Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Q. Our CEO Keeps Eating Our Lunches!: My co-workers and I have all been victims of a lunch thief over the last couple of months. We’ve tried putting notes and signs on our lunches asking people to please leave them alone, we’ve spiked our lunches with hot sauce or pepper in an attempt to make them unappealing (which also leaves them inedible for us), but the lunch thief has still been striking a couple of times a week. This was brought up at our last company-wide meeting, with dire consequences promised if it doesn’t stop. After having his lunch stolen three times in one week one of my co-workers installed a hidden camera in our break room. It only took two days to catch someone stealing a lunch and it was our CEO! Only three of us know it is him, and my co-worker has it recorded, but we are not sure what to do about this now. Our co-worker doesn’t want to turn this over to HR all by himself, but my other co-worker and I are really hesitant about turning in our CEO. I don’t want to lose my job over this! Should we turn him in, or destroy the evidence and invest in insulated lunch boxes instead?
A: I wonder if stealing subordinates’ lunches correlates with other activities, like embezzlement? Maybe the boss’ sandwich thievery is not just a cry for a BLT, but for help. However, you seem to have supplied the answer to whether or not to report in your own letter. The spying co-worker doesn’t want to tell HR alone, and you don’t want to join him. I also want to raise the possibility that setting up a covert operation in the office—even though you caught the thief—might itself be grounds for termination. Of course the boss, who in stealing your cheese and crackers sounds a little crackers, shouldn’t be doing this. But he has hiring and firing power and all of you who know want to stay out of the line of fire. It sounds as if insulated lunch boxes in a desk drawer is a good solution.
Q. Hate Dogs Love Money: An elderly family friend passed away and bequeathed me all her assets, plus her four dogs. I am stunned as she never discussed this with me. I am grateful she thought of me as the closest person to family and left me with an inheritance that will pay off a lot of my mortgage. But I hate dogs. So far I have made sure their basic needs are met and do not mistreat them in any way, but I hate looking after them. To be totally honest, I am looking forward to when they die. I want to find homes for them where they will be met with more enthusiasm, yet I feel guilty because of the whole money issue. Can I keep the money but not her dogs, or is that pure evil?
A: Your friend bequeathed you all her worldly goods, including her beloved dogs. Obviously, she didn’t know you well, or else she would have known you would simply want to kick the dogs to the curb. You should not keep them. You need to find them good homes, and probably the easiest way to do that is to locate a dog rescue group that can place them. If you yourself individually find homes for the animals, you are obligated to give a substantial check for food and future veterinary care to each new owner. If you give all the dogs to a group, so that you are not an evil person, you need to make a generous donation to cover the work they do. Since you got everything from this elderly friend, spreading the wealth a little should still leave you with plenty, while absolving you from a lifetime of guilt.
Q. Re: Thieving CEO: If the video doesn’t in any way show who set it up, then why not put it on a jump drive and send it to the CEO via inner office mail? Or set up a dummy email account and email him the clip. Chance are if he knows he’s been caught, he’ll stop.
A: Ah, no. Notifying an office thief he’s been caught by being surreptitious yourself (and potentially violating some policy or law) is not the way to go.
Q. Drunk Driving: About 10 years ago my good friend and her husband drove home while intoxicated. They got into an accident, and the husband died instantly and she died a few weeks later due to brain injuries. Their very young son, who I have been raising since, survived with minimal physical injuries—it was truly a miracle. I love him dearly and causing him any more pain is the last thing I want to do. But he is now 13 and I’m worried about telling him the truth. I’ve always told him it was an unfortunate accident, never revealing that alcohol was involved. My other children do not know either (they are younger than he is). In a day where info is easily accessible on the Internet, I worry that he will find out from someone besides me. But I also don’t want to worry his blissful ignorance. Should I just tell him now and ruin his image of his parents (I know this would deeply trouble him), or do I pray he doesn’t take to Google and wait until he’s a bit older?
A: You have told your son—you think of him as your son, right?—the truth in an age-appropriate way. His parents did die in a terrible accident. I can’t tell from your letter whether you’ve subliminally made it clear this is a deeply distressing subject and you don’t want to talk about it, or whether he simply understands a car accident killed his parents and he doesn’t want to know the awful details. But he is 13 years old, and it seems as if this is not a subject he wants to pursue. If he chooses to, I hope he comes to you, that you let him take the lead, and that you answer his questions truthfully. But since he is not inquiring, and since he has not been materially misled about his parents’ death, I think you should do nothing for now.
Q. Re: Hating dogs: I hope this woman knows that these poor animals, who did not ask to be placed with a clear monster, will be split up and probably euthanized. Do you know how many pets are in shelters? Suck it up and keep them!
