I was reminded today of one of the more interesting HR experiences I’ve had. At least, of the ones that I can actually talk about at work without getting sent to HR again…
I was working at a call center that had a decent kitchen in the breakroom. Actual fridges, several toasters, an electric kettle. I had settled into a decent filling breakfast routine of toasting an english muffin, and spreading peanut butter and jelly on the halfs while still warm. The peanut butter melts into the nooks and crannys, the jelly spreads smoothly in the heat. Yum.
Now, we didn’t have our own drawers. So the jelly was in the fridge, the peanut butter in a cabinet of the break room. Theft happened. Often. The levels of both containers would often be lower than I last left them. Ugh, but as long as they use silverware, and not fingers, I’m not going to complain TOO much. I did use masking tape and permanent marker to make sure my name was on both lids, and the body of each jar. To make it clear that this wasn’t company provided pb and j.
So, one morning, I’m making breakfast. I spread the pb, and dip my spoon in the jar. And another worker, one of the different departments, so not someone I knew by name or worked with, watches me, startled. “HEY! You shouldn’t do that!”
I’m very confused. I would expect this reaction if I say, stuck a metal fork in the toaster to pull out my muffin. Not use a plastic spoon to spread jelly. “Do what? I like peanut butter and jelly…?”
She steps up, getting indignant. “You shouldn’t use the same spoon for peanut butter and then stick it into the jelly! What about people with peanut allergies?”
I’m nonplussed for a moment. I’m fairly certain that I have found one of the people using my stock. I realize that she’s been waiting for me to finish at the counter, with two pieces of bread on a plate. The toaster is free, I’m not blocking it, and she’s got a plastic knife on the plate as well. But nothing visible with which one might expect a knife to be used ON. So…
“Yeah, but, it’s MY jelly.” I show her the lid with my name on it. “So no one else is going to be using it. Or at least.” I pause, narrow my eyes, and look at her bread, then look her in the eyes. “No one else SHOULD be using MY jelly. That would be stealing.”
She gets a bit nervous and steps back, but rallies. “Yeah, well, um, I mean, if someone BY ACCIDENT used it, you could cause an allergic reaction, you know? So, you shouldn’t mix them, just in case….”
I’ll admit, I was a bit ticked. What I did next was a touch childish. Justified, but childish. I showed her the labels on both sides of the jar as well. “Well, no one else has jelly in the fridge, both jars in there are mine, and labeled. So I’m not sure how someone could do so by ‘accident’. But just in case, you’re right! Lets make it clear. ”
I took a big spoonful of peanut butter, and mixed it into the jar of jelly. “There, like homemade Goobers!” I pulled out a spoonful of jelly, dark brown streaks through the glistening purple mass. I took a big sniff of the jar. “MMM MMM. Now it smells and looks like peanut butter, so anyone with an allergy would know better than to use it!”
I finished making breakfast, put my stuff away, wiped down the counter with a wet paper towel, as she stood there, getting redder and redder, spluttering on occasion.
And then two days later I get pulled off the phone to talk to HR.
“So, we understand that you were asked to not mix peanut butter into jelly that’s in the fridge, to avoid allergy issues?”
I blink, several times. “Seriously? That’s what you brought me in to talk about?”
“Do you recall this conversation”
“Yes, I ‘recall this conversation’. I pointed out to the person the same thing I’ll say here. It’s MY jelly, that I purchased. It has MY name on it in several places. Anyone other than me who would use it would be stealing. Did the person who made the complaint to you admit to stealing my jelly?”
HR director and subordinate, sitting next each other on the other side of the desk, glance at each other for a moment. The answer is obviously yes, and just as obviously, they can’t admit it. “Well, there’s a lot of possible room for misunderstanding, and we’d hate for an accident to happen, so we need you to take the jar that’s in the fridge home, and not mix allergens if you bring new jelly in the future. “
“So, is the company going to provide jelly?”
Another glance between them. “No, why would we do that?”
A longer glance. They aren’t used to that word, I see. “I’m sorry, what?”
“No. Unless you demand that no employee brings a lunch in a sealed container that contains potential allergens, you have no right to demand that of me. Unless you intend to make the break room peanut free, tell people that they aren’t allowed to bring sandwiches that have peanut butter on them, you have no right to demand that I do so.”
Long sigh. “Alex, look, you have to understand, if there was an… accident… and someone had a reaction, then.”
I cut her off. “Then, per the signs that you put up a month ago after someone kept stealing lunches, the fact that they had a reaction would be proof that they stole food from the fridge, and you’d have no choice but to fire them instantly. And if you push further, and I make a complaint to the ethics committee via that number we all got an email and training about a few weeks ago, and they looked into the documentation, and there was any notation in the complaint that suggested that the complainer was knowingly stealing food from the fridge, well then…”
I paused for a moment, letting things work their way through her thoughts. “Then you would have a real fun time explaining to the ethics committee why that person wasn’t instantly fired, wouldn’t you?”
They looked at each other, at paperwork on the desk, at each other. “Are we done here? I should get back to the phones, we have a queue.”
They nodded, I got up and got back on the phones.