Did you think I was cheating on you?
January 14, 2014 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I work in a restaurant a few times a month (I also have a full-time professional job that does not cause me nearly as much angst as this does). Last week, I accidentally left my phone there. During the maybe 45 minutes that the phone was there without me, the owners of the restaurant decided to go through my texts.

When I went to get it, I obviously caught them off guard, but one of them very aggressively questioned me about some texts that my girlfriend sent me that morning before I arrived to work. Now, my girlfriend also works there once a week on the same day that I do. The texts weren't a big deal, but they were about another employee who doesn't have the best attitude (they weren't inflammatory, more like so and so is talking sh*t again!). The conversation was brief, maybe three texts.
The first several times she asked me what the texts meant, I said that I didn't care to comment on something she needed to break into my phone to read, and that I didn't know what she wanted me to say, that was the whole conversation, she already read it. Then she told me I was lying and there was obviously more to it. I can't imagine what she is even talking about. I stayed calm during this encounter, because I try not to react without having all the facts. When she initially approached me, she had a long rambling story about texts being left open or something. Since getting it back, I know that she read through several text threads. I feel pretty gross and angry about the whole situation, and want to confront them, but I'm not sure how to proceed. For one, I doubt she'll admit that she went through the phone despite it being obvious that she did. And really, that aside, even if one were to "accidentally" see a text from my girlfriend to me, I'm not sure that questioning the content is appropriate.

I've texted a few times to say that I would please like to talk and that I was upset, but am getting sort of a brush off response. What do I with this? How do I stop being angry, and is this even worth having a conversation about? All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

Relevant background info:
-The owners of this establishment have become increasingly paranoid recently, going so far as to install security cameras that also record audio. This is especially weird as it is a tiny place with very few employees, all of whom are completely trustworthy. Obviously, this would have also recorded the joyride through my texts, and I will ask to see it if I need to.
-While we have had a few minor disagreements, up until now, I was considered an excellent employee, and I thought we were friends.
-The reason I still work there is that I truly enjoy it. We have great customers and I love being able to still be part of the service industry while also having a "real job"
-Very few people have ended relationships with them/stopped working there on good terms. The one who questioned me is absolutely always right, and the world is out to get her. This is the only thing I don't like about working there.
posted by ap_classic to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Quit. Honestly. No matter how much you may enjoy it, you have a boss who regularly alienates employees, is not at all trustworthy, doesn't trust you, and has voluntarily put you in a position where you're becoming yet another alienated employee. Time to sit down with the other business owner(s), calmly explain what happened, let them know you're leaving because of the violation of trust and aggressive accusatory behavior from that specific person, and that it's a shame because you enjoy the customer base so much -- so if they ever decide to let that person go, they should give you a call.

Then wash your hands of it, move on with your life, and be glad you got out before it turned into a much larger cesspool that had the potential to make your life miserable or impact your career more directly. The high road is the best road, and you're absolutely not going to be able to fix this, get better closure (other than you closing it as described above), or make her admit what she did was wrong.
posted by davejay at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2014 [68 favorites]

The owners sound awful. I think simply quitting is going to work out better for you than any other course of action.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:27 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are justifiably angry. This is crazy and very intrusive. It's not worth having a conversation about -- you can't argue with crazy.

Find another place to work.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:27 AM on January 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Holy crap.

I'm sure there a TON of restaurants out there.

Having worked in food service, there's always drama for sure.

But this is just cray cray. If you don't NEED this job, quit.

Hopefully nothing happens to your girlfriend either. I would write out everything that happened right now while you remember it with dates and times as best you can.

That way if she gets terminated and it's not for cause (like showing up drunk or whatever), then she might be able to use that to help fight it. I am sooo NAL, but lawyers I know always say to document this stuff AS SOON AS you can while it's fresh because you don't want your story to change later - either because you suddenly remember something or aren't quite sure.
posted by sio42 at 10:27 AM on January 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

There is no question: quit. Now. You can find another service industry job somewhere else without paranoid control freak bosses, and it sounds like you don't need the job anyway. Go now. If this were a relationship, we'd be telling you to DTMFA.
posted by The Michael The at 10:27 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sounds like they're going to drive you to leave on bad terms at some point.

