My question has been closed and I'm working on revising it to get it re-opened and would like your help. Here is the question: What happens if I poison a co-worker who has been stealing my food?

Since getting closed for being off-topic I've performed a considerable sized edit to try make sure it is on-topic and a good fit for the site whilst still keeping the core question the same.

After making the edit it sadly still wasn't reopened so I've now turned to Meta to try and get it up to scratch. If you have the time then help to address the question's issue (either by identifying them or giving advice on how to resolve those already identified in the comments/answers below) would be appreciated.

Please do not think that if I disagree with your advice that it means I don't appreciate it!

Here is a track record of some of the reasons for closing (some given in the initial close, others given as on-going feedback):

According to the reason for close it is off-topic. I've read through the on-topic page and here is why I think they don't apply:

  1. It is not a "question seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies." - I've mentioned my company has no specific policy on the matter and I also think it is unlikely that other companies will have any either (I welcome correction in answers).

  2. If we follow through to the community answer on the company-specific issue we can see it doesn't apply either. It could "help out people in the future who are facing the same problem" as a cursory search shows that accidental poisonings happen fairly often (link to 5 such examples) and a search for 'can I poison a someone stealing my food' turns up 45 million results, so whether it is accidental or intentional I think there are people out there it could help.

  3. You may feel it would be better to ask "How can I prevent accidentally poisoning someone?" or "How can I stop someone stealing my food?" but these are different questions and I'm not looking to find out the answer to either of them. I know how I can prevent accidentally poisoning someone, I know how I can stop stealing someone stealing my food (plus that's already been asked twice as mentioned in my question), what I'm looking for is the answer to the question I have asked.

  4. It is not an example of the XY Problem. - I am not "asking about [my] attempted solution rather than [my] actual problem." I am asking about probable outcomes based on people's expert knowledge or prior experience. If anything the question has became an example of the YX Problem as Code Bling so eloquently put it (quoted here as linking to comments isn't possible):

You post looking for a specific answer. World decides that since they don't know the answer to your question, it must be the wrong question. A herd of 'why are you doing this?' comments are birthed. World subsequently decides to instead help you fix your broken brain-logic and your clearly fragile emotional state. - Code Bling

  1. It is not a "questions asking for advice on what to do (or legal advice)". Initially, yes, I mentioned I was interested in 'legal and HR' styled advice. I have since been informed The Workplace is not a place for legal advice and hence there was no need for me to specify this. I believe it is possible to answer this question without relying on legal advice and there is already an answer on it that is a good example of how this can be answered in a non-opinion based, non-law based manner.

  2. It is not a "questions that focus on ranting about problems rather than trying to solve them." - It is long but it isn't a rant. Even in its length every sentence adds more details that some may find relevant and will help people to provide better answers. If the length is a problem I could probably strip it down.

  3. It is a "question that is a good fit for the Stack Exchange format" and it meets the 6 criteria set out by Good Subjective guidelines. - I'll explain why in a subsequent edit.

  • Yea, as much as I hate to admit it I think you could be on to something and I think that may be the main issue which is making people reluctant to re-open it. My issue with that is that if I take out all the poisoning references and make it explicit that it is about someone eating it accidentally then it is still the same question just slightly reworded and fundamentally I think questions should be closed based on the 'fundamental' question rather than how it is asked, and since the fundamental question here is fine (at least I'm trying to convince people it is!) it should be fine. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:07
  • Also, I'm not going to lie, the question is a lot more interesting and eye catching when you refer to poisoning people rather than them accidental taking your medication. There is some gamification going on here as well! Regardless of the gaming though it is still a question I feel is good and would genuinely like an answer to. Am I ok to put example revisions into my question here under the rest of the actual question? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:11
  • I don't want to set a precedent that descends this place into chaos. I'd need to think it out more but could possibly write something more generic (this may have already be asked) along the lines of 'What happens if I injure someone at work' and that way a canonical answer can be given and any resultant 'Stab, choke, shoot...' questions can get flagged as dupe and linked back but I think you are right in that I wouldn't be happy with the result (and it would be harder to keep non-legal non-policy orientated). If you think that would help I'd spend sometime considering it though? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:53
  • Is asking question on The Workplace and having fun mutually exclusive? Assume for a second then that isn't a revenge fantasy, that I am genuinely happy at my work, get on with all my colleagues and have no medical issues that require me to take medication, but I'm still wondering about what would happen if I did put my sandwich in the fridge and someone ate it and because ill; would it be a valid question then? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:06
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    Hypothetical questions are specifically called out in workplace.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask as a type of question to avoid, because they invite subjective responses that couldn't really be described as answers.
    – mcknz
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 20:02
  • Thanks @mcknz but that refers to open-ended hypotheticals like 'What if Hilter had never been born.' Where noone can really know the answer. I think here, although no-one has been posioned yet, the question is answerable based on previous similar incidents. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 20:12

6 Answers 6


I think the biggest difficulty is related to two points.

