I must have the worst luck. Not only have I been feeling rather 'backed up*' lately but someone at work has also been stealing my sandwiches! I’m not looking for help on either of these issues individually, but rather on a potential problem I can see me facing if the two issues cross paths.

To alleviate my bowl based discomfort I have purchased some powdered, over the counter diuretics which, according to the packaging, are to be taken every time I eat or drink anything. Unfortunately I am quite forgetful when it comes to things like this and I really want to get my stomach back in working order so I am forward thinkingly going to add the appropriate dose to each of my sandwiches in the morning before work so that I don’t need to actively remember to take them at lunchtime. I considered taking my own milk with it added as well but decided milk could easily be confused as a shared item and used by others so have decided not to.

For the avoidance of confusion I am going to place 1 (maybe 2 depending how hungry I think I'll be) sandwiches ‘pre-administered’ with 1 dose of laxatives into the shared fridge at work.

Thankfully my lunch box is very distinctive and also has my name clearly visible on it so there is no chance it can be confused for anyone’s except mine. I'm not going to label them as containing medication because I don't want the people I work with knowing about my rather embarrassing illness (I'm only mentioning it here because it is fairly important to the question). I’m also not going to keep my food separate from other people’s so as to avoid people asking questions which may result in me having to reveal my illness or pretend that I am doing it because I fear the food thief (questions such as “Why are you keeping your lunch out of the fridge, are you letting the food thief win or is it laced with diuretics you are worried someone else will consume?”)

What I want to know is: what is the possible / likely fallout if someone eats my sandwich without my knowledge or consent and becomes ill (or cured depending on your perspective) as a result?

I thought I might find an answer in these questions which relate to food theft as I presumed at least one person on the internet would be crazy enough to recommend doing something like the above intentionally to catch the thief (which isn’t what I am doing) but neither this question here on milk theft or this question here on food theft has any such response.

This question on the Law SE site (mentioned in the comments by James) is the closest match I have seen so far but it deals specifically with the law and specifically with intentionally poisoning someone. Although I am interested in the legal side of things I know (now) that The Workplace isn’t the place for that so am interested in any other likely fallout.

A few things to note (clarifications from comments will also go here):

  • I don’t think it is important as I am not looking for explicitly law related answers but I am based in the UK and would like UK (or comparable) based answer.
  • I've read my contract and company policy and it mentions nothing about storing medication.
  • I cannot ask my HR department about it directly because that would let them know about my embarrassing illness (which I have checked and I am under no obligation to disclose) and would make it harder to argue that it wasn’t intentional if someone does eat it. (Some people may get hung up on the fact that I am asking here which in turn makes it appear pre-mediated / intentional so if this is an issue please imagine I’ve wrote the question in the third person about a third co-worker who is keeping their pre-medicated lunch in the fridge without telling anyone.)
  • I don't want to make the question too broad but feel free to mention if the item in the sandwich makes a difference. What if it wasn't medication but was instead chillies, hot sauce, loogies, depleted uranium...
  • Yes, this is a serious question but no I don't actually plan on doing this, it is purely hypothetical. and as The Workplace doesn’t like hypotheticals you can assume I am actually going to do this.
  • Please do not be mislead by the title, I am not setting out to poison the person stealing my food. It is just something that I am aware is a possible outcome and I want more information about what is likely to happen if it turns out to be the actual outcome.

Finally, I’ve done considerable revision to the question as a result of comments with the aims of getting it open again, please be aware that some comments or answers may not make as much sense now although I have tried to keep the crux of the question the same. The revision history is there if you are interested.


