking because OP doesn’t seem to have tried anything yet. Locked lunchboxes, confronting the thief as a group, reporting her…

          1. Angstrom*

            Do you not see a problem with everyone having to buy locked lunchboxes because their boss is stealing their food? In what world is that a reasonable workplace?

            Sure, deliberately making someone sick is wrong. But if you have people feeling exploited and helpless because of the power differential, nobody should be surprised that they have revenge fantasies.

  42. SK*

    For LW#4

    I really wish companies were more upfront about benefits. I’m in the US. Last year (2020), I received a salary offer from a startup that was 40% more that what I was currently making. The benefits on offer were terrible and I was really surprised the company had anyone accept it. Sure they were offering a lot of money, but the benefits were truly truly bad. For example, they were giving me 16 PTO days, of which 6 were US holidays they observed. Yup, they included holidays in the PTO count. So I would only have 10 PTO days to use as I pleased. And they did a PTO bucket, which meant this was my entire allotment of vacation AND sick days. I was like, you must be joking. We are in the middle of Covid and you are making people choose between using PTO for sick days or vacation. And the healthcare coverage didn’t kick in for 30 days. And they wanted employees to start coming back to the office in Fall 2020. My role could have easily have stayed remote. It was an easy “no” from me.

    I remember interviewing for another job and the HR person sent me links to all their benefits. It was shocking to have all this information upfront. But then again, this was a larger organization and one that has been established for years. Nonetheless, I really do think all companies should be upfront about benefits so no one gets disappointed at the offer stage.

    1. Lauren*

      Seriously, especially for women! Asking is considering negotiating when we are legit just seeking information BEFORE we negotiate. Why waste time if the premiums are all on you vs. the employer and the deductible is like 16k for 1 person??? Whoop de do – you OFFER health insurance. The planet OFFERS me AIR to breathe, but I still prefer oxygen to carbon monoxide. Both are AIR, and having any medical plan on offer isn’t enough. Get specific people!

    2. Sambal*

      Well, benefits for a lot of startups are crappy. Most people only stick around for a couple of years, so having a really high salary to compensate makes sense to me. They just should have been upfront about it, esp. if they knew a candidate wasn’t to keyed in with start up culture (not saying you weren’t, but just in general).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Having new employees be on their own for health insurance for 30 days is a special level of crappy, though. A lot can happen to one’s health in 30 days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t ever seen this and I did work at a startup that offered no dental insurance. But their health insurance started on day 1.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          A 30 day waiting period for health insurance is incredibly standard, if not a bit generous. Of the client mix I work with, I’d say it’s probably 50% 30 days, 30% 60 days and 20% 90 day waiting period.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Wow, thank you, I stand corrected as I really had never encountered that.

            Another argument for universal healthcare, to me. What happens if you get hit by a bus on day 89?

              1. Paris Geller*

                Can attest. This is how my parents ended up declaring bankruptcy when I was in HS–mom started a new job, new insurance didn’t kick in right away (it was a LONG time too–this was pre ACA, so I want to say it might have been 6 months). Got sick over Christmas, went to the ER, diagnosed with cancer and transferred to a hospital equipped to deal with it, had to have surgery, came home 3 months later with thousands of dollars in medical debt.

        2. Sambal*

          Hmm – maybe my standard of crappiness is far below yours? I’ve interviewed at a couple of start ups that don’t even offer health insurance. One interviewer even told me that they were hoping to find someone who could still be on their parent’s insurance (I was 27 at the time, so they were definitely looking for people in that 24-26 age range).

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            lol, I *am* the parent with 20-somethings on my insurance. No insurance for me *and my dependents* has never been an option.

            1. nonegiven*

              My niece had decent insurance from work but was also covered, along with a younger brother, under my BIL’s family policy. Her bills took a long time to get paid because the companies fought out which one was primary.

        3. Lauren*

          some states used to let employers get away with 90 days or 6 months, which if HR sucked – often ended up missing the enrollment date too.

        4. Paris Geller*

          I’ve never worked anywhere where I got health insurance before 30 days. My current job, which I started in June, only had a thirty day waiting period, and that’s the shortest waiting period I’ve ever had. Most have been 45 or 60.

    3. SK*

      Adding an addendum.

      With the startup, I felt they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I was currently employed at a different startup, which apparently spoiled me by having separate allotments of sick and vacation time. I asked the new startup about their sick leave policy and I got a weird answer about how they were a flexible work culture (so if I needed an hour to go to the doctor, then I just make up the hour later without taking a sick day). Uh, okay. But I didn’t ask about flexible work schedules. One thing led to another and I found out I had ten days total for sick and vacation time.

