"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 is perceived as 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. Compare Stealing from the Hotel and Fake Charity. Not to be confused with stealing something from Till Lindemann.
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."
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"
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- Astérix in Switzerland starts out with a corrupt Roman prefect who's only sending a few coins of the taxes he's collecting in Gaul, keeping the rest for himself. However, Caesar apparently saw something was wrong, and he sent a inquisitor to check the books. The inquisitor is then poisoned by the prefect, and Getafix is called in for help, but the cure is a flower that grows in Helvetia, sending Asterix and Obelix on another adventure.
- Randall admits to doing this in one of the Clerks 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...
- While it's usually not portrayed as a bad thing when he does it, Batman spends a lot of the Wayne Enterprises budget on weird bat-themed gadgets, and sometimes a space station. While Wayne Enterprises is referred to as "his" company, it's also generally portrayed with a board, occasionally at risk of a takeover, and other things that suggest that like most large companies it's a publicly traded corporation, or at least has multiple shareholders, and Bruce Wayne is simply the majority shareholder. Consequently Batman has embezzled, or caused Lucius Fox to embezzle on his behalf, millions of dollars.
- In Pom Pom's Eleven, the main plot point is Homestar Runner and his friends getting back at Homeschool Winner for embezzling money from them. The reason that he did this was because he grew tired of Homestar Runner being in charge of the website despite being less intelligent than he was.
- In The Cheat, a rich socialite who is tired of her husband's penny-pinching ways steals the money from the Red Cross charity she administers and tries to use it in a get-rich-quick scheme. It turns out to be a bad idea.
- 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 Babysitter's Dead.
- George Bailey is falsely accused of this in It's a Wonderful Life.
- Most of the plot of 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.
- In Road House, 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.
- In Casino, the mafia bankrolls a Casino in order to fleece it. The skimmers take offence about their own operation being in turn skimmed off the top.
- In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dolores indicates that she borrowed from the bar's till for Eddie's sake. She is adamant that he restore the money before her boss checks the books.
- The first half-hour or so of Psycho follows Marion Crane as she steals from her place of employment and escapes to the Bates Motel. Then she meets Mother.
- The title character of Marnie is a serial thief, preying on one employer after another.
- After waking up from a coma, Durant in Darkman II soon finds out that one of his men has used his absence to take a piece of his organization's earnings for himself, and has him killed by putting him in a golf cart that drives off from a building.
- The Dark Knight Saga has a a sympathetic example. Lucius and Bruce are technically embezzling assets from Wayne Enterprises, and they are discovered and blackmailed by an auditor (technically again).
Lucius Fox: Mr. Wayne, the way I see it, all this stuff is yours anyway.
- In Canyon Passage, George pilfers gold dust from the express office safe to cover his gambling debts. This catches up with a miner returns much sooner than expected and wants his gold before George has had a chance to replace it.
- A bank manager calls the head of security to his office. "There's $2,000 missing from the safe. And we're the only two people with the key..." "Tell you what boss, we each put $1,000 back and say no more about it."
- Every time a customer in a certain bar pays for a drink, the bartender puts half a dollar in the register and half a dollar in his pocket. After doing this for a while, he puts the whole dollar in his pocket. The owner says "What's the matter, ain't we partners anymore?"
- 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."
- There's also the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, who faced unemployment because he wasted his master's funds. So he cleverly marked down a few of his master's creditors' bills (possibly making up the difference out of his own commission, so he may not have been committing new embezzlement), ingratiating himself with the potential new employers. Moral: If even crooks are wise enough to use their money to do good for people, you should too!
- Tax collectors in Roman-occupied territories were notorious for claiming more payment than their managers demanded and pocketing the difference, which was part of the reason why tax collectors were so hated by the Jews at the time.
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?
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.
