I have a coworker I consider a mentor. Therefore, I buy him popcorn whenever I go to Costco. It is $7/bag for thank you and he will share if you want.

I have another coworker, I will aptly call, Karen. Karen will always tell me how she has a Costco card and hadn't gone. Karen is also a Popcorn Karen and will steal entire bags of popcorn and bring it up into her office.

This is popcorn I pay for personally. This is also popcorn that my coworker keeps inside or under his desk, so she is going into his personal space.

This isn't new behavior from Karen. She went into my desk to steal a half-eaten chocolate bar last year while we were going through a global pandemic. (Our boss is a big chocolate fiend and I guess he asked her if there was any chocolate while no one else was here). She also doesn't pay people back whenever they purchase her food or snacks.

This woman will be 59 years old on Friday. She is too old not to know better.

How do I politely tell someone with this much audacity to stop taking everyone's food?

  • I would love to have a lock on my drawer. Unfortunately, we have cheap second-hand desks. But that is my major problem. Any way I attack it I will be the jerk despite her being the thief.
    – user126509
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 19:52
  • 3
    If you cannot lock them, you can place a buzzer. Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 20:36
  • 1
    Also consider that Karen might (or might not) be affected by some mental disorder because of this misbehaviour. Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 9:27
  • @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ - Even people with mental issues have obligations to behave professionally in professional contexts. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 16:34
  • @thursdaysgeek no doubt. But I wanted to highlight that the person may not be doing it on grounds of free will. May need a lot more tact in a confrontation Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 7:20

6 Answers 6


The problem is you're trying to react with politeness to something that is very much not polite. You have two options:

  • Tell her that taking food from your area is rude and you'd like it to stop. (It may or may not stop).
  • Keep your food in a locked area, so she can't take it. (You might need to buy a locked lunch box or something like that.)

Do NOT leave out food that you yourself would not eat, as a type of trap. There is no reason for you to get in trouble, and that could get you in trouble more than her taking food.

This article gives some options, and somewhere on that site is also information on what could happen if you deliberately sabotage food that you expect to be stolen.

And, I see that Alison gave pretty similar advice: https://www.askamanager.org/2021/07/coworker-steals-peoples-snacks-a-sales-rep-who-rants-on-social-media-and-more.html

  • Thanks! I would never leave a laxative or something like that. I don't want assault charges. And the lock doesn't work because the desks not having locks. :(
    – user126509
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 19:54
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    Probably because the one you linked had further links below that made good reading :)
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 20:25
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    @JMERICKS If they can prove that the food was poisoned or tampered with in a way that was intended to target someone, then assault charges are definitely a risk. No-one's going to deliberately consume food laced with laxatives, so if they can show that it contained them, then it's probably good enough evidence you were intending to poison them, especially if there's evidence (such as prior incidents) that you expected the food to be stolen.
    – Xono
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 5:10
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    @JMERICKS, assualt is willfully causing someone bodily harm. Putting laxatives in one's food with the intent of causing the thief harm is assault.
    – user126509
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 5:12
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    @JMERICKS if it is not assault, it can be, at the very least, battery (if you're in the US) Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 5:44

If you can't lock your drawer, get a container (box, bag, whatever) with a lock on it and keep that in your drawer. Breaking the lock or stealing the whole container is a step up from stealing the food, at least in the thief's mind. They have no excuse for opening your drawer in the first place, so they can hardly complain about the lock.

(My assumption is that the thief has rationalized that stealing small amounts of food is ok, but stealing a container or breaking a lock is not.)

(I'm also assuming that you'd prefer to avoid a direct confrontation.)

  • I'm not bothered by the downvote, but I'm curious about the reason. Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 22:02
  • I didn't downvote, but OP seems to be concerned about preventing theft from somebody else's desk, not their own. The solution you propose would be workable for one's own drawer but OP probably can't apply it to their mentor's possessions. (This does, of course, suggest that perhaps OP should let their mentor decide how to handle it.)
    – G_B
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 0:59

This is also popcorn that my coworker keeps inside or under his desk, so she is going into his personal space.

This isn't your battle to fight. Regardless if you bought the popcorn or not. If you gave it to your boss and Karen steals it from him, then she's stealing from him, not you. Let him deal with it if he's so inclined.

She went into my desk to steal a half-eaten chocolate bar last year while we were going through a global pandemic. (Our boss is a big chocolate fiend and I guess he asked her if there was any chocolate while no one else was here).

It sounds like your boss instigated this. Surely, he shares some of the blame. That being said, I probably wouldn't put up much of a fuss over a half-eaten chocolate bar.

She also doesn't pay people back whenever they purchase her food or snacks.

This isn't your concern, unless she borrows money from you and doesn't pay it back. Then your concern only goes as far as the money you lent her. What she does or doesn't do about money she borrows from other people isn't any of your business. You're not the office money lending police. Stay out of other people's business.

This woman will be 59 years old on Friday. She is too old not to know better.

How is her age relevant? How do you know she's too old to not know? Maybe she wasn't raised with the same social norms that you were. You're making a judgment based on your own cultural/social bias.

How do I politely tell someone with this much audacity to stop taking everyone's food?