What they did was creepy and wrong and I would probably quit, but I guess you have to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs. With people like this, eventually something's going to happen that either you can't deal with or that they go crazy over. You won't get the chance to leave on good terms. You might get to decide the timing of when you leave.
posted by mskyle at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

The problem with pursuing a question like this is that there is no possible legitimate answer, and your boss almost certainly knows it. So you're not going to get a real answer because the real answer would be embarrassing, and pressuring your boss to offer up some rationale is effectively rubbing her nose in it. What you need is an apology, not a reason. You're unlikely to get it.
posted by jon1270 at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2014 [27 favorites]

What the hell? Why would you want to "stop being angry?" Their actions were completely inappropriate. No discussion you have with them is going to resolve things and magically turn them into reasonable employers. If you stay on, prepare for more drama. I can't imagine it will be worth it, but YMMV. Also, in situations where people always leave on bad terms, don't imagine that you will be the stellar employee who is the exception to the rule. You are not their "friend."
posted by Wordwoman at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, this is beyond the pale even for the weird wild world of food service. Find another place to work, if you need the gig. Keep in mind though, if you leave, there is a good chance they will take it out on your girlfriend, so you might want to both leave at the same time, if your girlfriend agrees.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2014

Going through your phone is invasive and potentially dangerous (nevermind reading texts and hurt feelings, do you use venmo, online banking, paypal, credit card apps - money can be transferred! do you store info on a cloud service like evernote - bam there go passwords and account numbers!). Find a place to work where you can serve great customers and enjoy your duties without having to worry about your supervisor or coworkers sabotaging you or being out to get you.

also you're still angry because it's a really anger-producing situation, they do not want to resolve it with you, and you have to keep going there and acting like it's all ok! that is stressful so of course you still feel mad. i would too.
posted by zdravo at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

The entire interaction between you and the owner was a classic example of what I call the "Crapping on the Floor" Paradox: nasty/bad/evil/scheming people can get away with all sorts of GROSSLY inappropriate behavior just because relatively-decent people are too afraid of causing a scene to call them out on it (the paradox goes like this: if someone walked into your apartment with muddy shoes, you'd ask them nicely to stop doing that, but if someone abruptly crapped on your carpet, it would be SUCH a massive mindfuck that you might not respond as aggressively as the situation warranted).

When someone illicitly snoops through your phone - ESPECIALLY someone who's not a romantic partner, ESPECIALLY-ESPECIALLY an employer, the snooper should get an earful ("Oh my god, that thing you are doing is SO INAPPROPRIATE!")... they should NOT get the opportunity to freaking INTERROGATE YOU about what they saw. That is one of those things that just makes you sputter, "OH WHAT PLANET is that remotely appropriate?!" (answer: on no planet. Those planets would have been exploded by other planets long ago).

Nthing everyone else: you gotta switch gigs, ASAP. Do not discuss this with them: the fact that they consider ANY of their various behaviors to be acceptable means that it's not gonna be a productive conversation - it's gonna be one-half reasonable, one-half insane, ENTIRELY frustrating.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2014 [72 favorites]

Going through your phone is potentially illegal, not to mention highly invasive and very immature.

I'd work on getting another job in a less toxic workplace. I know from personal experience that food people are all a little bit crazy, but this is a lot crazy (and unfortunately not that rare).
posted by kalessin at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Put a password lock on your phone.

And: Run. Away. I've worked food service jobs and I have worked with my share of nuts, but this is way past nutty. There are other restaurants with decent food and customers you'll enjoy seeing, and management that is regular nutty instead of are-you-fucking-kidding-me nutty. You are right to be pissed. Run.
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also: if the owner is acting that weird to you, they're probably acting that weird to other people, too - whether because of mental illness, or drugs, or just being a shitty person - and the Good Ship Restaurant can and WILL be affected by it, possibly jeopardizing your employment ANYWAY.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:33 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Put a passcode on your phone.

Start discreetly looking for another job.

Don't bring this up with your boss again in the meantime.