- However, Drumknott later feels the need to set the record straight:
- However, played straight in other Discworld books with Nobby of the Watch. It's said that if you need petty cash in the Watch, you go and shake Nobby until he gives it back. In Making Money, when Moist von Lipwig learns that the City Watch also serve as bank security, he reflects that the money might be safe, but the coffee and pens almost certainly aren't.
- Feet of Clay features a palace maid who takes home food and candles, and is quite clear that this isn't stealing, it's perks. Commander Vimes agrees with her.
- In Big Trouble, Arthur Herk has been stealing bribe money from his employer, Penultimate, Inc., to pay off his own gambling debts. Penultimate, a major government contractor whose Corrupt Corporate Executives have far more professional experience in skimming money, decides to punish the embezzling employee by hiring a couple of New Jersey hitmen.
- Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold:
- The framing story in the Borders of Infinity Fix Up Novel 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.)
- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance begins with looking for a ring stealing military equipment.
- 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.
- Many Scott Adams (featuring his Dilbert comics) books feature submissions and other brainstorming over things to do with stolen office supplies, including roof thatching with floppy disks.
- In I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Harry Bogen convinces Meyer Bushkin that Apex Modes is making so much money that it needs to hide its earnings from the government, so they can set up a scheme where Apex Modes writes checks to a personal bank account, on which checks of equal amount are drawn. Harry makes sure Meyer's name is on all the checks, so that Harry isn't the one facing jail time when the company goes bankrupt.
- In the short story "Divinity" by Joseph Samachson, when George Bailey is looking over his life after landing on the alien planet, he remembers dipping in the till as his first crime. He initially blames it on his over-protective and controlling mother; "she'd taught him to resist everything but temptation".
- Death on the Nile has this as a possible motive for Andrew Pennington, who was stealing from the victim. It's also implied that Simon Doyle was doing the same thing to his previous employers, which is why he was "out of a job" when the book started.
- In Anthony Bourdain's memoir Kitchen Confidential, this is one of the many problems that restaurant managers have to deal with. Bar staff are particularly prone to it, and Bourdain gives an anecdote about a bar person who had his own till — at the end of his shift he would take the whole lot home with him.
- In Banco, Papillon can't resist a little criminal action even while doing honest work. He winds up running the executive's kitchen for an American oil firm and he embezzles from his department's budget. The high-quality food eventually gets the executives to bring their wives along for meals, which only helps Papillon skim more money with less risk — he's already breaking the rules by feeding extra mouths and nobody is paying attention to the extra expenses.
- Although not stated outright, the contents of the Grants' flat in the Rivers of London series suggest that Peter's Mum has been taking home "perks" from her office-cleaning jobs, like paper towels or tinned biscuits left out for the cubicle staff.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, the Count notes that his head servant has a salary of 1500 francs per year, and is making as much again by taking a cut out of the household expenditures that he is in control of.
- 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 M*A*S*H stole a jeep from his employer, the US Army, by mailing it home to Iowa one piece at a time.
- Married... with Children:
- Al Bundy was known to pocket the money customers gave him on the extremely rare occasions he sold a shoe.
- 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.
- On Suits, the official story is that Danial Hardman resigned as Managing Partner and went on an indefinite leave of absence so he would have time to care for his dying wife. The real story is that he embezzled money from clients' accounts — already an extreme violation of attorney ethics (seriously, do it once, with an amount however small, and you're supposed to be disbarred) — and then, compounding the violation, tried to frame Louis for it. Some of the money went to pay for his wife's treatments, but most of it was spent to fund his affair with one of the junior associates. When he tries to gain back control of the law firm, he leaks information that causes the firm to be sued, thus costing the partners millions. The kicker is that he was the one originally responsible for the serious ethical misconduct that caused the lawsuit.