  • Thanks for all the comments and answers so far. Since reading The Tour, the relevant Help sections and a few topics on Meta I can see why some people may feel this is off-topic however at this point I still feel the core question is well placed here. I'll need a bit more time that my lunch hour allows to revise the question into something a bit more fitting but I will come back to it. I'll also try to make myself available in the chatroom if anyone wants since I assume, like other SE sites, comments aren't for prolonged discussion... Apr 5, 2016 at 11:33
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    A related question at the law site is law.stackexchange.com/questions/966/…
    – James
    Apr 5, 2016 at 11:34
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    I closed this because 1) it is asking for legal answers and does not give a country/jurisdiction, 2) legal questions are explicitly off topic, and 3) any HR outcome is going to be specific to your company. As it is effectively asking "what will happen to me in my company if I do X" there is no way that this can be answered without knowing exactly what company you work for. I would not recommend putting that information here, though. While entertaining, this question really is not a good fit for The Workplace as currently written.
    – enderland
    Apr 5, 2016 at 11:42
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Apr 6, 2016 at 1:17
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    You claim that you don't want to poison someone, but then propose doing exactly that. That's not a legal defense, nor a moral one.
    – DLS3141
    Apr 7, 2016 at 19:02

5 Answers 5



You edited your question substantially, so I'm substantially changing my answer (and I'm still not a lawyer!):

What I want to know is: what is the possible / likely fallout if someone eats my sandwich without my knowledge or consent and becomes ill (or cured depending on your perspective) as a result?

The most likely outcome is that the thief will have gastrointestinal issues after eating your food and that sounds more like a prank than anything else. The thief may also not realize how the problem occurred, so the stealing may continue.

However, if this person is harmed or killed, your "prank" could easily turn into "aggravated assault", "reckless endangerment" or worse, because injury could have been avoided and it appears to be intent to harm. You will face a lot of legal expenses at best. You also may be harmed socially.

It's also possible that with that type of medication, your dose may be completely ineffective on the thief and go unnoticed, with no consequences whatsoever.

In other words, it is likely to be considered "intent to harm" and the outcome will depend on the recipient's response (to the medication and circumstances) more than anything else. I would recommend against giving that kind of person (a thief) that kind of power (your legal bills).

Here are my reasons:

Consider that a reasonable person whose sole interest is in taking their medication timely would definitely not put medication on a food that could be stolen because then the medication is also gone. So, if you claim you are trying to solve the problem of taking your medicine timely, this is not the most effective solution to your problem and taking the medicine timely is not your sole intent. You probably have another motive. That is likely to get you into trouble.

Putting substances into your own food is your own choice. You are correct that someone that eats your food without asking about it or inspecting it becomes subject to whatever you might "happen" to do with your food. Putting a foreign substance into food that is typically not ingested as a food, like a medication, will usually alter the smell and/or taste. And most people are pretty good at noticing that (our lives depend on it at times, which is the basis for your question).

Next, you should consider the concept of "intent to harm." While you are providing a rationale for anyone that might question the presence of a non-food chemical in your food, the knowledge that someone might mistakenly eat your food when stored in a common area would lead many people to avoid storing their food in a public area, secure it and/or to label it. You have taken steps to make it very likely the food was stolen but that does not absolve you from fault, stolen or not.

Putting medication on your food to remember to take it at lunch is an unusual solution to a common problem. In other words, most people don't like how medicine alters the taste of foods. They buy pill boxes (which you could place in your lunch box), use phone alarms, etc. Your position that this is effective is not a strong position. In other words, you are doing it for reasons beyond it simply being an effective way to take medicine.

So the possibility that you might not be able to take your medicine if your food is stolen, your insistence on storing your food insecurely in a common area, your decision to put the medication in your food instead of using a storage container, your unwillingness to use alternate reminders along with your knowledge that your food is being stolen makes it clear that you are actions are not solely in self-interest and likely that you intend harm. Harmful intent is generally illegal, immoral, etc.


Some helpful information regarding your situation (not legal advice; I am not a lawyer):

Fundamentally, it depends on the laws that have jurisdiction in your area. If you are located in the US, it is likely you can be fired, sued and otherwise have negative outcomes you would not expect for putting controlled substances and/or prescribed medicine in an unmarked container that is in a public area.

This is similar to planting a "trap" for someone that you think is trespassing or even invading your home. These types of tactics are generally considered a disrespect for human life. Altering your sandwich, milk, workspace, habitat or other area in a manner that you are aware could (or will) cause threat to human life is a serious problem.