First, you are suggesting to actively poison another teammate and then asking "what happens if I do this?" -- this is really not a good question. It is a perfect example of an XY problem. Your question is really "please justify my proposed solution" and not "here is my problem, how can I resolve it?"

Second, it is still either a legal question OR a "how would your team handle this?" question. Honestly, on my team (USA, but probably similar to the UK), what would happen is that you would first get fired and then management would call the police.

Actions such as this (intentionally giving others medicine) is not something which frankly is a solution to your problem. It's childish at best.

Asking this site, "how should I solve a problem where my coworkers are eating my food?" is a fine question, though it's already here (probably multiples of it too). You could probably even ask, "how can I make sure my coworkers do not accidentally eat my food, containing medicine?" and that'd be a marginal question.

However, it seems you really, really want to ask "what happens if I poison my coworker?" and not "how can I prevent coworkers from eating my sandwich?" or some variant on this.

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    @RyanfaeScotland What happens if I poison a co-worker who has been stealing my food? is the explicitly worded question. I'm not sure how else to read that.
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:52
  • Hey enderland, I've updated the post here and think it now addresses the two points you have highlighted. 4. Deals with why it isn't an XY Problem, 3. deals with why it isn't a 'how would you deal with this problem' along with why I don't want to change the question to something different. Is this any help in convincing you it should be re-opened? Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 12:03
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    "How can I poison my co-worker without anyone finding out it was me?" seems to be a damn useful question to a lot of people. :)
    – Masked Man
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 17:58

In my view this is still a good close in spite of the edit. The fallout is going to be disciplinary, legal, or both. Disciplinary action is going to be company specific, none of us know the disciplinary processes for your company, so that is out of bounds as is legal.

A question like "One of my employees poisoned another. We don't have procedures for crime in the workplace. Who would typically be responsible for calling the police, the employer or the victim?" would be on topic.

  • Although I can see that being an acceptable question I reckon it would also be an incredibly boring one which would generate rather lacklustre answers that could be discovered with a 2 second session on Google. And the fallout you describe is purely from a 'corporate' POV, there are other areas that could be referred to in the answer (examples given in another comment). Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:21
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    Corporate POV is pretty much what we do here. Best of luck getting it reopened.
    – Myles
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:27
  • disciplinary, legal, or possibly they'd just ship him off to a mental institute...
    – Kilisi Mod
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 11:54

The question leaves a bad taste in my mouth, if you'll pardon the expression, because it seems like you're trying too hard to say "no I wouldn't do this intentionally, nudge nudge wink wink". I'm not saying that's your intention; I'm saying that's how it comes across to me. It makes me think that you're looking for validation but not coming out and saying so.

You have clearly considered the possible consequences for the thief of putting your medicine in your food, so the "honest, that was an accident!" ship has already sailed. To me, the question would come across as a lot more honest and straightforward if you just outright asked:

I'm considering lacing my food, maybe with laxatives or maybe with habanero peppers. We don't have any relevant policies and I think the worst outcome would be discomfort, not outright harm. (Information about your type of workplace, locale, etc.) If I did this and got caught, what would be likely outcomes? Maybe my (other) coworkers would laugh along with me, maybe my manager would give me a warning, or maybe I'd be out on the sidewalk before I could reclaim my Tupperware container -- how do I tell which before I do it?

That would still be at risk of being primarily opinion-based; we need questions to be answerable in a way that's backed up somehow. But that would be a more productive direction to take the question than what you have now.

(An edit like that would invalidate some of the answers. I'm not sure what we should do about that; if you want to go in this direction let us know and we'll figure something out.)

