Monday, April 15, 2013

When to Break the Rules at Work

Act #105:  Some rules are worth breaking.

Last week twenty-five students at a Massachusetts middle school went home hungry.  They received their meals, and were waiting to check out when the private food service contractor, Whitson's Culinary Group,  denied them lunch because their accounts were a few cents overcharged.  A Whitson's employee demanded that the students throw away their meals, even making some students cry.  While school policy allows for students who are unable to pay, to be provided with a cheese sandwich and milk, I'm sure Whitson's policy requires employees not to give out free food.

I've been trying to picture myself as that cafeteria employee.  What would I do if 25 twelve-year olds came through and didn't have enough money to pay for lunch?  Would I punish them for their parents neglect to keep their accounts current?  Despite what my boss told me to do, would I really humiliate them publicly by making them throw their meals away?  How would that help save my company money anyway?  Was the point to hold those kids accountable even though they aren't even capable of earning their own wages yet?  What work conditions and life conditions would make me the type of person to publicly embarrass children and then send them home hungry?

I recognize that most of us are not in positions to be fired from our jobs.  I understand that some of us follow rules religiously and that that employee was probably just trying to do his/her job.  But as human beings, I think one of our few defining moments in life, is when we have true courage to stand for what is right.  If I were working the line that day at Coehlo Middle School, I probably would have personally covered the $10-$30 it would take to pay on those student accounts.  If I were a minimum-wage earner without a lot of expendable cash, I'd tell my supervisor, and if he/she didn't listen, I'd tell a teacher.  I'd do whatever it took to make sure those kids didn't leave without lunch.  And I sure as heck wouldn't make them throw their food away in front of their peers.  As if being a tween in middle school isn't already challenging enough.  Some rules are unquestionably worth breaking.  Especially the ones that will keep you up at night.



  1. Ahhhhh! People make me crazy! If my child were in this situation, I'd want you to be working her lunch line - no question.

    You know, this story reminds me of what my grandmother did when she worked in a cafeteria. She said on Fridays all the kids would be allowed to buy a treat. She remembers this one boy received subsidized lunches and he was the only kid in the class who couldn't afford Friday treats. Grandma said she would tell the boy to pick whatever he wanted and then waved him through the line, paying for his Friday treats herself.

    Of course, the difference between a treat and an ENTIRE meal is huge - but I love my grandma's example.

    1. People like your grandma give me (and the world) hope.