      I felt mad at the HR/Talent person for trying to side step my question. Then I felt bad for her because it’s not her fault the benefits are crappy and the company tries to use a lot of money as rose-colored glasses. Ultimately, I don’t like people trying to avoid my questions. It really felt like they were trying to take advantage of the massive unemployment happening in 2020. It’s a bad vibe and I did not want to enter a place that was giving off a bad vibe.

  43. HR & Cats*

    LW1, I don’t think you’re making a big enough deal of this. I would get some coworkers together, everyone keep a list of what has been taken recently, and go to VPs boss. Theft in the workplace should be taken seriously. In my HR career I unfortunately have had to terminate employees who repeatedly stole from others. Companies shouldn’t condone (and choosing not to act ultimately is condoning) coworkers stealing from each other. Besides the fact that there’s a financial cost and it also throws off people’s eating schedules, some of whom may have allergies, medical conditions, etc., it’s also extremely disrespectful and causes tension in the workplace. People shouldn’t have to tolerate that kind of disrespect when they’re just trying to come to work and get their job done.

  44. Nonprofit Jane Doe*

    Everytime I worry about getting a new job, I hear about someone like OP1’s coworker and feel a million times better about my chances. I would get a locking drawer, or if you drive to work OP, I would just keep my snacks in the car. The VP is a jerk!

  45. Roscoe*

    #2 this is in no way a defense of what they are writing on their social media. But it is maybe a reason you shouldn’t follow people you know in a professional capacity on social media (I’m guessing its not LinkedIN). If your ability/desire to do business with them is going to be colored by how they act in an out of work context, and some of their views that are only expressed outside of work it may be best to just keep those things separate. And this can go in both ways. I’m in Sales, and while I’m very liberal, I have no doubt that there would be some people in other states who wouldn’t like my politics either, which is why I usually keep that stuff separate.

    I don’t want to say this is unfair, because you can spend your money how you like. But if this is the only sales rep you deal with that you follow socially, that might not be great to evaluate her in a way you aren’t evaluating others.

  46. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    Ugh. #1. Going into desks? That’s a new low. What if you had someone that is diabetic and the VP took their “In case of emergency snack bar/juice box?” Not every first aid kit is stocked with those handy glucose packs. As petty as it is, the VP is stealing food, and someone higher up than her needs to be made aware.

    1. Medusa*

      It’s unclear to me from the way it’s written whether LW 1 has actually confronted the VP or not. Does she ever go into your desk when you’re around? If you’re there, then you can say something. Or maybe someone higher than you in the chain of command can speak to her. I can’t imagine anyone appreciates it.

  47. Phony Genius*

    On #1, try this. Take a small bag of popcorn. When Patty can see you, take one piece of popcorn at a time, put it in your mouth and suck the salt off. Then, return it to the bag. It Patty asks what you’re doing, explain that you just like sucking the salt off of popcorn. If she asks why you’re putting them back in the bag, say you’ll eat the pre-sucked pieces later, and that you do this all the time. Then, return the bag to your drawer. 99% chance she’ll never take yours again. (This avoids the legal problems of the booby-trap suggestions above.)

  48. Simply the best*

    If a little bit of pain is the only thing that’s going to get them to stop stealing? I’m not that fussed about it.

  49. Manchmal*

    OP#3, a couple of things occur to me reading your question. One, it seems like weekly meetings with a mentor are too frequent. Unless this person is training you on specific aspects of your job, perhaps a monthly meeting would make more sense and give you more items of consequence to talk about. I wonder if your mentor is just filling the void with these instructions because there’s not much else on the agenda. Second, I would come prepared for your meetings with an agenda of your own. That way you set the topic, you can make it useful to yourself, and again puts less pressure on your mentor to come up with stuff to discuss.

  50. Essess*

    I don’t understand why people don’t think theft is illegal if it happens in an office. If someone went into your car and took things, you’d call the police. Just because it’s in your desk doesn’t change that it is illegal theft. If it is happening to a lot of people, it adds up to a lot of stolen money (for the cost of the items that were taken) and the thief’s supervisor should be told that it needs to stop or else the staff will feel that the only other option would be to call the police if the thefts continue. I’m sure the supervisor would understand the seriousness if the staff says they want to talk to police as next option.

    1. Colette*

      I think everyone understands it’s illegal. But I don’t think the police are going to jump right on the case of the missing popcorn, and I highly doubt the thief would be arrested or charged for the theft.

      1. Roscoe*

        On top of that, it just doesn’t look great to call the police on your coworker for stealing something worth $3. Like, even if I agreed that the coworker sucked, I’d find calling the police on them so overkill that my opinion of the person who did that would go down a lot.

