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Take stuff from work.

And goof off on the company time.

I wrote this at work.

They're paying me to write about stuff I steal from them.

Life is good.
King Missile, "Take Stuff From Work"

It can be as minor as stealing pens to as major as budgeting an entire chunk of the company to fund your own private island. How acceptable the crime depends on, of course, narrative focus and the relative power difference between the thief and the victim. If you work at a horrible, soul-sucking job, then it's "okay" to take money out of petty cash to help cover the bills, but your boss wiring money to an off-shore account is not. Large scale schemes to defraud people are almost always seen as a worse crime than other kinds of theft not just because of the number of people ripped off but because of the breach in trust.

The legal term for this sort of behavior is embezzlement. It is such an ugly word, though.

A subtrope of White Collar Crime.

Examples of Stealing From the Till include:


Comic Books

  • Thug Boy in Empowered used to make a living working as a Dumb Mook for various supervillains, stealing their expensive gadgets and ebaying them after the villains got caught. Til they steal from the wrong guy...
  • Randall admits to doing this in one of the Clerks comic books.

Film

  • George Bailey is falsely accused of this in It's a Wonderful Life.
  • Most of the plot of the cult classic Office Space revolves around a trio of friends who attempt to do this to the company that screwed them over.
  • The Mickey Rooney movie Quicksand has him as a naive auto mechanic who wants to impress a girl with expensive tastes. So he borrows twenty dollars from the till. Then he learns that his tightwad boss has decided to run an audit early this month, well before payday. Each thing the mechanic does to try to fix his mistakes just digs him in deeper, until at the climax of the film he's fleeing to Mexico to avoid a murder rap.
  • Road House (1989). The bartender is literally stealing from the till (cash register) until Dalton fires him. Too bad he's the son of the local crime boss...
  • A major subplot of Say Anything is Mr. Court stealing money from the clients of his nursing home.
  • Jerry Maguire took the company fish with him when he was fired.
  • Marion Crane in Psycho.
  • Sue Ellen's 'borrowing' from petty cash and her subsequent attempts to repay it before the theft is noticed drives a large chunk of the plot in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead.

Literature

  • Wayne steals part of the Dairy Barn's earnings in Graham McNamee's Acceleration.
  • The Bible notes this of Judas in John 12:6 when he is among those to complain when Mary Magdalene anoints Jesus:

  "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."

 Every job has its little perks. Why, I don't expect that Drumknott [his clerk] here has bought a paperclip in his life, eh, Drumknott?

    • However, Drumknott later feels the need to set the record straight:

 I would not like it thought that I do not buy my own paperclips, sir. I enjoy owning my own paperclips. It means that they are mine.

  • In Big Trouble, Arthur Herk has been embezzling from his employer, Penultimate, Inc. Penultimate, being a major government contractor which has far more professional experience in Stealing From the Till, does not tolerate having its own accounts embezzled, and its Corrupt Corporate Executives are willing to hire hitmen to punish embezzling employees.
  • The framing story in the difficult to find Borders of Infinity mash-up by Lois McMaster Bujold involves an alleged peculation plot by Miles Vorkosigan for several million Imperial Marks. Two of the three component stories explain the rather large cost overruns his missions incurred that form the basis of the accusation. (The third story is about why Miles would never steal from the Imperium.)
  • Denis Leary tells an anecdote in Why We Suck that involves him and a handful of friends stealing office supplies from the Atlantic Monthly offices while working there as night janitors. The group (minus Denis, who was fired earlier for unrelated reasons) eventually gets fired when they get caught trying to steal a desk.

Live Action TV

  • Maeby steals from the till in the Banana Stand on an episode of Arrested Development, and on a larger scale, almost everyone steals from the Bluth company.
  • In an episode of Desperate Housewives, one of Susan's best friends turns out to be an embezzler.
  • Donna Noble helps herself to some office equipment after being fired in Doctor Who. Loudly, in an effort to draw attention to herself.
  • This trope is referenced in Friends. Chandler, whilst on the phone to his boss asking him to take his job back, says that "It's a lot less satisfying stealing pens from your own home"
  • Goetz does this in Jericho.
  • Radar on MASH stole a jeep from his employer, the US Army, by mailing it home to Iowa one piece at a time.
  • Al Bundy was known to pocket the money customers gave him on the extremely rare occasions he sold a shoe on Married... with Children.
    • Peggy played it straight at least once.
  • The final episode of The Games showed the staff jetting off with various items they had 'souvenired' from the office.
  • Mr. Humphries is accused of doing this in Are You Being Served, and asked to resign. Fortunately, Mr. Harman finds that the till is faulty, and the missing pound notes were actually jammed into the back.
  • In early episodes of Better Off Ted, Linda takes petty revenge on the company by taking absurd amounts of creamer packets from the office kitchen. She stops when Ted becomes worried that she will get into trouble, but is later seen repeatedly triggering an automatic paper towel dispenser, rolling out yards of paper towel out of spite for its only dispensing a couple inches at a time.
  • CSI: NY had an episode where the victim was discovered to have been taking money from the cash register of the department store where she worked and giving it to other people.