You'll never get a satisfactory answer for why the owner did this and she will probably never apologize to you. Do what you can to disconnect yourself emotionally from office politics and try to make peace with the unanswered questions. It's rough, and it's unfair, and it's frustrating, but I promise you the answers you could potentially get by pushing this issue won't be worth what you'd have to go through to get them.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:36 AM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, one more thing: as others have said, you won't get an apology, and you're right to be angry. In that context, the only appropriate response is to walk away as soon as you can, with your head held high; anything else (and any rationalization around it) will have an impact on your well-being, and will set a precedent that they can continue to treat you this way.
posted by davejay at 10:36 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are one of the few of us in the lucky position of being able to ragequit. Congratulations! That's awesome!

Go to them, tell them that going through your phone was completely inappropriate, tell them that questioning the content of what they found on your phone is even more inappropriate, and quit.
posted by phunniemee at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2014 [27 favorites]

That's insane. And your boss's questions are out of line. If this is an occasional job, get a different one in a different place, and quit.

These folks are NOT your friends, and the fact that they think that it's okay to scroll through your texts on your PERSONAL phone...speaks volumes of the lack of appropriate boundaries.

Quit. Quit. Quit and if you didn't get that, I'll spell it for you, Q-U-I-T.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:38 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is sort of how people end up staying with abusers. You know what they did was awful and they should not have done it and you do not deserve it and should not put up with it. But there is that XY and Z part that you really like and don't want to lose so you look the other way and make excuses even though you know better. This way lies humiliation. Don't do it. Quit.
posted by InkaLomax at 10:42 AM on January 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Where the hell do you work, Amy's Baking Company?

No sane person would consider this acceptable. Don't try to talk this through with the owners, because you're not going to get a satisfactory resolution. Just get out with as little fuss as possible and find another place to work. Even if you love working there now, this is the beginning of a horrible downward spiral.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

I made an assumption that there were multiple owners, and not all were insane. If all of the owners were involved in this, then other folks are right: skip my advice about talking to them, and just quit over the phone.
posted by davejay at 10:54 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, quit. Encourage your girlfriend too. Especially if this is not your main gig, you can definitely find another job to supplement your income.

And password-protect your phone!
posted by radioamy at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's feasible financially for you, then quitting, and telling management exactly why, is the best possible thing you can do for your remaining co-workers, who may not have the flexibility to walk away from this income and this crazy-ass boss.
posted by juliplease at 11:07 AM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing the password-protection of your phone. You clearly don't need this particular job, so you have the luxury of looking for a fun food-service job with great customers run by people that aren't crazy. Snooping through other people's private things and their digital equivalents is an outrage. No employer is entitled to do that. In fact, it was possibly illegal. It is also possibly illegal to basically bug the whole joint, especially in areas where customers conversations might be recorded, presumably without their knowledge.

The fact that there are no former employees who have left under good terms is also a huge red flag.

You also should consider that crazy people often do things that fall well outside the range of what normal people think is ethical because, well, they're crazy. That includes possibly creating problems with your "real" professional job. I wouldn't tell them why, either, because (a) they know, and (b) crazy people will simply waste your time arguing with (a) and blaming you. Who needs that? (Pro-tip: warn your girlfriend if there are repercussions that may be taken out on her; she should probably start looking now anyway.)
posted by Hylas at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

The owners ... have become increasingly paranoid

Paranoia explains why they would do that.

If you want to know how and why they got paranoid, that's a different issue. If you take the word seriously, there may not be an explanation other than that someone has psychiatric issues that you may not have known about, and maybe they didn't even know about.

I shared a house with someone once that had such issues. They were fine for a long time while I was there, but at some point decided they didn't need their meds any more, then quickly went downhill. At first they were almost normal without medication, but it spiraled into more and more extreme behavior. In the latter stages they did things like go through my stuff, convince themselves that my watch was "something like a Rolex", and since I obviously couldn't have afforded a Rolex by legit means, I must be some kind of crook and monster. That's just one small example, the mind can really lose all sense of proportion and all sense of reality.

I don't think there's anything constructive you can do other than get the heck out of there before things get even worse.
posted by philipy at 11:25 AM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

ask you lawyer if you can sue them for invasion of privacy or hostile work environment.
posted by bruce at 11:36 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why aren't you outraged? Why are you trying to talk with them? You sound like your texts were almost apologetic. Just... quit. Really.
posted by windykites at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

(Your texts to the owners, not the texts that they violated your privacy to read).
posted by windykites at 11:48 AM on January 14, 2014

A reasonable response to them is something like, "what is WRONG with you?
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've texted a few times to say that I would please like to talk and that I was upset, but am getting sort of a brush off response.

