Those Leftovers Were Mine

by admin on October 18, 2012

A little background: At my company, we’ve had problems in the past with truly disgusting refrigerators. People would leave old, rotting food in there for months, and usually whoever got tired of the smell first would be the one to clean it. We recently moved to a brand new building, where we occupy two floors and have a fridge on each floor. Our office manager “Paula” instituted a new policy to help with the fridge cleaning: employee’s personal food would only be allowed on one floor, and the company-supplied coffee, creamers and snacks would be on the other floor. In addition, every Friday one team is assigned to throw away everything in the employee fridge, including condiments. If you want your stuff, you have to remove it and take it home over the weekend. A little harsh, but better than a fridge full of rotten food.

This policy worked fine for me until a recent injury. I was on crutches and couldn’t easily access the employee fridge, so I got permission to store my lunches in the Company Fridge, which is much closer to my desk. I’m now walking again, but I can’t go far without pain and limping, so I’m still keeping my lunch nearer to my desk.

Now to the incident in question: Every Friday, my team has a “Creative Workshop” meeting during our lunch hour where we review our work and bring brown-bag lunches. We’ve give up our lunch hour for this meeting for the past year, so the Creative Director decided to reward us with a catered lunch from a local BBQ joint. He brought in ribs, pulled pork, corn bread, baked beans, etc. and had our office manager “Paula” use her company expense account to pay for it. It was a very nice “thank-you” for all our hard work, and since we had leftovers, the Creative Director said we could take them home to share with our families. I packed up a to-go box, wrote my name on it and stowed it in the Company Fridge until quitting time.

When I went to retrieve it at the end of the day, it was gone. I asked Paula about it, and she said, “Why was it up here in the Company Fridge?” I told her, “I have permission to keep my food up here because of my injury.” She knew that already – several times during my injury she checked with me to be sure that the food in there belonged to me, not some other employee. Then she said, “I gave it away to another employee.”

I was shocked, and I just stared at her for a minute. “Why would you do that?” I asked.

She gave me an annoyed look and replied, “Why do you care, you didn’t pay for it!” in a nasty tone of voice.

I really didn’t know what to say to her, so I simply left. I’m truly angry about this, not just because I lost some delicious leftovers, but because she didn’t feel that A. I deserved to take them home and B. that I should be allowed to keep my food nearer to my desk after an injury. I’m hoping you and your readers can help me decide if my anger is justified. Did I really have a claim on the BBQ, or since it was purchased by the company, was Paula justified in giving it to someone else? Should I start keeping my lunch in the Employee Fridge now that I can walk?   0810-12

 

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

StephM October 19, 2012 at 1:22 am

@Claire: “but I can’t go far without pain and limping”
She is not being a “special snowflake.”

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Katie2 October 19, 2012 at 5:33 am

I think you’ve done exactly the right thing to let it go- but take this as a warning about Paula. If she turns like that about something so small, she’s probably not to be trusted in other matters. And you are absolutely entitled to use the other fridge while your leg is healing! Don’t be bullied into using the other one!

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Aiza October 19, 2012 at 6:37 am

Petty. Paula might have made a genuine mistake she didn’t want to admit but this wasn’t some sort of a family heirloom that she gave away, it was just some leftovers.

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Lacey October 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

@Bint: “I have never met an office manager who wasn’t on a huge power trip” does not equal “All office managers are on a huge power trip.” The latter is a stereotype; the former is an expression of my personal experience. But I’m sure the people you worked with appreciated you a lot, if you weren’t into petty things like policing the office fridge. I mean that sincerely.

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Ann October 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

I’m with Katie2. You have every right to be miffed, but there isn’t a thing you can do about it other than take a warning about Paula.

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Claire October 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

To “StephM” (This isn’t twitter)

I quote “Should I start keeping my lunch in the Employee Fridge now that I can walk?”

Answer – Yes!

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Beat.Your.Heart.Out October 19, 2012 at 9:43 am

I agree with the other commenters that Paula behaved badly and reacted unreasonably in this situation, however some very hasty conclusions about her are being drawn from a single incident.

One thing I’ve observed in this site is that if the one to be cast into e-Hell has previously displayed the problem behaviours (in this story, snarkiness and throwing one’s weight around) the OP usually mentions it in the preamble to the story, which this OP did not.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Paula isn’t consistently unpleasant, it just means there is too little evidence here to convict her of being an all-round narcissist/ wannabe dictator/ all-around horrible person.

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VR518 October 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

@Lucky

The OP didn’t pay for it, but it was a gift. Did the food belong to Paula? No, it didn’t. She paid for it using her expense account, but that that’s not her money. It’s money from the company given to her to use for company business. That didn’t entitle her to take the food and give it away, eat it herself, or throw it out. Did you read the post?

