Grocery store theft sticky situation

Dear Joan:
I am writing to you to get some advice about a problem that arose at work. I work at a grocery store, and I usually go into work early in the morning to scrub and buff the floors after the night crew is done stocking. Well, one day last week as I walked into the break room I could not believe what I saw. The entire night crew was sitting at the table; everyone was eating pizza and drinking beer or soda.

I asked them what was up and they said that they were sick of just stocking the food and decided to throw a little party after they were done with their load. They asked me if I wanted some pizza and beer, I said that I would have some pizza and soda because I didn't want to drink and then have to work. I had a couple of pieces of pizza and continued to talk with them. I commented that all of the food and beer must have cost a fortune and asked who had paid for it. One of the stockers simply said "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Smith footed the bill for this little fiesta. It's not like anyone would ever know."

I didn't know what to do. I figured I would just play it cool and hoped nothing would come of it. However, the next day our store was scheduled for a physical inventory. When the beer was being counted, the vendor noticed that three cases of beer were missing. He knew this because he had just delivered them the day before and could see from the computer printout of the previous day’s sales that they had not been sold. The manager noticed, with further investigation, that chips, soda and frozen pizzas were also missing. I am sure that the manager will ask me about the disappearance of the food being that I am present before operating hours. If I tell the truth, I think that nobody in the store will trust me and I will lose everybody's friendship and trust. Also, I took part in the theft making me an accessory. However, I think that the manager suspects that the night crew is responsible and is testing me. What should I do?

There is no easy way out of this dilemma, however, with a little courage and a lot of character you might be able to solve this problem and hold on to your job.

The only way out is for the guilty to pay for the stolen merchandise and apologize for their lack of judgment.

Go to the person on the night crew who has the most maturity, common sense and influence with the group. Approach that person (or the whole group, if you think they'd be agreeable) and suggest that everyone chip in to pay for the "party" and write a humble apology with assurances that it will never happen again.

The store manager won't be happy but might be willing to let it go if the guilty fess up before they are caught.

This solution does three things: it gives your associates a decent way out (they will be caught one way or the other). It solves your boss's merchandise problem. And it helps to position you as a person of character who stumbled into a bad situation, yet is taking responsibility for trying to solve it.

If your boss asks you what happened before this plan can be executed, you will be forced to tell the truth. Stumbling into this theft is bad enough but lying to cover it up would surely be grounds for termination and would hurt your future employability.

If you are forced to report what happened, only describe exactly what you said in your letter. Emphasize that you didn't realize it hadn't been paid for when you joined in but you will pay your share of the damages nonetheless. Also add that you are in the process of collecting for the costs.

Don't volunteer the names of any of the other participants. If pressed, explain that you feel everyone should take responsibility for their own actions and you'd prefer it if he asked them directly. This way you will avoid "squealing" on others who may want to step forward on their own.

You walked into an unfortunate situation-hopefully you'll walk out of it with your job and self-respect intact.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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