        1. Klio*

          Apparently it’s several 3$ being stolen. How many 3$ need to be stolen till it’s no longer overkill?

        2. Essess*

          That’s why I said to add up all the thefts. 1 $3 snack is small. Spread out over 10 people over months or more adds up to hundreds of dollars.

          1. Colette*

            Sure, there’s a real cost, but let’s think about the phone call to the police. You call the non-emergency number (because missing snacks is not a 911 call). They ask why you’re calling, you say “I want to report a theft of hundreds of dollars”. They ask what was stolen, and you say “popcorn”.

            What happens next?

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      How much would it cost the police to investigate it? Much less charge it?

      I’m sure not willing to pay the kind of taxes it would take to pay, equip, insure, and support the size of police force and justice system it would take to handle this level of petty theft.

  51. BlueBelle*

    I would be really tempted to walk in LW’s boss’ office and say “oh! There is where all the skinny pop, went I was looking for them.” then take one and walk out.

    1. Snark No More!*

      Me too! I would even be so bold as to tell everyone, in a very loud voice, where all the popcorn is located.

  52. Pocket Mouse*

    OP #1- Do you know when she’s taking things? If it’s after hours, I’d suggest simply lugging your intended snacks to and from work each day. If it’s during the day, maybe it’s possible to rig something up to catch her in the act (snack in a loud music box, a bell when the drawer opens, edible glitter packed inside an otherwise unopened candy bar, anything to draw bystander attention). I’d only do this after speaking to my manager and then after one further instance for plausible deniability- “I brought recurring theft of my snacks up to my manager but the issue hasn’t been solved, so I took steps to help identify the person responsible so it can be addressed.”

    On the other hand, I’m curious what she’d do if she found a snack in your desk labeled “For Patty”. Would she take it, and if so, would she thank you for it, thereby admitting she went through your drawers? If she took it and didn’t thank you, what would happen when you told her you brought her a small gift but sadly are unable to give it to her because someone stole it from inside your desk? Or would she leave it and await the gift that never came because it was for you all along? If you go this route I will be desperate for an update.

  53. MellonBaller*

    Use your words. “Patty, stop taking my food. It’s rude and childish.” Ad infinitum.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      You and your coworkers should also write that on notes that go INSIDE every drawer and every cabinet.

  54. Pepper*

    LW #1: maybe little signs with eyes saying “please don’t open” or “please don’t take” might help? I have read that a picture of a pair of eyes can deter theft.

    I ordinarily wouldn’t encourage such soft pedaling (Popcorn Patty is STEALING from you guys) but Patty is a VP. I wish you luck.

  55. foolofgrace*

    Food Thief:

    1: Make labels with a skull and crossbones and the words “I’m Not Vaccinated” and stick it on the food packages.

    2: Every time someone’s desk gets rifled, a bunch of you get together and en masse to go over and ask for payment. You’d all have to make a pact like favored-nation-status and support each other.

    Of course, neither of these are really workable, just fun to visualize. Lockbox seems the way to go.

    1. ecnaseener*

      For #1 I have to imagine the thieving VP would be an anti-COVID-vaxxer anyway, don’t you think? The wild levels of entitlement and above-the-rules-ness and power-tripping, I can’t imagine this lady caring about COVID safety.
      (Yes yes this is baseless speculation but we’re already joking around here so I’m going on vibes alone.)

  56. Michelle*

    Many people are drawing parallels from this story to the one about the coworker who stole and attempted to eat a spicy meal that was in the office fridge, but I thought it was much more reminiscent of the one called “my boss keeps stealing my lunch, after I’ve asked him to stop” (link in the reply so it doesn’t get caught up in moderation). There were a couple of updates on that one. In that story, the boss kept stealing the person’s lunch, even after they were confronted, which was particularly egregious, as the person was preparing special allergen-free meals for themselves, and when their lunch was taken, they were forced to go hungry.

    1. Michelle*

      Also, I forgot to mention, that while I think that lock-boxes are a great deterrent and may prevent the thefts from occurring, I really dislike the idea of this cost and the onus to maintain it, being placed on the victims who have already lost so much, as opposed to the person who is to blame for putting them all in this situation to begin with.

  57. eons*

    LW1 is so insane I almost feel like the title of the article should say VICE FREAKING PRESIDENT OF OUR COMPANY steals popcorn – because what the eff?? lol

  58. NopityNope*

    LW#1, I would argue that it IS your place to speak up about this behavior, perhaps not to approach her to have a conversation about it, but definitely in the moment. It’s not unprofessional to call someone out on unethical behavior, any more than it’s unprofessional to react to misogynistic, racist or other behavior.