- On Mad Men, Lane Pryce forges Don's signature on a company check. He insists that it is just a "13-day loan" that he will repay once the Christmas bonuses are given out. Then the bonuses are postponed till January. Then the bonuses are canceled altogether and he has no way of returning the money. He kills himself shortly after being found out by Don.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, after a mind-altering event causes the Ferengi Grand Nagus to devote his vast personal fortune to charity, Rom signs on as the Nagus's top assistant... and embezzles money from the charity. Rom's generally more underhanded brother Quark expresses pride when he learns about this at the end of the episode.
- The murder plot in Betrayal kicks off when powerful Corrupt Corporate Executive Thatcher Karsten suspects that his late wife's brother is stealing from the company. Before the accusation can be proven or disproven, the brother-in-law is murdered.
- In the commentary for the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Final Page," Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris said that they both steal Christmas decorations from the sets of the Christmas Episodes.
- Inverted on Halt and Catch Fire when an employee is arrested for stealing money from the company's owner and putting it back into the company accounts. The company was going bankrupt and the owner refused to put more of his personal money into it, so the employee stole the money in order to keep the company going.
- Better Call Saul: Jimmy's childhood Start of Darkness was working at his father's general store and watching his father get duped by an obvious conman. The conman tells Jimmy that there are two people in the world: wolves and sheep. An angry and disenchanted Jimmy apparently resolves to be a wolf and helps himself to cash from his father's register. Many years later, Jimmy's brother recalls their father going out of business, with thousands of dollars having gone missing over the years.
- In one episode of That '70s Show, Leo tells Fez that he steals money from the register when the boss isn't looking. Hyde points out that is the boss because he owns the store he's "stealing" from, and Leo defends himself by saying he isn't looking when he does it.
- Mystery Diners is a series where bosses ask the producers to spy on their employees using actors and hidden cameras to see why there are some issues believed to be caused by employees. Theft of money and goods from either the business or customersnote are common issues faced by these investigagors.
- On Corner Gas, Wanda replaces the gas station's phone because the old one was starting to have terrible battery problems. However, she treats the instruction manual for the new phone as Serious Business, particularly the part that says the phone must be fully charged before it is used for the first time, and prevents anyone from answering it.
Brent: [annoyed] So you replaced the phone that doesn't work with one we can't use. What'd that upgrade cost me?
Wanda: [shrugs] Whatever's missing from the till.
- Ozark's plot is kicked off by a money launderer doing this to a client... who happens to be the head of the second-largest Mexican drug cartel. It ends exactly how you'd expect.
- In the NCIS episode "Reunion", Tony realizes how the team can track down a missing cop by guessing that the man was carrying a cell phone "borrowed" from the evidence locker. The missing man had previously confiscated a bunch of burner phones from an identity-theft ring.
- A CSI episode eventually reveals that the motive for the murder of several Buddhist monks in their temple was the killer stealing from the temple money box. One of the monks caught him doing that. The thief panicked and shot the other monks.
- The King Missile song "Take Stuff from Work". (See page quote)
- Mentioned in the chorus of the Los Campesinos! 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 himAfter I fuck the manager up then I'm gonna shorten the register upLet's go back, back to the GapLook at my check, wasn't no scratchSo if I stole, wasn't my faultYeah I stole, never got caught
"If they cut my benefits one more time, I'll make a play for their water too."
- 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.
- The Dilbert book Build a Better Life By Stealing Office Supplies.
- 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.
- The protagonist of the strategy/management game Mad TV can keep spending company money on increasingly expensive gifts for his love interest. Nobody seems to notice or care.
- A significant part of the gameplay of the Tropico series, at least if the player so chooses, is embezzling as much money as possible into the player's Swiss Bank Account.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Arl Rendon Howe is helping himself to silver from the royal treasury (seemingly uncaring of the fact that Ferelden's army is desperately underfunded and trying to fight a Civil War with their own people, one triggered primarily by his and Loghain's brutality and incompetence, while simultaneously trying to fight off the darkspawn horde moving up from the south. One of the Warden's side missions involves swiping said silver from a warehouse in Denerim before Howe can ship it to his private estate.
