Mr. Schindler worked in an upscale office, which had a well-stocked kitchenette with pastries, fruit, and packaged snacks for the benefit of employees and clients.
Mr. Schindler often worked overtime and frequently would not leave until after 6:30 p.m. On his way out, he would take a pastry and fruit with him and eat them on the way home.
One day, a co-worker, Mr. Lichter, also stayed late to finish some work, and, as he was leaving, Mr. Schindler offered him a pastry from the kitchenette.
“Thank you,” Mr. Lichter said, “but I’m hesitant to take food home with me. I think the refreshments are meant for us to eat while on the job. I don’t think people are supposed to take them home.”
“I don’t exactly take them home,” Mr. Schindler said. “And I don’t think the boss would prefer that we take time off toward the end of the day to eat in the office. Besides, I’m not the only one who takes food for the way home.”
“I’m not sure it’s right,” replied Mr. Lichter.
“I’ll ask Rabbi Dayan,” Mr. Schindler said. He approached Rabbi Dayan, who said the following after hearing the question:
The Torah (Devarim 23:25-26) entitles a worker to eat his employer’s grapes while working in a vineyard, but he may not put aside fruit for later. This permission to eat is restricted to agricultural work, however, and does not apply to someone performing other work – even if food-related (Bava Metzia 87a; Choshen Mishpat 337:1-2).
Nevertheless, the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 83a) mentions a common practice in certain places to provide meals or snacks to workers, even those not involved in agricultural work. It concludes that the rule is “in accordance with the local common practice” – which is a significant principle in employer-employee relations (Choshen Mishpat 331:2).
In an office setting, therefore, the question of whether a worker may take food home depends on local common practice. It is uncommon nowadays for office workers to be served meals, but most workplaces provide at least coffee and tea.
If the company also provides refreshments, these may be taken home if doing so is the common practice and based on an understanding workers have with their employer. Common practice, however, is irrelevant if the owners expressly say they are not happy with people taking food home. Theft does not become legal just because many people steal (see Choshen Mishpat 337:11; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 7:17). It makes no difference whether the company is owned by Jews or not since theft from a non-Jew is prohibited (Sma 337:38; Choshen Mishpat 348:2).
If allowing workers to take food with them will enable them to work more efficiently towards the end of the day, that would likely be a factor in permitting them to do so.
Thus, whether Mr. Lichter may take a snack for the ride home depends on the common practice and the understanding with the company. If the practice is unclear, he should clarify with an authorized supervisor.