Thefts from employee break-room refrigerators and cupboards are a common work place annoyance, yet few people stop to think that this is not merely rude and inconsiderate behavior, but an actual crime. Recently, a Pennsylvania man from the Lehigh Valley was so fed up with his food being stolen, that he called the police to report a theft of his Jello-snack from the communal fridge. Rather than laughing away the complainant, the Upper Macungie Township Police are investigating the matter.
Should the Jello-bandit be caught, he or she will be charged with a third degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of six to 12 months incarceration and a $2,500 fine. Theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property are always graded as misdemeanors or felonies; they are never summary offenses. There is no provision in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code that exempts lunchroom thieves from criminal prosecution, just because the stolen items are inexpensive. There is a good chance that the offender would be sentenced to probation if convicted, but having a theft charge on one's record is a major impediment to employment. Most employers would much rather hire someone with a marijuana possession or DUI conviction than a theft conviction, for obvious reasons.
So not only do work place lunch thieves risk being hated and ostracized by colleagues and being fired, they also risk being charged with a crime. If police have the resources to charge people with retail theft over a $1.00 candy bar, they certainly have the resources to charge lunchroom thieves as well. The only issue is how much time the police want to spend trying to solve such low levels crimes.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University.