Help! My Coworkers Are Thieves and I Can’t Report Them!

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I am 18 and have been employed at a branch of a small restaurant chain for almost six months. The manager is often out of the restaurant, leaving the assistant manager to run things, and a month or two ago, I started to notice dishonest behavior among the rest of my coworkers, including the assistant manager. People went on long breaks, didn’t complete their duties, took food home, and so on. Some would clock in and then leave for hours, leaving the restaurant short-staffed and affecting the performance of those still working.

Two weeks ago, the cash drawer came up $20 short two nights in a row. I asked the assistant manager about it, and he told me not to worry. I tried to speak to the owner when he came in, but the assistant manager cut me off and told me later not to bother the owner with “little concerns” if I wanted to keep my job. The next day I saw the assistant manager shortchanging a customer. He noticed me watching him, and after work he stopped me on my way out and told me if I complained to the manager, he’d report me for stealing.

I don’t know what to do! I live in a small town and was lucky to find this job. I don’t want to be a tattletale. Even if I were to tell, the owner and his wife trust the assistant manager, so I’m sure I won’t be believed. I’m afraid, too, if I do report this, the others will blame it on me. I’ll be fired for stealing and maybe even arrested, and nothing will happen to the rest of them. If I go along with what they’re doing, though, I can keep my job. I wouldn’t steal anything, of course, but is it really so bad to pretend I don’t care what they’re doing? If they aren’t going to be caught either way, why can’t I just keep working and pretend I know nothing? —Morally Confused

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Dear Confused,

Thank you for writing in about a difficult problem. I am so sorry that you are exposed to such immoral and unethical behavior. You are 18 years old and have your whole life ahead of you; I expect that your journey will include many warm and happy stops, but also some of a more dubious nature, as you are encountering today.

You say you can either keep silent and keep your job or be a “tattletale” and possibly get fired or even arrested. Neither of these courses of action is appealing. There is, however, a third option—simply leave the job. Quit! Give two weeks notice, if you feel so inclined, and then go. You don’t have to give a reason if you don’t want to.

You ask, “Is it really so bad to pretend I don’t care what they’re doing?” I think it is bad for a person to pretend they don’t know something when they do, or to close their eyes when something not good is happening around them. It can have a destructive effect on the person’s mental health.

I know it can be hard to find a job, but I encourage you to look for a better situation. A hardworking young person who is smart, honest, and observant will be an asset to any business.

My concern is for you. To me, the most important part of the equation is you, your honesty, and your integrity. You and your important standards, your inner self, deserve to be honored and protected. I don’t see this happening in this restaurant.

Although the job market isn’t great everywhere, it may be in your best interests to go elsewhere. If you stay where you are, even if you don’t participate in the dishonesty and theft all around you, it may affect your feelings about yourself, your job, and others. Your words suggest you won’t be comfortable. You’re uncomfortable already. That discomfort may only get worse as it erodes your self-regard and morale.

I know it can be hard to find a job, but I encourage you to look for a better situation. A hardworking young person who is smart, honest, and observant will be an asset to any business.

I am so pleased you have written asking for another pair of eyes to look at your situation objectively with you, and I wish you good luck, happiness, and success in the future. I hope this helps. Let us know what happens next.

Take care,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 14 comments
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  • Trevor

    Trevor

    May 13th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    Oh man you gotta come clean about all of this. You might be hesitant to report someone but do you think that they will have any hesitation blaming you if something happens and they get fingered as the suspect?
    Nope they would try to implicate you in a heartbeat so what I think that you should do is go to the owner and tell him what you suspect and just let him be the one responsible with taking things from there.Criminals are pretty stupid at times and eventually they will do something where they will get caught.

  • jay

    jay

    May 13th, 2016 at 11:59 AM

    Nobody wants to be the snitch but then again no one wants to be blamed for something that they didn’t do. Time to fess up

  • Nicolette

    Nicolette

    May 14th, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    Have you thought about the fact that withholding that information is actually making you no better than what they are?

  • Arunima

    Arunima

    May 15th, 2016 at 5:07 PM

    If I were you, this situtation would trouble me too. These are just few suggestions. I would start looking for another employment asap. Start documenting quietly what is going on. Ask for a meeting with the owner siting an urgent matter but privately. Speak the truth as well as your own safety concerns and how it is affecting your morale. YOu are only 18. It is better to live guilt concious free. Good luck and God bless you!

