Before You Stop That Shoplifter...
Retailers all over the world loose millions if not billions of dollars on a yearly basis to thieves, mostly shoplifters, and for this reason, most of them have added a little cushion in their commodity price to take care of what is stolen. As an employee, you have to be careful how you go about trying to stop a shoplifter, because although your intentions may be well placed, you may end up loosing your job or risking your life.
Wal-Mart Employee Fired for Trying to Prevent Theft
Wal-mart, one of the retail giant, uses: “Lowest prices always. Always” as its slogan, but their policy on shoplifting is simple and straightforward – “Don’t stop them. Ever.” A customer service manager by the name of Heather Ravenstein who worked in the Wichita, Kansas outlet tried to stop a thief from making away with a stolen item after she set off the store alarm while hurriedly trying to leave the store. She was carrying a computer worth $600. Heather then told the shopper that she should show her receipt for the item which triggered the alarm, so she would just get rid of the sensor box. The shopper didn’t have a receipt so she dropped the computer, kicked and punched Heather and then ran off.
The item was recovered so the manager thanked Heather for what she did, however, the next morning, she was fired. The reason is simple. It was against the policy of Wal-Mart to confront shoplifters. Only the managers or employees in the asset protection department had the right to confront or stop customers from stealing.
Most firms or companies have their policies, and these policies have the sections of them that talk about employee discipline, which is often put into a small book like the employee handbook, for the employee to have a copy. This book often contains the Do’s and more importantly, the DON”Ts, and the consequences for different offenses. The most serious offenses usually have “the one” punishment – getting fired – even if it’s the first offense by the offender.
The not so serious offenses such as failing to show up early for work or not coming at all without due permission may be dealt with by a verbal query which may later turn to a written query if it repeats itself and definitely a suspension or termination if it continues.
Heather learned that there were no gray areas, and the words of the Wal-Mart policy was to be upheld. A Wal-Mart spokesperson came out to publicly defend the sacking on the grounds that she disobeyed the company law, and in the process endangered the lives of other customers and herself.
Legal Risks to Employers
The fact that the employers have responsibility for their employees, they are dragged into whatever mess an employee makes, and they are made to bear the consequences. The employers are often held responsible for any injury a customer gets as a result of an employee’s action, or even the more common occurrence of shoppers suing a company because an employee wrongly detained someone suspected of shoplifting.
Although the employees have their own identity and can be sued, lawsuits are usually targeted at the company or the employer because they usually have better insurance coverage, as compared with that of their employee.
Employers Avoid the Risk
For a retailer as important as Wal-Mart, they have discovered that the risk of humiliating, harming or embarrassing a customer might have more serious consequences and can be a lot more expensive than any item the customer might have stolen or attempted to steal. For this reason, they have specific management workers and security that have the responsibility for to detain.
Obviously, they have to uphold their laws and policies, because it helps them stay away from certain legal complications. A perfect example being the employee who tried to stop a shoplifter a few months before Heather’s incident, yet he wasn’t fired. Heather may choose to file for wrongful termination.
As an employee, you might have the best intentions at heart when you try to stop a shoplifter, however, it just might be wiser to call the attention of security personnel or a manager with the authority to stop the potential thief.
Ask Your Lawyer
- Does my employee handbook have to be signed by me before it can be binding?
- Must I be notified of a change in policy which isn’t yet in the handbook before it can be binding?
- What if I wasn’t given the handbook by my employer?
If you have questions on employment law, please call Jeff Roberts & Associates, PLLC (615) 425-4400.