  • Hey Monica, thanks for the advice. I can understand the 'bad taste' (very good btw) especially because what you are essentially seeing is someone random on the internet asking if he can get away with poisoning his colleagues and if it was me reading it without knowing me then you are right, I'd probably be a bit worried too! I tried to alleviate some of that worry in the edit by making it less explicit but by that point I think the damage was done and the question is permanently tainted. I've consider a re-write again to frame as 'this is something I am going to do, what is the likely outcome' Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:32
  • but I think that just invites more 'don't do it' answers which isn't what I am interested it. I think I'm going to have to make more of a point that I am not going to do this, that my colleagues know about my question and are interested in the answer as well, and see what answers that brings about. Think that would help? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:34
  • I'm reading your example question again and something that gets me is that it is in essence answering itself. At least the first part. Isn't that an issue? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:33
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    @RyanfaeScotland sorry for the confusion there -- I meant that the worst outcome for others would be discomfort, and to ask about the probable outcome for the asker -- two different outcomes. BTW, if you ask about outcomes then "don't do it" is Not An Answer, same as "quit your job" is NAA on a question about improving something at your current workplace. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:38
  • Monica sorry I've referred to the wrong part (on my phone now so harder to refer back). I mean that after saying "what would be the likely outcomes?' You give a list of likely outcomes, isn't that what I'm asking for and likely to sway answers towards that list? Also according to another answer here 'Don't' isnt NNA. I may flag them and see what comes out of that if there is uncertainty. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:48
  • @RyanfaeScotland I offered a range of possibilities from "no harm down" to "get out now"; they were meant as examples, not an enumeration. I figure it shows some initial thought about possibilities and then goes on to ask what's likely or how do you tell. Anyway, it's just a suggestion; you could certainly omit that part. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:53
  • No no, I think it is a good idea, I'm just worried about people posting answers that are basically rehashes of my question (although that may not be a bad thing if they take that and run with it!). Since reading more and more on the issue I'm now inclined to agree that 'Don't do it' is NAA in this situation. I'll flag later though, one issue at a time! Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:20

The key question, as defined in your actual question is:

What I want to know is: what is the possible / likely fallout if someone eats my sandwich without my knowledge or consent and becomes ill (or cured depending on your perspective) as a result?

This is off-topic because:

  • No-one can foresee the future and so speculation on the likely fallout is just a matter of opinion
  • Any foreseeable fallout will be based on company-specific circumstances and rules
  • Any foreseeable fallout not based on the company-specific environment is likely to be legal-based, which is off-topic for this site

In short, it is just not possible for the internet at large to give a real answer to this question.

  • 1
    I don't think "what is the likely fallout" is any more off-topic than questions asking how hiring managers are likely to interpret something on a resume or how to bring up a conflict with one's manager or many other topics we handle here. We can't address company-specific issues (as you note) and we shouldn't be speculating, but some questions can be answered from general experience. Such questions do need to be written carefully, and I haven't yet reviewed the edits on this one. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:22
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    Good comment @MonicaCellio, but I think there is a difference- how people might interpret a resume, or how to facilitate conflict, are examples of commonly recurring issues and a body of experience is likely to have built up allowing many people to answer with a degree of confidence that their answer is likely to be correct in general terms. In this case, it is very unlikely there is a de facto body of experience about the consequences of accidentally poisoning someone- therefore there will be an almost complete lack of confidence that any one answer is the correct answer.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:27
  • If I roll a dice I can tell you the likely outcome without foreseeing the future. It won't be opinion based. Company-specific circumstances and rules do not dictate how other co-workers react, what impact it will have on career, likelihood of legal action, how I will be viewed by management to name a few. These may initially feel opinion based but I think can be answered by considering other factors (i.e. cultural). If you feel I have failed to give good non-opinion based answer I remind you I am asking the question hence don't have the answer! But I feel it can be answered. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:30
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    "how people might interpret a resume, or how to facilitate conflict, are examples of commonly recurring issues and a body of experience is likely to have built up allowing many people to answer with a degree of confidence that their answer is likely to be correct in general terms." - This sounds a lot like you are saying we can only ask questions that everyone can answer. What's the point if that is the case? Just because you or a large amount of users don't have the answer doesn't mean no-one will! Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:37
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    But you are not asking about something probabilistic such as rolling a dice, are you?! The actual consequences you would face are highly specific to the exact circumstances in which you find yourself- no-one here can know these, only you do, so answers from anyone else would be utter speculation, about a single-specific case and there would be no way for anyone else to determine the "rightness" of any answer. Nor would the answers be applicable to anyone else's circumstances. SE sites are designed to provide, to a greater or lesser extent, canonical answers to specific questions.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 13:38
  • See I don't see it as being highly specific. Here is a link to 5 cases of accidental poisoning: abcnews.go.com/Health/FirstAid/story?id=7292295&page=1 from a quick Google. I haven't read the article in depth but I'm sure they likely don't match my question's scenario exact or each others but all would have results similar in nature Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 16:47

Yes there are set rules but people will vote to close because they think it is silly and inconsistent.

You want an answer to what will happen if I do something (wrong). And the answer is don't do something wrong. Pretending to add laxative as a convenience does not make it right and you know it.

You want an answer to the outcome but say it is not something you would really do then you kind of circle around to well maybe I would really do it.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

You have several answers. What would you hope to achieve by getting it re-opened anyway?