Music

  • The King Missile song "Take Stuff from Work". (See page quote)
  • Mentioned in the chorus of the Los ampesinos! song "Death to Los Campesinos!":

 If you catch me with my hands in the till, I promise, sugar I wasn't trying to steal...

  • A classic music version is Johnny Cash's song "One Piece At A Time", about a Cadillac assembly-line worker who, over the course of two decades, steals all the parts necessary to build an entire car. (It takes a little tinkering to get all the mismatched parts to fit together, and the vehicle's title weighs sixty pounds when it's finally registered.)
  • Sting's song Fill Her Up is about a gas station attendant who considers stealing his boss's cash box so he can take his girlfriend to Vegas to get married. He decides not to do it because it would only "Fill her up with sadness and shame" to know she married a thief.'
  • Mentioned by Kanye West in the opening lines of "Spaceship":

 If my manager insults me again I will be assaulting him

After I fuck the manager up then I'm gonna shorten the register up

Let's go back, back to the Gap

Look at my check, wasn't no scratch

So if I stole, wasn't my fault

Yeah I stole, never got caught

Newspaper Comics

  • Everyone in Dilbert has stolen something from the company, from office supplies to computers to prototypes of superweapons and time machines. Wally once brought a large rechargeable battery to work in order to steal the company's electricity to power his home.

 "If they cut my benefits one more time, I'll make a play for their water too."

    • The Dilbert book Build a Better Life By Stealing Office Supplies.

Real Life

  • Much of 1980s to 1990s 'zine culture was born from, raised on, and made of this trope. Stealing Reappropriating one's employer's or schools materials were pretty much crucial to the low/no-budget publications until The Internet became more widely available in the mid to late 1990s.
  • Let's be honest, you've looked at this site while at work or school, haven't you?
    • Since you don't pay for internet service at school? Surely.
  • Catalyst Games Lab, producers of, among other things, Shadowrun, Cthulhutech, and Battletech, is currently (as of May 10, 2010) in deep financial trouble from flagrant embezzlement and shadiness by the CEO.
    • It's been alleged that something very similar happened with West End Games. According to the story the owner used West End as a slush fund to support his other business, bankrupting the company.
  • Many current online job applications now come with questionnaires about personal and ethical preferences of the applicant (which the website will always insist have no bearing on your consideration as a hiree). Expect a question regarding your thoughts on this trope to follow shortly. the answer is always "strongly disagree".
  • Now a national holiday!
  • It was popular among Hackers during the BBS-era to find various ways of appropriating other people's modems and phone lines for their use (preferably an employer or a neighbor they dislike),
  • There is a popular document where one very bored, and very unscrupulous man had compiled at least A Hundred Ways one can steal from their gas station employer. Ttrying any of it is not recommended since the document is fifteen years old and no doubt very out of date. Also, Stealing's Wrong.
  • Many, many political examples occur with dictators who've looted money from the countries they run to line their own pockets. Also, thanks to The Mafia, a major reason for labor unions' current image problems.
  • When Enron collapsed, employees walked out with a lot of presumably valuable items -- laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, etc. -- despite the company's claims that they belonged to the bankruptcy courts. Presumably no one cared. (In fact, being screwed over by your employer is a not-uncommon motive for employee theft -- if you're just punching a timeclock and no one cares that management treats you like shit, what's a few toasters between coworkers?)

Theater

  • In Evita, the song "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)" strongly implies that Eva and her family were taking money from her charity foundation and secreting it in a Swiss bank account.

Web Comics

  • Celia did it on Order of the Stick. When her employer disappeared, she stayed at her job and helped herself to stuff he had left behind.
  • When Marten gets laid off in Questionable Content, an ex-colleague suggests he steal as much in the way of office supplies as he can, to spite the bosses. Said bosses closed the entire branch to pay for their own raise.
    • Said ex-colleague, and everyone except Marten, retaliates by taking everything in the office that's not nailed down, and probably several things that were.
  • Annie gets fired from a job in Darths and Droids partly for doing this.

Web Original

  • "Gordon Freemans Mind" is a machinima of someone playing through Half Life while narrating Gordon's thoughts. One part in the beginning has Gordon freaking out because he thinks he's gonna be fired, so he keeps saying things like: "I better start looting the office. I bet that laser printer will get a lot of money" and "Oh good, I'm not fired. Yeah, looting from work is so much harder than not looting from work". And things like that.
  • Bubs of Homestar Runner frequently admits to embezzling money or items from pretty much any fundraising event he takes part in. Nobody seems to really mind, though.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: "Another day, another box of stolen pens."
    • "Bart, it's not about how many stocks you have, it's about how much copper wire you can get out of the building with!"
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