I have an employee who constantly steals other people’s lunches. Do I fire him?

Dan Holliday, Talent Acquisition / Recruiting (2011-present)

Yes. Always.

We had a 10 year employee working at my store named (ummmm) “Suzy”. She was the community out-reach leader (and amazing at it) and the intimates / beauty department manager. She had a perfect attendance record. She was one of TWO “Exceeds Expectations” leaders in the entire store. She went to EVERY fundraising event and was absolutely one of the most delightful human beings I ever worked with.

I was in the break room with the store manager. In walked “Suzy”. She opened the fridge, dug out a bottle of iced tea. Said (out loud), “No name! Fair game!” and opened it and drank it. We didn’t even have time to stop her. We saw her take an item from the fridge. There was no moral dilemma on our part. The front of the fridge had a sign on it saying, “If it’s not yours and you take it, it’s theft. Period.” We had a camera pointing at the fridge because food theft had been a past issue.

“Suzy” was walked off the property the same day.

She was stunned. “But I have perfect attendance. I’ve gotten exceeds expectations on every review. I’m the community captain.” It absolutely broke my heart (she was one of my all time favorite employees). We had to explain to her, “Nobody gets immunity to the rules. You cannot be the greatest employee ever and expect that you earn some kind of points that grant you forgiveness, especially in an area so critical to trust and morale. All theft is treated the same, regardless of size or intent. You took something that didn’t belong to you.”

Theft is and should always be treated with absolute zero tolerance. No exceptions ever. Making exceptions demands future exceptions for all people. Making exceptions about theft opens the door to low standards. Better to fire all the perpetrators and shut the unit down until backfill can be identified than to allow a thief to continue being employed for even one second.

additional comments

Carlet Langford 

I can’t believe there is actually someone here who is arguing that stealing food isn’t fireable.

The hell it’s not.

Since I can’t directly reply to him, all I’m gonna say is: Look. Maybe you aren’t yet old enough to support yourself so dealing with budgets isn’t something you have to do yet, but people bring their lunch in large part because they need to save money, particularly if you are a retail worker – people working the floor don’t make a lot of money, and if they have kids, them bringing lunch from home is an important part of budget management. If they can’t eat what they bring from home, they may not be able to go buy lunch. Some folks’ budgets are that thin.

Or, they may not have enough time to run out and replace that lunch, so they don’t eat. Again, retail workers are very regimented – you get so much time for lunch and coming back late from lunch can cost you your job. Bringing lunch and eating it on the work site helps ensure they aren’t late going back to work.

Or they are on a limited diet, and can only eat what they bring from home.

Bottom line is, you don’t take people’s lunch. It’s no different from taking money out of their wallet or stealing a jacket.

Its theft, and you should get canned for it.

You know it’s not your lunch. Take your paws off their lunch.

Brice Carpentier

Actually, I thought about it again and I don’t agree with this answer.

A. the company would get wrecked by any decent court of justice as there is no evidence of theft since said beverage is not labeled. The employee could very easily say it was his in the first place and it would end up in he says she says which would result in firing without cause.

B. there are plenty of ways to make sure an employee understands he’s done wrong beside firing, such as citation, warning, pay cut (depending on your specific country’s laws), forced leave without pay and so on. Those are way more effective and way more beneficial to every party involved

Yeah. This answer is 120% made up.

Irene Fuerst

The woman was caught saying the iced tea in the fridge was “fair game” because it had no label, in violation of a posted policy. She admitted to taking something that did not belong to her. How is this different from stealing an iced tea out of a grocery store?


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