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Kate Palmer


HR Advice and Consultancy Director

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Mystery lunch thief at the BBC takes office drama to new spicy heights

Kate Palmer reports on the lunch thief currently plaguing the BBC, whilst bringing a few HR home truths to the field of office lunch larceny.

For many, lunch is the highlight of the working day.

In fact, as you’re reading this, you might be counting down the minutes until the clock strikes 12 o’clock. Or perhaps you’re basking in that post-lunch satisfaction, energised and ready to tackle the afternoon.

So, just imagine looking forward to your lunch all morning. You’ve brought leftover Thai green curry that you made last night. It was delicious, and you know it’s going to be even better the day after. Finally, you get your break and make your way over to the communal fridge. You can almost taste it now as you reach inside the fridge to your familiar Tupperware box. You peel off the lid and find…

Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

So, how can a spicy mystery like this be solved without getting too salty?

BBC journalists report on own lunches being stolen

This was the reality for BBC journalist Barbara George, who tweeted a report complaining that someone had taken stolen her homemade curry.

Not only did someone eat her lunch, but they also put the empty lunchbox back into the fridge. Other journalists have now come forward to say that they too have been victims of the lunch thief.

Who is the secret sandwich snaffler prowling the halls and fridges of BBC newsrooms? The mystery has yet to be solved.

As unpalatable as it may sound, this problem is not exclusive to the BBC. Many other workplaces have also been victims of the light-fingered fridge bandit.

So, how can a spicy mystery like this be solved without getting too salty?

The One with Ross’s Sandwich

It’s important to remember that swiping someone else’s lunch can be a simple mistake. Albeit a rather silly one.

If an employee has reason to believe they know who has taken their lunch, it might be best dealt with by having a quiet word with the perpetrator.

But repeated offences that leave employees with regularly rumbling bellies could be cause to involve HR. Nobody wants to see colleagues channelling their inner Ross, screaming, “You ate my sandwich? MYYYY SANDWICH?” before your boss runs away in fear and you are forced into workplace therapy.

Many other workplaces have also been victims of the light-fingered fridge bandit.

Time to call in the Theif Operating Officer

If it’s not clear who is responsible for taking the food, it may be appropriate to send an email reminder to all staff to be respectful of each other and only eat what is theirs. Employers should also stress that, if the thefts continue, the person responsible could be subject to disciplinary action.

You would think that the threat of action would be enough to stop the lunchtime larcenist in their tracks. But if you’ve got a serial stealer on your hands, you might need to start a full investigation.

However, your hands could be tied here if there are no witnesses and no CCTV. Any investigation is only as good as the evidence available, and if you don’t have anything to go on then you may need to catch the thief red-handed.

Do you need CCTV to catch the thief bourguignon?

Installing CCTV might seem the logical next step when it comes to catching the culprit, but data protection laws could prove to be a sticking point. Employees need to be informed if their images are going to be caught on camera, and they’ll need to be told the reason for the recording.

You also need to be able to justify using surveillance methods and only use them for the purpose they are intended. So, you could potentially put a camera on the fridge but covering the entire office might be a different matter.

Additionally, employers need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) if they are using CCTV and pay a fee unless exempt. Covert surveillance should only be used in exceptional circumstances where wrongdoing is alleged, in accordance with strict ICO rules. Make sure you follow all correct procedures before going down this route.

Revenge plan options: Laxative spaghetti or cat food sandwich?

Nobody wants hangry employees, and it could be understandable for someone to look to seek revenge if their lunch keeps disappearing. Extra spicy hot sauce and poop pies may seem like rational revenge plans if the victim is being put under strain from continual fear of lunch burglary

Whilst lacing packed lunches with laxatives or packing a cat food sandwich might sound like something straight out of a teen high-school movie, it’s important to realise that actions like these could put someone’s safety at risk, especially if they have any allergies or other conditions which are triggered by certain medication. Strongly discourage employees from taking matters into their own hands.

If one person’s lunches seem to be disappearing regularly amidst allegations of bullying or harassment, then the employer should ensure that this is fully investigated in accordance with their bullying and harassment policies. It is also important to remind staff that the employer takes a zero-tolerance approach to this type of behaviour at work.

Author Profile Picture
Kate Palmer

HR Advice and Consultancy Director

Read more from Kate Palmer

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