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Part of my work involves visiting retail establishments during business hours. Often, when mistaken for an employee of the store, I am asked a question about where to find something in the store, to which I politely respond, "I'm sorry, I don't work here".

But I got to thinking, I am working, and I am "here". I know that I could be more precise with a more verbose reply, but is my quick, convenient response truthful? Conversely, it would not be true to say, "I work here", right?

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, MετάEd, Jim, Robusto Jan 23 '13 at 7:16

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If you want to be more precise you could say I don't work for this company. That's the regular meaning of the quick phrase "I don't work here" anyway. Phrases of convenience are just that. They are not meant to be precise. I would say "I don't work here" even if I did work there but was on a day off; rather than explaining my rostering arrangements to a stranger that couldn't care less. – Chris Jan 23 '13 at 1:57
Kant says if someone who wants to murder your mother asks where your mother is, you're morally obliged to tell the truth regardless of the consequences: your mother dies. Even a consequentialist, who'd say that you should lie to the would-be murderer if you want to save your mother's life, would tell you that the inconvenience caused by lying to the questioner in this case (were you actually an employee of that store or by chance knew the answer to the question) is probably sufficiently inconsequential to not worry about being truthful, unless the Q is "Where's the restroom? I'm gonna puke." – user21497 Jan 23 '13 at 3:02
I would tell Kant's murderer, truthfully, "I don't want to give you that information" and the store-visitor "I'm not a store employee" or "I don't work here" because to me they mean the same thing, but if you don't think they do then use the first one. – Kate Gregory Jan 23 '13 at 3:12
@K: "I don't want to give you that information" would get you killed, so that's not a choice; nor did Kant allow that choice in his example. My response was shock that being truthful in the OP's situation was so important. I'd be helpful if I could, but wouldn't volunteer unnecessary information. – user21497 Jan 23 '13 at 3:22
@Chris: Are you serious? If you happened to be in the store where you normally worked (and thus should know where everything is), you wouldn't even give a customer directions because it was your day off? What about when you are working, but you're on your lunch break? If I were the store manager, I surely wouldn't want guys like that on the payroll! – FumbleFingers Jan 23 '13 at 3:43
up vote 2 down vote accepted

While I don't work here means to most people I don't work for this store, you could say

I don't work for the store
I'm not an employee of the store
I'm not employed here
I'm not on staff here
I'm not on the staff

You also could say

I'm not an employee
I'm not on staff

While most people are employees or staff somewhere, those statements are not generally taken as absolutes, but are understood to imply here.

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bib, I like your Suggestion #2 best. Also, one can also solve this problem by providing more information; for example, if I was stocking chips at the Albertson's supermarket, I might say, "Sorry, I don't work for Albertson's; I work for Frito-Lay." Also, for the sake of politeness, it never hurts to add something like, "I'd be glad to help you, if I knew the answer to your question" – that makes it sound less like you're giving the person a cold shoulder. – J.R. Jan 23 '13 at 8:57

"I don't work here" can indeed mean both things, but in your situation, you would not be misunderstood, so you should stick to it for brevity.

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Yes. Didn't someone say "Context is all-important"? This is a wicked answer. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 23 '13 at 14:19

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