Someone’s been stealing employees’ food from company refrigerator: Now what?

The Scenario

“I can’t believe it!” yelled Mike Robinson as he stormed into Stu Capper’s office and slammed the door behind him.

The HR director looked up from his paperwork to see Mike toss and empty paper lunch bag on to Stu’s desk.

“Someone took my lunch again!” said Mike.

Food thief strikes again

Stu stared at the empty bag, then took a deep breath and rubbed his temples with his hands.

“This is getting ridiculous,” he said.

“You’re telling me!” said Mike, his hands on his hips. “This is the third time someone has stolen my lunch from the office fridge in the past month.”

“Is your name on the – ” Stu started.

“Yes, Stu, my name is on the bag, like you suggested,” said Mike, shaking his head angrily.” “And you know I’m not the only person this has happened to.”

“Mike, my hands are tied,” said Stu. “I can’t just assign someone to sit in the kitchen and make sure everyone only takes their lunch.”

“Stu, I know time are hard for a lot of people, but this just isn’t fair,” said Mike.

“I have better things to do at work than worrying if my lunch will be in the fridge come lunchtime.”

“And this is straight-up theft – the food I paid for is being taken by someone else.”

“Sop what are we going to do to stop this from happening again?”

If you were Stu, what would you do next?

Reader Responses

Bonnie See, HR Manager. Illy Cafe North America Inc., Rye Brook, NY

What Bonnie would do: Our initial response would be to send and email to all employees. We’d let everyone know that this behavior needs to stop, and that HR would be keeping an eye on this area. When the person responsible is caught, the company would have grounds for immediate termination.

Reason: We cannot tolerate employee theft. This behavior goes against our core company values. we apply those standards consistently. We don’t want to send the message that any type of theft will be condoned – whether it’s embezzlement or stealing lunches.


Pat Roome, HR Manager, Center BMW, Sherman Oaks, CA

What Pat would do: The first course of action I’d take would be to put a sign on the refrigerator. Then I’d monitor the situation, and if I caught the culprit, I’d probably give a written warning, unless there was some extenuating circumstances.

Reason: This is an issue of respect for co-workers. Our in-house looter needs to know we’re aware of the situation. That realization may stop the behavior immediately.


Ellen McManus, HR Manager, Direct Success Inc., Farmingdale, NJ

What Ellen would do: Obviously, Mike isn’t entirely comfortable using the refrigerator right now.  Since he has a valid complaint, I’d acknowledge the problem and suggest packing his food in an insulated lunch bag with freezer packs. He could keep it at his desk.

Reason: We don’t want employees to suffer while we’re trying to solve the problem. Added bonus: The thief may stop when there’s nothing good left to pilfer from the refrigerator.


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