NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you've ever worked in an office and used the community refrigerator, chances are you've had your food eaten by someone else, pushed to the back or thrown out before its expiration date. While this can be frustrating for employees, it can be next to impossible for companies to police. Sometimes the problem can get so bad that employees don't stop at just swiping one another's food -- they begin stealing company-provided coffee, snacks, sodas and more. Although installing security cameras may seem like an extreme measure, the Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs in Arlington, Va., recently made headlines for threatening to install a camera in a communal kitchen to crack down on food and beverage theft. A leaked memo from BNA's vice president of human resources showed they weren't kidding around. "Prior to the installation of the cameras and even after the cameras are installed, if you are observed taking any amount of soda, juice, milk, fruit or snacks home you may be subject to termination from BBNA for cause," the memo read. "Unfortunately, the behavior of a few individuals impacts all employees. If this type of behavior continues we will have no other option than to consider closing down the pantry." Although the company later apologized to employees for their stern approach and decided not to install the pantry cameras after all, the incident highlights just how difficult it can be for companies to control what happens in the kitchen. If your company is struggling with pantry etiquette or looking for a way to control just how many sodas and coffee pods leave the building, we've got expert tips on how to manage.
"Putting conduct information such as kitchen dos and don'ts in writing helps ensure all employees receive the same information about workplace boundaries and that they are aware of what is expected from them and what they can expect from the company. Written information should contain enough detail to avoid confusion, but not so much as to overwhelm," Moore says. If your company handbook doesn't already contain such language, the best way to spread the word is via email, says Robert Hosking, executive director of staffing firm OfficeTeam. "When introducing a policy to employees, firms should consider sending out a memo and discussing it during staff meetings. The information should also be highlighted during new worker orientations," Hosking says. When a written policy isn't enough and problems are observed or reported, they should be handled immediately, Hosking says. "Break room etiquette breaches can be quite minor, but they should be addressed before they become major disturbances to others," he says. "If a manager feels that a worker is not conducting him or herself appropriately in the break room, he or she should take the individual aside to discuss the matter."
"Theft is always a serious issue," Lenz says. "The best way to discipline comes down to how the individual employer enforces its policies. If it's a large item, it may be time to terminate the employee. But if it's petty items, employers may be better off issuing a warning first and then taking more serious action later." Employers run the risk of looking too "heavy handed" if they fire an employee for too small an infraction, Lenz says. "If someone steals a $100 bottle of wine off your desk that a client gave you, then that's a problem," he says. "But I have a hard time saying that if someone steals your peanut butter sandwich that's grounds for termination." If kitchen theft is a persistent problem that shows no signs of slacking after warnings are issued, it's not too extreme to think of installing a camera, Stovall says. "You can install cameras or even eliminate the kitchen altogether, but I'd keep in mind the big picture," she says. "Is it one or two employees that are the problem or is it a mass issue? You may cause more morale issues if you punish the group as a whole as opposed to addressing the problem if it only lies with a couple of people."