The OP writes, “It was a very nice “thank-you” for all our hard work, and since we had leftovers, the Creative Director said we could take them home to share with our families.” The Creative Director gave them permission to take those leftovers home. That food was given to her and other employees as a gift to start with, and they were further gifted with them being allowed to take the rest home. Paula had no right overriding the Creative Director’s authority in allowing the OP and her co-workers to take the rest home.

Paula was out of line. She was rude and what she did amounted to theft.

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Audra October 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

Document it and let it go. If you pursue this with Paula, it will cause resentment and she will continue to do as much as she can get away with to cause you grief.

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Cat Too October 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

@Claire – “To “StephM” (This isn’t twitter)”.

Perhaps you are not aware of it but the @[person's name] is a device that has been used on internet forum discussion boards which do not allow direct replies for a longer time than Twitter has existed. The usage here is consistent with that, and is used by several commenters, it is not an indication of someone who is using tweet language.

Also – no, what is in the company fridge is not company food if it is specifically labeled as not company food. Placement does not override labeling. It didn’t become company food just because the OP put it in the company fridge. Especially not when she is using that fridge with the permission of the company for her personal use due to her temporary handicap. It would be extremely contradictory of them to make such an accommodation for her and then hold her usage to the same standard as the rest of the fridge usage.

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Katie2 October 19, 2012 at 11:21 am

I disagree about the fridge issue- the OP still can’t walk without pain. She has permission. Why make things difficult if they can be easy? There’s no discernible reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to use the other fridge until she’s better!

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Enna October 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I think the OP made the right choice, she/he has every reason to be a bit weary of Paula until it blows over. I wonder if Puala took the leftovers herself? Might explain her defensive stance. This would make her even more rude. But if a third employee took them then they are being rude (unless of course it is a mix up with 2 people have the same name). If Paula knew that someone was going to take your leftovers and didn’t say anything she was in the wrong.

If this is a start of unpleasent behaviour from Paula then you may have to take it further.

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Allie October 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Sounds to me like Paula had a bee up her butt about something else, perhaps related to your special deal about the fridge, something to do with the BBQ lunch or perhaps something completely unrelated that she chose to take out on you. Her behaviour was rude and I don’t blame you for being upset by it. You certainly had every right to the leftovers and she should not have done that or said that to you. On the other hand, what’s done is done and it doesn’t sound likely an apology will be forthcoming. I would give Paula a wide berth as much as possible. She sound petty.

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Drawberry October 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I’d be pretty miffed too. I don’t think the OP is necessarily still bothered by her food portion being given away but rather that the nice gesture of someone else was marred by the strangely selfish and arrogant actions of Paula. Paula clearly wasn’t bothered by people who didn’t pay taking food home because she gave it away to someone else, and clearly knew it was the OP’s because their name was written on it and she knew immediately what the OP had been talking about.

Sometimes the strangest things bring out the nasty sides in people and it seems like some angry little tick was nestled inside Paula’s grumpy center of the brain and something just set her off to feel entitled in such a way.

It sucks to lose what the OP was hoping to be a lovely left over meal they clearly where looking forward too, and it sucks to be talked down to in such a way and have your space invaded (the container with the OP’s name on it) but it’s just one of the those things you have to roll your eyes at and pass off.

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Tsunoba October 19, 2012 at 11:11 pm

@Claire

She CAN walk, yes. But it causes pain, and she has to resort to limping. I got the impression she was asking if she should put up with pain just for food. Just because it is physically possible does not mean it is practical.

However, as this happened a month ago, and the OP has given us an update, I suppose it is a moot point.

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yankeegal77 October 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

You did the correct thing, OP. Walking away and just being polite, professional and detached are a good strategy.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Paula either ate your leftovers or tossed them mistakenly. She may have not even paid attention to what food it was another employee had asked about. And perhaps she didn’t know the Creative Director had even promised the leftovers to your team. Whatever the situation, her attitude was terrible and she should have apologized rather than snapped.

The leftovers and their fate weren’t the entire issue here; her rudeness regarding her own actions/mistake with you was the real problem.

@Lacey: For the record, I’m an office manager and have never been on a “power trip.” I have worked with petty, power-trippy, gossip-mongers as OMs and I absolutely refuse to act like that with my company’s staff. I would never in a million years eat someone’s leftovers. However, our directors don’t always communicate very well, so I might not know that one team had rights to particular items and if I were swamped and someone asked about something in the fridge, I might say go for it. (Especially because I actually have three titles, with office manager only one of them. ;)) But I would also cop to my bad and apologize profusely. Which is what Paula should have done.

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ednabmickles October 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm

some people find it very hard to admit a mistake

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Shoebox October 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

A cautionary tale re: what can happen when you start escalating things like this within the office structure: http://www.snopes.com/embarrass/email/ham.asp .