You talk to her about stealing your food. What she does or doesn't do with other people's food is none of your concern. The other people can defend themselves if they're so inclined. You're not the office food police. Stay out of other people's business. Speak to Karen about taking your food and ask her to please stop doing it.

  • Respectfully I disagree that it isn't my place. I am spending money on someone and it is going to someone else. As for her age, I am pretty sure every country has laws involving stealing and is something children know not to do. She shouldn't be stealing from people half her age. As for the rest of it, it is fair. I should only concern myself with my fight and her stealing my resources. It is mostly frustrating as anywhere with an HR it would be a firable offense because, again, theft is theft and a crime. No matter how petty.
    – user126509
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 5:10
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    @user126509 You are spending money on someone, they are receiving the gift. It is now theirs. They are the victim of this crime, not you. I completely understand mentally where you're at, cause I'd be the same, but you're not the police. If you're not the victim, it's not really something you should get involved with. Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 6:09
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    By definition, the OP is the Karen and the food stealing coworker is just a petty thief.
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 11:21
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    You've made several broad generalizations and you've made assumptions that you can't prove to be universal values. Sure, most of the civilized world sees stealing as wrong but you can't, in fact, prove that she was brought up with those values. Regarding her taking food from someone else, food that you gave them, this is no longer your concern. If I give my neighbor a television, and someone steals it, I may find that upsetting but it's not my concern because the television no longer belongs to me. Address her stealing your food and leave everyone else out of it.
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 14:45

First off, forget about other people's property. Even if you paid for it as a gift, it is no longer your property to be concerned with. If the person you are gifting the popcorn does not care about it being stolen, then you aren't going to get anywhere by complaining on their behalf.

If somebody is stealing directly from you, then you can do something about it. If you have a dedicated HR person then speak with them. If you don't, speak with your direct line manager and tell them you will not tolerate theft of your property and you expect them to take action to progress your complaint.

Unless you have evidence that Karen stole your property (ideally she has admitted it to you), then I strongly suggest you avoid naming anybody. You could end up in more trouble yourself than the thief would.

The best you can hope for is that Karen will admit to taking it without your permission. It is unlikely she will be punished for what has already happened, but try to push the point that is should not happen again and if it does you expect more serious action to be taken against her for theft of property.

If HR/Owner tells you anything other than it will be taken serious (i.e. they laugh at you/tell you that you are being silly), then either suck it up and get used to it happening, or find another job.

At the end of the day, it might seem "petty" to some people, but you have every right to take action if you want to. It's not just about a half eaten chocolate bar. It's clearly having a mental effect on you and is introducing a hostile work environment.


You could ask HR what the consequences for theft from a colleague are. If there is no HR team then the company owner is HR. In many places and many countries the consequences would be dismissal.

Depending on the answer you get, you may pay Karen a visit, and tell your that according to HR, the consequences of theft will be getting fired. And that if you get evidence of someone stealing popcorn, you will hand that evidence to HR.

That makes it quite clear to her what you think, and she can't exactly go to HR and check. She also can't complain about it, as long as you don't say you suspect her. It doesn't necessarily have to be the truth, as long as HR told you they would take this serious.

PS. Some comments said that theft from someone else isn't your business. It is. With a thief in the office, nobody is safe.

  • according to previous question of this asker, this is not an option: "we don't have an HR team so there is no one to disclose to or deal with her bullying behavior..."
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 6:21
  • 3
    You always have an HR team. If there is no official HR team, then the company owner is the HR team. And an answer should be useful not just for that specific case, but in general. And do you expect me to scan through all the history of the person posting a question?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 6:23
  • sure no, I don't expect you to dig there because all questions here are supposed to be self-contained. Asking for clarification in comments prior to answering wouldn't hurt though
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 6:33

First of all, I believe such a situation should be addressed, even if you are not the one being stolen from on a regular basis, as it generates mistrust in the office: if Karen is stealing from your boss and has already stolen from you, she probably does it to other people, and it probably has a negative influence on your working environment, even if nobody openly talks about it.

I would not recommend direct confrontation. Confronting her directly will most likely lead to open conflict and would further deteriorate the working atmosphere. Plus, you haven't specified if you have any solid, admissible proof of her being the thief, and things might turn against you if she simply denies it. Which could totally happen. You also need to be careful with the way you gather proof, as it could be illegal, or simply going against company rules, and that could also become a problem for you.

The first thing to do is try to bring up the topic with your other coworkers. They probably noticed it since Karen's behavior doesn't seem to be subtle in any way, so you could check if you're not the only one being annoyed by it and wanting it to stop.

Then, the best course of action is probably to bring the issue up to HR, and it's probably even better if you can show that you have support from your coworkers (you can even try to bring a coworker with you to discuss it), rather than being alone, that will prevent HR from thinking you just have personal issues with Karen and are simply trying to undermine her (or accusing her by default) because you don't like her.

Once HR is in the loop, let them do their job. You can of course protect your stuff by hiding it, or locking it up (which may deter Karen, or may not, but it's worth trying), but at that point you've done what you had to do. If HR doesn't do anything about it, then you have a whole another problem with your workplace, I guess.

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