My answer addressed possible outcome.

On StackOverflow and other technical sites questions are often closed on XY basis even though there is no XY box. How can I make this code work when the answer is that code is the wrong approach? What is the problem you are trying to solve is is a common and proper theme.

  • The circling and inconsistency you see is a result of me trying to adapt the question to be more palatable to the answers / commenters I've had so far. I can 100% guarantee that I wouldn't do it in real life, either as a joke or as revenge. However I wrote in the first person as if I would / was as I enjoy writing in the first person more than the third. "You want an answer to what will happen if I do something (wrong). And the answer is don't do something wrong." - That ISN'T an answer to the question though, it simply isn't. Q: 'What happens if X' A: 'Just don't X' How is that an answer? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:45
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    @RyanfaeScotland See "When asked 'How can I foo the bar?' is 'Don't foo the bar' an appropriate answer?"
    – David K
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:47
  • Ahhh thanks @DavidK, that explains why I'm getting so many 'don't do it' answers! And Paparazzi, using that criteria does make it more of a valid answer than I gave it credit for, thanks for taking the time to add it but I'm looking for an answer to the specific question set out, not an alternative. Knowing that 'Don't Foo the Bar' is a valid answer if a little more explanation is given I'll see if I can re-word to discourage those answers. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:59
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    @RyanfaeScotland No, it started and finished inconsistent. So you did not get an answer to the stated question. The stated question was closed by people that had the points to close it. You can play semantics all you want but that is how it works here.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:01
  • Can you elaborate on 'inconsistent'? Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:17
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    @RyanfaeScotland This is not constructive. I can't help you.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:19
  • "How can I make this code work when the answer is that code is the wrong approach?" But I'm not asking 'How can I save a file by entering Format C:?' I'm aksing 'What will happen if I enter Format C:' Hmmm that does make me think though, why would I include the saving info if it isn't what I am asking about? Perhaps I can apply that to my question to reduce it and focus it on an acceptable version of the question. Thanks, you have helped me! Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 18:28
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    If it isn't something you intend to do, it can also be closed on grounds of being speculative. SE is not a conversational site. With specific exceptions like the world-building discussion or the community wiki discussions, if it isn't a problem you actually have, it's considered rude to ask us to spend time on it. This is not the community you are looking for; I do encourage you to try elsewhere if you want to simply brainstorm about what-if cases.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 3:53
  • Just because I don't intend to do it doesn't mean that others don't and that the situation won't arise. As per another comment I've already shown that it can and has. I can understand it being considered rude if I claimed something had happened when it hadn't in order to deceive people to get quick answers but this isn't the case. If you do not want to spend time answering a questions that hasn't happened then don't, move on and don't give it another thought, no point in getting upset about it, that doesn't mean you should stop other people answering who think it worth while though. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 12:11
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    It is closed. That is how the site works. I will use my close votes how I chose.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 12:19
  • Hmmm I guess you are right, if enough people disagree and think it is worth while then it can get re-opened. Food for thought, thanks. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:12

Stack Exchange is explicitly designed as a mechanism for building up a set of useful answers to Frequently Asked Questions. If it is unlikely that anyone sane would websearch the question, it is not a good SE question.

Whether that calls for deletion or just massive down-voting and blunt "you get fired, you get your pants sued off, and nobody ever wants to hire you again until you have been through years of psychological treatment, of course -- and that's if you're lucky; you will probably also face criminal charges" is debatable . But the question doesn't belong on Workplace for the same reasons that "what happens if I shoot my annoying boss " doesn't.

If this one belongs on SE at all, it probably belongs in Legal.

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    Good answer. "If it belongs on SE at all, it probably belongs in Legal." You are probably right. I'd be surprised if Legal would want it though. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:00
  • "If it is unlikely that anyone same would websearch the question, it is not a good SE question." - How do I measure this? If I search "what happens if I poison someone stealing my food" I get 1.9 million results, the first page of which is all about this exact topic. "you get fired, you get your pants sued off..." See I think that would actually make a good answer. Use them as headings, add explanations as to why along with sources / examples and there you go. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 17:02
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    OK. If this is a good answer, you now have your answer, so why does it matter that the question was closed? You can do your own deeper research; I'm not that interested.... And I did say "nobody sane."
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 19:34
  • @joestrazzere Maybe world building would be another place for it; that discussion, by its nature, is already only loosely coupled to reality. Good SF stories have been written that incorporate unintended poisoning, and I can think of at least one that incorporates a deliberate attempt.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 19:42
  • "If this is a good answer, you now have your answer, so why does it matter that the question was closed?" Because there is still plenty of scope for a better answer! Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:26

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