- Averted in Pharaoh. Building a mansion allows you to give yourself a salary from the city's funds every month, which is then stored away to be used at a later date (to boost your kingdom rating via expensive gifts to other nobles or to give back to the city in times of debt), even in later missions. However, the game explicitly tells you that siphoning money directly from the city's coffers to your own is embezzlement (even if you're literally making more money than you know what to do with). ...And That Would Be Wrong.
- Celia did it in The 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 & Droids partly for doing this.
- Freeman's 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.
- Gordos obtained his position as one of the Twelve Heroes of Altador after he alerted the police of a greedy governor who was embezzling the heavy taxes that his citizens gave him.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Marge Vs. The Monorail", Lyle Lanley is ultimately revealed to have kept most of the money the citizens of Springfield entrusted him to build a monorail with, thus endangering its citizens when they go on the monorail's maiden voyage.
- Homer in "The Last Temptation of Homer": "Another day, another box of stolen pens."
- In "Brother from Another Series", Sideshow Bob's brother Cecil pulled a stunt similar to Lanley when hired to build a hydroelectric dam, but instead of fleeing town he planned to blow the dam up and pin the blame on Bob.
- In "I Am Furious (Yellow)", when the company making Bart's Angry Dad web animation goes bust, they explain "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!"
- In Scooby-Doo, the Creeper ultimately turns out to be a bank owner that's been embezzling money from his bank and had been trying to take away evidence that incriminates him.
- Much of 1980s to 1990s 'zine culture was born from, raised on, and made of this trope. 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?
- 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, although the story gets murky as to who stole the money and whether the CEO was just trying to cover for a close friend who actually embezzled the funds.
- 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.
- The same thing happened to Decipher, coincidentally another 1990s Star Wars licensee. Both companies' problems may or may not have contributed to Wizards of the Coast getting both sets of licenses (the RPG and the card game, respectively).
- 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. Trying 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.
- Embezzlement at high levels of government often leads to bribery at lower levels — the ruling thieves take so much that there isn't enough money to pay low-level civil servants a decent wage. As a result, they start to supplement their income by refusing to do anything unless you grease their palms and/or become a lot more willing to overlook or aid in illegal or immoral activities if the price is right.
- China cracking down recently (2014) on corruption at all levels of government has resulted in a rapid decline in the number of prospective employees for government positions and a creeping poverty effect: if an official previously lived decently thanks to corruption (either personal or from "trickle down" from higher officials), they suddenly find it much harder to make ends meet.
- 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.note 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?)
- This trope is the reason why those who work registers have to give customers receipts for any and every purchase — documenting any and all transactions makes sure that the amount of money in the drawer and the amount of money listed on the ledger at the end of the day match up. More generally, the principal-agent problem is about how to get someone acting on your behalf to do what you want to do, not what he wants to do.
- As per the documentary The Price of Sex (about forced sex trafficking out of Eastern Europe), the documentarian Mimi Chakarova talked to a charity worker from her home country of Bulgaria (she's been living in the U.S. for many years) about the constant problems of sex trafficking (and the plight of those who were trafficked who escape and return home) in said country in spite of the millions upon millions of dollars other countries give to Bulgaria to combat the problem. Said charity worker said that basically the funds that are given actually go to line the pockets of politicians and heads of police in Bulgaria and enable them to live very well in a country where the majority of people live in abject poverty. Crapsack World indeed.
- Amongst lawyers, it's said that there is no quicker way to lose your license to practice law than to take money from your clients (or more specifically, their trust accountsnote ) without their knowledge or consent. Even if you didn't take that much, even if you pay the client back, or even if you pay the client back more than what you stole, it doesn't matter.note Many an Evil Lawyer Joke aside, it's the one behavior that the legal profession has zero tolerance for: whatever organization regulates the legal profession in your area will bring down the banhammer on you. As more than one law professor has said, "touch your client's money and you're done."