Although your question is hypothetical, consider that someone with an allergy could consume your sandwich and die. Although you could claim that was not your intention, it is pretty obvious that you took action that put another person intentionally in danger. Then it is essentially your job to prove you didn't know how severe the reaction would be. Not a good situation to be in.

Yes, you could reasonably "argue" that peanuts or other non-lethal foods exist and could be consumed by someone without your knowledge. But if you put peanuts into a food that you expected someone to eat with a severe peanut allergy, that sounds pretty horrible. And so, while you might claim that you don't know this person's tolerance for medications or allergies, the fact that you alter your food to contain unusual (and controlled) substances because you are aware they are likely to consume your food puts you at risk for being considered a third degree murderer, assailant or something like that.

So, while creating traps for offenders may be a fun mental game, you are best served keeping it a mental game. Your best approach here is to alter your own behavior. Food kept in a common area without monitoring is subject to theft. Although it is wrong, this is similar to not locking your door when your house is empty. While no one should enter your home, you lock it to prevent unauthorized entry. You should think about your food situation like your home - if you set traps in your home to injure or punish anyone that should enter, you are probably violating the law by intentionally trying to injure someone instead of trying to prevent the problem.

For example, you could buy a lunch box and put a lock on it. It will securely store your food and not endanger anyone. You might consider buying a large lunchbox and put a large lock on it, maybe to make a statement to management about their apparent disregard for your problem. If that lunchbox disappears, then it is property theft and if your employer doesn't take that seriously, then you have an entirely different problem...

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    I don't know about the peanuts bit. I can't just refrain from eating peanut butter sandwiches if I wanted just because somebody in my office who could be my lunch thief may have a peanut allergy. I could claim plausible deniability if he has problems("I didn't ask him to steal my food, you know - I don't have a peanut allergy").
    – cst1992
    Apr 5, 2016 at 11:03
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    @cst1992 - I agree with you. However, the OP indicates a change in behavior to try to deliver a harmful substance to an unsuspecting person. People with severe food allergies are very unlikely to ingest unknown foods, especially without inspecting them. It's likely the culprit has no known food allergies, so I mentioned it to illustrate that the intent is horrible - the OP should not be focused on harming someone in retaliation for bad behavior. As many of us have often heard, "two wrongs don't make a right."
    – Jim
    Apr 5, 2016 at 16:02
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    While the core of the answer is good, over the counter laxatives are neither prescribed medicine nor a controlled substance. Controlled substances are either prescribed or illegal to have outright. Apr 7, 2016 at 13:35

There is zero chance of any sane person answering that this is a good idea or even a reasonable thing to do. So I'm going to give a resolution to what I think is the core issue. Your stuff is being stolen. This is both frustrating and angering you for the obvious reasons.

The core issue is to catch the thief and send a message to all thieves that it's a bad idea. Here is how I resolved a similar situation. The poor chap never lived it down and ended up quitting since he basically got caught red handed and became an object of disgust to the whole small company.

I put some food into an airtight tupperware container with a clear lid. I let this food go bad over several days and then took it to work and left it in sight. I went to the toilet at one point and it had gone missing. Shortly afterwards a horrible smell was in the air and it led straight to the thief. Everyone smelt it and there was no doubt at all who it was.

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    Hey Kilisi, I appreciate your input but feel this is a good opportunity to point out that I am not asking if this is a good idea, a reasonable idea or even a sane idea. I've deliberately avoided asking any questions around ethics, morals or professionalism, I'm purely asking what the result would be. Apr 5, 2016 at 8:57
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    yes, I know that, it was a pretty pointless question, just trying to put in an answer that may conceivably be useful to someone in the future. Not many people contemplate poisoning colleagues as a remedy for such a thing (I hope), so I'm trying to help a larger audience... no offence.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 5, 2016 at 9:00
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    @RyanfaeScotland "ethics, morals or professionalism" are our bread and butter and if your question isn't about them then, barring a few exceptions, it's very likely off-topic.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 5, 2016 at 9:07
  • @Lilienthal this maybe explains why there was no suggestion of taking such actions in the responses to the linked questions. I still feel this is on-topic but as mentioned plan to make revisions when time allows. Will read up a bit more about The Workplace to make sure it stays in scope. Apr 5, 2016 at 9:43
  • So that's what was really going on here... ;)
    – marcelm
    Apr 5, 2016 at 11:39

I strongly recommend against doing this.