This is a situation for a face-to-face or, at a minimum, the phone.

All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

They're kind of nuts. A lot of restaurant people are. This isn't one to spend a lot of time puzzling over.

We have great customers and I love being able to still be part of the service industry while also having a "real job"

Find a job at another restaurant. I'm sure you're a great person and you're that ideal individual who can work a few shifts and not need to hog the whole schedule because it's your livelihood - and you genuinely enjoy it, which means you probably are great at it. I spent a lot of time in this industry for similar reasons. I've worked in four restaurants and seen some crazy shit, but actually never anything as invasive as that, and I think you should quit this place. It's no coincidence that no one leaves there except under a cloud - it's just your turn.
posted by Miko at 1:24 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Leave. Leave. Leave. You think this is bad now, it will only get worse from here (only ever worse, never better).

And lock your phone.
posted by heyjude at 1:33 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

There is a difference between a small business owner and someone like a CEO of a large company or your supervisor at a corporate job. Small business owners tend to be really, really emotionally involved over their sense of control about everything that goes on, while in a more corporate job, most people have a certain level of emotional detachment.

Your boss at the restaurant considers you to be HER employee. And you're in HER space, getting paid with HER money using HER equipment texting another one of HER employees about things that affect what is going on with time that belongs to HER.

If you want an explanation, basically your boss believes that she "owns" everything that could affect her business, and that includes anything that is going on even when you're not physically there. That's why she did this.
posted by deanc at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

All I really want to know is why they would do something like that to me.

One word answer: Cocaine. It's unfortunately endemic in the restaurant world. I'd quit ASAP.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:47 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

It may have been illegal for them to search your phone, ESPECIALLY because they're an employer. Might be a good idea to contact your local bureau of labor or the equivalent, especially because then you'd be one step ahead for potential fallout.
posted by stormyteal at 4:07 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you all so much for the amazing answers. I feel much better after reading them. It is obvious to me now that I'm very unlikely to get any kind of explanation or apology and that a conversation with them would much more frustrating than it's worth. Clearly, I have to move on, despite it being difficult because of the reasons I mentioned above.

Thank you again!
posted by ap_classic at 5:10 PM on January 14, 2014

On the illegality point, in some places not even the police can do this, or only under restricted circumstances.
posted by XMLicious at 5:12 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would quit for no other reason than you handle/have access to large amounts of cash and your employer is unethical and a bit unhinged. $200 goes missing and what of they blame you or your girlfriend? That sort of thing really does happen in the service industry. You have the luxury of quitting and doing so on your terms, which will make it much easier to get another job.
posted by whoaali at 5:23 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

This is what's known as a harbinger of even worse shit to come. My guess is something really grim is going on behind the scenes of this business, and it's likely you'll be out of a job pretty soon anyway since they're already polishing their ammunition. Don't give them the satisfaction, just quit. There are a lot of restaurants in the world.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:23 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Talking to them isn't going to make this better. Quit or don't. But if you can't accept that this was totally uncool and move on, then I suggest quitting. You can tell them why, if you want, but don't expect a conversation that helps you "understand" their bullshit or whatever.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2014

Yeah, I take back what I said about face to face - if you didn't do it right then, don't bother. Just don't depend on texts for sensitive professional conversations. It's something I see a lot of people doing and it's really not a great way to go about interpersonal/professional problem solving.

Just get out!
posted by Miko at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

NOT justifying their behavior or saying that you've done anything wrong, just speculating on what their own reasons might be to satisfy your desire to know why anyone would do something like this.

Employee theft is pretty rampant in restaurant and bar businesses. So if they've suddenly become paranoid and begun installing security cameras, it might be because money and/or inventory has been going missing recently and they're trying to catch the thief. Given that your girlfriend works there too, it would be easier for the two of you to collude to steal from the business than it would be for someone without an accomplice, so the two of you might already be high on their list of suspects for that reason alone. Going through all your text messages might have just been part of their amateur investigation.

Again, NOT saying that they had any right to do this. It was a gross violation of boundaries at best and outright illegal at worst. But the scenario I described is one in which an otherwise non-crazy person might decide to go snooping.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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