  • Billie

    Billie

    May 16th, 2016 at 4:26 PM

    There is a large difference between can’t report them and won’t report them

  • ERINs

    ERINs

    May 17th, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    You know that you will feel terrible if you keep all of this on the inside. There are people whom you want to protect in your life but are these the people who are worth any consequences that could then be faced when you are found out?
    It doesn’t sound like they are.

  • Ric

    Ric

    May 18th, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    If I were the manager I would applaud you for coming forward.
    That is never an easy thing to do.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    May 19th, 2016 at 11:10 AM

    These kinds of jobs are a dime a dozen. If you really enjoy working in a restaurant I would bet that with your tenacity you could probably find another job just like that, and one where you don’t have to worry so much about thieving co workers. I think that the best thought right now is to look for something else.

  • rudy

    rudy

    May 21st, 2016 at 4:29 PM

    It can be hard to come forward with the truth many times, but if you know in your heart that this is the right call, then it is. If someone thinks poorly of you for making that kind of choice then they are not worth being around anyway.

  • ClaudeA

    ClaudeA

    June 13th, 2016 at 5:30 AM

    Lynn Somerstein
    While my intention is to counter your counsel with a wider scope of responsibility, my hope is that you may also consider the bigger picture that this 18 year old faces with respect for the wider social responsibility we older adults sometimes miss in our desire to protect our kids from the stuff of this world.

    To quit the job is to shirk the responsibility to the business owner, the other employees, the customer, and to this individual’s sense of right and wrong. What you have suggested is one of the worst and most mentally damaging pieces of advice I’ve ever heard of. Honestly.

    Years ago I was a plant maintenance engineer. I was encouraged by the plant supervisor to use company equipment for my own use, which I did without thinking things through. In time, the supervisor was found with over a semi-trailer load of company goods in his garage, taken by him ostensibly as a service to stores we served because the cost of company transport – a weekly routine service the chain of agriculture coop stores had available – was too much, or there was not room for the goods, or, the store wanted a sample, but not willing to pay for it.

    In the investigation, I was one of many employees questioned by internal audit. The materials I was asked by this supervisor to use to assemble things I welded and used for his use were identified. As I reassessed my relationship with this company, I discovered that I assumed all this pilfering was merely a normal company benefit. In the end I quit. Sadly, instead of furthering company profits, I had reduced the company bottom line for all.

    The very large, fortune 100 enterprise that this East Coast company once was is no longer. They went belly up in 1999, some 16 years after I departed. One key part of their demise was that the supervisor, after being fired from the division I was in, went to another high rank employee in another division and was given a higher ranking position! The same inventory control clerk who put him on the hot seat got wind of the promotion, went to a still higher official, and the former supervisor was black balled from the entire world wide enterprise.

    With that insight into the secret and harmful practices of that company, it is no surprise that they folded, and their folding hurt hundreds of thousands of customers, tens of thousands of employees, and the financial back bone of many enterprises that they acquired and were responsible for maintaining in a profit-bearing operation.

    Can you see this a little more clearly?

    Claude

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    June 13th, 2016 at 5:19 PM

    Hi Claude,
    Clearly your experience is much broader than mine in this issue, and I see your point clearly. Thanks for the advice.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • ClaudeA

    ClaudeA

    June 14th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    Thank you, Lynn. I learned the hard way. Hope to steer others around that!

  • ClaudeA

    ClaudeA

    June 13th, 2016 at 5:46 AM

    I need to offer a real solution to this fast food employee. In the large enterprise that I used as example of my own facing pilfering, they opened a third party reporting service where complaints of all kinds were accepted and passed on to appropriate company points without ties to the one filing the complaint.

    In the case of this fast foods employee, it is fairly likely that the company has such a service for reporting issues without fear of retribution. If not, then there would be other ways to anonymously report this concern to company execs. Then it in the hands of the proper staff to correct any issues, and the individual can go about the daily job without worry for the pilfering. Or, for the job.

    Sometimes the wait for justice is long, but, the process justifies the wait. The process includes the time to fairly investigate the entire scope of misconduct. The owner of that franchise may be a suspect as well, so the immediate course of action for this employee is merely to know the responsibility to the integrity of the company is met, and the daily work that earns a living is fine to go on with. It may be a good idea to record and a private journal all the observed misbehavior, and be certain to stay away from close association with employees involved in the wrong doing. Having a clear disconnection gives better exoneration of the employee in the time that the company cracks down and corrects the profit loss.

    Hope this helps

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    June 14th, 2016 at 11:38 AM

    You’re very generous, Claude.
    Take care,
    Lynn

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