A: Someone who hates dogs and wishes they were dead is going to be a terrible owner. It’s true the animals might be split up, but that’s better than being in a miserable home. If the inheritor gives these dogs to a rescue group that does not euthanize, they should be able to be placed.
Q. How to Greet a Grieving Friend: A school acquaintance tragically lost her young daughter about six months ago to SIDS. I have not seen her for over 10 years, but we were friends in school and have kept in contact over social media. At the time of her daughter’s death, I sent a condolence card and a donation to her selected charity in her child’s memory. I’ve also posted a few brief comments on social media in response to posts she has made regarding her daughter, missed milestones, etc. We have a class reunion coming up this summer—how do I greet her and speak with her about her loss? Expressing my sympathy and then moving on to other topics seems callous; making her relive the loss seems cruel; ignoring it altogether seems unthinkable.
A: You go up to her and take her hands in yours and say you have been thinking about her so much during this painful time. You say you are so glad she came and you look forward to catching up. Then you follow her lead. Maybe you two will sit in a corner and talk, maybe she will wipe away a tear and say she appreciates your thoughts and that she is happy to come and remember good times. I have heard from many grief-stricken people who say one of the most difficult things they experience is that those around them pretend nothing happened, as if that will make them forget their loss.
Q. Re: Our CEO Keeps Eating Our Lunches!: With a CEO like that, you may want to update your résumé and start catching up with old contacts.
A: Excellent point.
Q. Veterinary Bills Following Cat-Sitting: A co-worker whom I have worked with for the last six months asked me to watch his cat for him while he and his wife went on their honeymoon. He had offered me money, but I am an animal lover and haven’t had a pet in years so the experience of just hanging out with the cat was going to be payment enough. During the time they were out of the country, the cat was fed, cared for, and looked after pretty flawlessly. Unfortunately, two days before they returned, the cat dislocated its toe jumping down from a nightstand and required medical care. Here’s my issue: It wound up costing about $700. I feel terrible that anything happened to the cat while on my watch, but the doctor continually reassured me that this was nothing that I could have prevented. They entrusted me with the cat’s safety, so I don’t know if I’m within my rights to ask for the money, especially because they just finished paying for the wedding and the honeymoon and I know there will be relocation expenses as well. I also don’t want to come across as a jerk, but I just don’t know what is the protocol here, especially as it wasn’t like I let him outside or something and he was injured due to negligence. Advice?
A: The toe had to be relocated and that’s an expense just as moving relocations are. You’re right, you did nothing wrong. The cat had a boo-boo and the boo-boo cost a fortune. You give the bill to your friends, say they certainly can call the vet to verify that it was nothing you did, and that you covered the expense but you need to be reimbursed. Let’s hope that soon your bank account will be restored along with the feline’s twinkle toes.
Q. Re: CEO Lunch Thief: Something like this happened in my dorm in college. One girl solved the problem by taking the cover woodcut of the Easter chapel program (Jesus’s face), adding the reminder, “Thou shalt not steal,” and taping it to the refrigerator door. From then on our food was safe!
A: Love this!
Q. Curious Husband: My husband had an affair six years ago with his ex-girlfriend. It was difficult but we worked through it and now have a 3-year-old son. Things have been going well until this past weekend. He was showing me something on his Facebook page when I saw that he had searched for the ex-girlfriend recently. One of the conditions when we were working through the affair was that he have no contact with the ex. When asked, his explanation was that he was curious about her. I’m hurt and angry and feel betrayed all over again. He thinks I am overreacting and that it was nothing. Am I overreacting?
A: If it was truly an idle search, then yes, you are overreacting. If people were punished for simply searching about people they shouldn’t be in touch with, everyone would be in stocks. But if it was a search because he has, or is planning, a renewal of acquaintance, then you are right to be furious. So you need to have another discussion with him—as low-key as you can make it—and tell him why this is so upsetting to you. Then if he sticks with his explanation, you have to weigh whether you believe it, and if you do, you have to let it go.
Q. Re: Non–Dog Lovers Are Not Monsters: People who don’t love dogs are not monsters. Please don’t let that statement stand.
A: I didn’t endorse that statement. She is entitled to hate dogs. I told her to make sure the dogs go to good homes. However, if she was given money to care for the dogs, and she keeps it for herself while getting rid of the dogs, she is not a nice person.
Q. Re: CEO: I worked at a company many years ago in which an inquisition was taking place over telephone sex line calls. The CFO was going from desk to desk confronting individuals about the charges. I told her to stop: I was sure it was the CEO, who was traveling at the time. She blanched a bit but I convinced her to call him. He urged her to stop the inquisition immediately and ’fessed up.
A: I love the image of someone rushing out of the C-suite to confront everyone in the cubicles over whether they are making dirty phone calls. Glad the top guy confessed!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.