    If it were me, I’d take a 2-pronged approach, and probably try to encourage others to do the same. I realize that some people may think they don’t have the luxury if they need to keep their job, but I’d argue that a company where *upper management* feels free to STEAL from employees is not somewhere I would want to work, as I would question their overall ethics.

    1st, PUBLIC SHAMING, each and every time. If you catch her doing it, or if she mentions it in any context, and NAME the bad behavior, no euphemisms, and in front of as many people as possible. Bonus if PP’s manager is in earshot. I would use questions to make her own her bad behavior. “That’s not your popcorn, Patty. It belongs to Wakeen, and you are *stealing* it. Why do you think it’s okay to *steal* from your employees?” “Did you just say you took Jane’s candy bar? That’s stealing, and it not something an ethical person does. Why do you think it’s okay to steal?”

    2nd, as others have suggested, up the cost of stealing for her, especially if many people do this. Exlax brownies and “chocolate” covered popcorn, super spicy “boutique” popcorn, marmite cookies, spoiled egg cheesecake, any and everything I could think of. This is admittedly less professional, but wholly deserved. She can ruminate on the error of her ways in the bathroom.

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      I was with you until you got to the second paragraph. While it would be satisfying to lace food with laxatives or spoiled ingredients (not to mention a literal “just dessert” for perpetrator), knowingly tampering with or poisoning food (aka creating a “booby trap”) could land you in legal trouble. It’s just not a good idea. Even if it’s your food, if you have a reasonable expectation that someone else—like a thief—will consume it, you can end up in criminal court. I would skip that part.

  59. TeapotNinja*

    LW1: send a group email with a link to an affordable locked lunchbox to everyone in the company. Make sure to include her.

  60. Jean*

    LW1, your boss sucks (i.e. is an antisocial pig with no self control) and isn’t going to change. Look for a new job, and in the meantime, lock up your stuff. ALL your stuff.

    The dysfunction is pretty clearly baked in to this place if someone that high ranking does this kind of wack shit and everyone just feels like they have to deal with it.

    After you leave, make sure you leave a very detailed Glassdoor review about your experience.

  61. Ursula*

    This post made me wonder what an average benefits package actually is, so I went through the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s survey that they do about this. My findings are below:

    Median Benefit Package for private industry

    Retirement plans
    – 70% of people have some
    – 10% have defined benefit only (pension)
    o All have retirement survivor benefit for unmarried partner
    – 45% have defined contribution only (401k, etc)
    – 15% have both
    – No info on employer contributions
    Healthcare Benefits
    – Medical – 72% available
    o Individual
     14% no employee contribution (employer contribution $600)
     86% have employee contribution (Employee – $150/25%, Employer $450/75%)
    o Family
     6% no employee contribution (employer contribution $1650)
     94% have employee contribution (Employee – $600/34%, Employer $1050/66%)
    – Dental – 44% available
    – Vision – 28% available
    – Prescriptions – 71% available
    – 40% offer medical benefits to non-married partners (same or opposite sex)
    Life insurance
    – 60% of people have it
    – Typically 1x annual earnings
    – No employee contribution required
    Short Term disability
    – 40% of people have it
    – 50-60% of weekly salary, 77% with max weekly amount, median of $667
    – Fixed length of time
    – No employee contribution required
    Long Term disability
    – 35% of people have it
    – 60% of annual salary
    – Maximum monthly amount, median $10,000
    – No employee contribution required

    Paid Leaves – 44% PTO, 56% sick/vacation split – average amounts the same regardless of type
    – 80% have Holidays – 8 days median, though 6 is most common
    – 75% have Sick – 6 days
    o 11% unlimited accumulation, 37% accum with limits, 53% no carryover from yr to yr
    o Median limit 15 days, but many have very high limits (100+ days)
    – 79% have vacation – 10 days for 1-5 yrs service, 15 for 5-20 yrs, 20 for 20+ yrs
    – 50% have other paid leave types (personal, funeral, jury duty, military)
    – 20% have Family
    Unpaid Leave
    – 88% have Family unpaid leave
    Other benefits
    – 51% have Employee Assistance Programs
    – 41% have Wellness Programs
    – 32% have HSA
    – 40% have FSA
    – 20% have Financial planning
    – 40% have bonuses of some type (excluding sales commission)
    Any benefit not mentioned is provided to less than 15% of people

    1. Ursula*

      The indents didn’t work super well, but any time there’s a shape change that’s an indication of a sub-bullet.

  62. The Wandering Scout*

    LW1 – do you like raisins? Or at least, can you eat them without hating it? Do you know if food thief likes raisins? Because, if not, I would do this:
    Make cookies that look like chocolate chip ones, but with raisins.
    Cause there would be nothing more disappointing if I went to have a cookie and bit into it and it was raisins.

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