First of all, since you didn't do this before and started doing this after your lunch was stolen (which was brought up with management), there is probable cause to believe you did this as response to the theft. That is illegal. You are not allowed to intentionally poison someone for stealing from you (in every jurisdiction I know of). Responding to a crime by committing your own crime (you even admit you would do it because of the thefts) is not a solution. You have a very decent chance of being liable for the health damage that person takes. It doesn't really matter what kind of medication this is, intentionally making someone take medication they don't want to is morally deplorable and actually illegal almost everywhere.

So most likely, the result will be at least an instant dismissal for cause, if you hit the fan harder criminal charges and civil liability for damages incurred.

If, for some reason, you still want to do this I strongly recommend consulting a lawyer and your doctor first to make absolutely sure that you won't get completly destroyed by the consequences.


Stealing is wrong. But intentionally poisoning food as punishment / deterrent is also wrong.

Unless your Dr specifically instructed you put medicine in the food then you are using the medicine as a (non fatal) poison. And it should be labeled as contains medication.

As a deterrent you need to consider pay back. They may put something a lot worse than a laxative in your sandwich. And you won't know who.

From a legal stand point you are not authorized to dispense punishment.

Putting laxative in food is poisoning. Pretending it was for personal convenience does not change that and you know it. The outcome is the office and management will think you are a donkey-hole. Management will likely fire you because it is wrong and for attempting to manage something that was not yours to manage. Just because you did not get what you consider a proper response from management is not an excuse to take it on. The victim could charge you with poisoning as that is a crime. Would you be prosecuted - probable not for a laxative but why take that chance.

Hot peppers may be OK but then you don't have a sandwich you want to eat and you expose yourself to payback.

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    I would even say: Stealing is wrong. But intentionally poisioning food as punishment / deterrent is much worse.
    – mkorman
    Apr 5, 2016 at 10:01
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    Perhaps labeling the lunch as containing medication would be deterrent enough. Although, I totally disagree that poisoning a thief is worse than stealing. A person who has been stolen from can have long term psychological issues as they can feel VERY violated. Theft is not just wrong, it is VERY wrong.
    – Dunk
    Apr 6, 2016 at 21:43

I would assume an assault charge and instant firing. I would take the fact that you are asking here as evidence that the attack was planned. I don't know if that's correct, I'm neither a lawyer nor do I work in HR, but I'd strongly recommend that you act as if I'm right.

If the person stealing your food just gets sick and recovers, I wouldn't enter any dark alleyways afterwards for a while.

Lilienthal: This is an answer. "I am not a lawyer" doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. In addition, it is common sense that if your action might have absolutely dire consequences for you, or might have no consequences if I'm wrong, then you should assume the consequences might happen. "I'm not an electrician, but if you push your screwdriver into that power outlet, you might get killed". So what are you going to do? Electrocute yourself because I'm not an electrician?

PS. "If I am confronted about it after the event I will explain it just as I have here, the medication is in my food because I am feeling ill (not ill enough to be off work)." That would clearly be a lie. Your question here makes it quite evident that you are doing this in order to "punish" the person who is taking your food.

  • If you feel that unqualified and don't actually have anything to add this should probably be a comment, not an answer.
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 5, 2016 at 8:09
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    I took issue with you pointing out your lack of experience or qualifications while at the same time suggesting that the OP take you at your word, without explaining your reasoning. Your answer still reads more like a comment and doesn't attempt to seriously address the question. You can disagree in the comments but answers should have more substance. (And please don't reply to comments in your answer, I don't normally see them.)
    – Lilienthal
    Apr 5, 2016 at 9:11

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