Not that I’m at all assuming the OP would be this petty, but still. It\s not office business, don’t use the office to deal with it. As a BBQ lover myself my heart bleeds for your loss, and I do agree that Paula was making some sort of bizarre passive-aggressive point about your messing with her fridge/food ‘rules’… but honestly, unless it’s part of a pattern of well-defined nastiness your only option with any chance of a positive outcome is to let it go.

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Smiling Charmer October 21, 2012 at 9:45 am

Shock and anger?? Storm in a teacup.

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StephC October 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm

@Claire: Using the asperand did not originate from twitter; twitter adopted the popular way of using the @ symbol to clarify to whom your comment is directed.

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Cat Whisperer October 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Some comments:

1. OP lost some “delicious leftovers.” She did not lose something she paid for, the leftovers were a boon, an unexpected lagniappe, a bonus. They got given away. OP did not lose something she had paid for or brought herself. Easy come, easy go. As someone else said, you have to pick your battles. Freebie leftovers are not worth fighting about.

2. I was in the workforce for more than 40 years before I retired, and in most places and situations where I worked, there was no refrigerator to put your lunch in, “employee” or otherwise. It is perfectly possible to pack a healthy, tasty lunch that doesn’t require refrigeration. Whining about having to walk a longer distance to the employee refrigerator because you’re hurt gets no sympathy from me. There are many insulated lunch carriers that you can easily carry and keep your lunch cold, and you keep it right at your desk so you don’t have to walk at all. OP is lucky to have access to a refrigerator, any refrigerator, however inconvenient it is to access it. It is a “nice to have” item, not a “need to have” item. Follow the rules, whatever they are, or pack a lunch that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, or get an insulated lunch carrier to keep things by your desk. Problem solved.

3. It sounds like “Paula” was cranky and rude, but we only have OP’s side of the story. Without having “Paula’s” story, I’m reluctant to condemn her and inclined to write her reaction off to maybe catching her at a bad moment or believing that there’s some possible back-story to explain her reaction. Let it go.

Looking back on my 40 years in the workplace, which included a whole lot of years in some pretty tough work environments, I can only advise OP: this is a non-issue. Save your angst for something that really matters, like getting passed over for a raise or promotion you deserve, or a genuine grievance that’s going to hurt you professionally. Lost leftovers are a non-issue in the greater scheme of things.

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Cat Whisperer October 24, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Helen said: “….I may sound harsh, but in most states, employers are not allowed to take away your lunch break, and having you work through it without additional compensation is generally not okay. …”

Helen: this applies only to employees who are “on the clock,” i.e., either hourly employees or “salaried, non-exempt” employees. Both those classes of employees are covered by the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) that mandate things like break times, lunch times, payment of overtime, etc. This webpage gives some information about the “salaried, non-exampt” vs. “exempt” classification: http://www.shrm.org/TemplatesTools/hrqa/Pages/Whatdoesitmeantohaveasalariednonexemptemployee.aspx

Salaried employees who are considered “exempt,” as defined by the FSLA, may have to give up their lunch hours, work overtime, go without breaks, as necessary to accomplish their job. Generally, jobs that are considered “professional,” such as engineers, chemists, lawyers, doctors, researchers, computer programmers, and others who do those kinds of jobs fall into the “exempt” category.

And I can tell you, from personal experience, that salaried exempt workers can work 80 hours or more a week– yes, you read that right– without receiving any overtime compensation or compensation for missed lunches or breaks.

Before I retired, I worked as a writer/editor for a large aerospace company, and when we were working on a deadline-driven project like a proposal or an interim or final report for a program office, everyone involved whatever hours were required to get the job done by deadline. I can remember putting in 18 hour days, coming in to work at 6:00 AM and leaving around midnight after handing off a final input to the printers, then coming in again at 5:00 AM to pick up the proof copy and spending the next six hours bleary-eyed at my desk proofing the printer’s work and marking corrections up to make a noon deadline for corrections, grabbing a quick lunch at my desk to wait for the printers to call and say they’d made the corrections, then going back to check the corrections, and running upstairs to get the final copy to the management team for buy-off and signatures. And the engineering team responsible for the content would be there too, in case last-minute changes needed to be made.

No compensation for these kinds of hours. Not money, not lunch, not nothin’. “You’re a professional, it’s your job.”

My husband, who is a very senior staff engineer at the same company, regularly puts in 10 to 12 hours when they have customer reviews or audits or other activities that require that they work to a deadline. And he doesn’t get extra compensation for it, either.

Not everyone is entitled by law to lunch breaks and rest breaks. Only hourly people and salaried non-exempt people as defined by the FLSA.

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Weaver October 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

@ Cat Too and StephC

Well said indeed!

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