Walmart manager fired for apprehending shoplifter

The top line to this story is frustrating to many, including yours truly, but it’s also indicative of a larger problem in corporate America and our culture in general. The case in question involves a Walmart manager in Alabama who spotted a known troublemaker making off with more than a thousand dollars in stolen merchandise after the culprit set off a security alarm. He pursued the suspect out of the store and across the street where security personnel from a nearby apartment complex helped detain him until police arrived. So… job well done and back to business, right? Not for the manager. Roughly a month later he was fired over the incident.

Don Watson told he was fired 27 days after he chased a shoplifter out of his store in Prattville on Jan. 4. He chased the suspect through the parking lot and across the street, where security from an apartment complex helped apprehend him until police arrived, the website reported.

Roderick Gray, 46, of Tallassee, was charged with third-degree robbery for allegedly stealing $1,118.73 worth of merchandise.

Watson said he thought he did the right thing, but the company terminated him because he did not follow the proper protocols when dealing with shoplifters. The retail giant has the procedures in place for the safety of its employees and to ensure the situations do not escalate.

Watson told reporters, “I thought I was protecting the company.” It’s a sentiment which most of us could likely understand were we put in a similar position. But the company was following a standard policy which is in place for many organizations and, while debatable, does have some points in its favor. A floor manager is neither a cop nor a warrior trained in combat, armed or unarmed. A well meaning employee might take off after a thief and suddenly find themselves in a life threatening situation where they are in way over their heads. Had things gone poorly in such a fashion for Wilson, the thousand dollars worth of merchandise would have seemed far more trivial.

At least that’s Walmart’s side of the equation. And looking to protect themselves, they are probably also trying to avoid potential lawsuits from employees being injured in the line of duty. To a certain extent I understand that.

But these things don’t have to be so absolute. There is a corporate culture prevalent in America which is so wary of litigation that they can overreact greatly in response. Not too long ago we talked about the pizza chain which forbids their delivery drivers from carrying legally owned personal weapons on the job, despite being in one of the most dangerous vocations in the country. That’s really not all that different from this case. Perhaps employers will attract better employees and cut down on crime at the same time if they enact policies which are more supportive of their workers who try to do the right thing.

I’m not saying that Walmart should make it mandatory for a manager or clerk to chase a fleeing criminal. That’s simply insane for the reasons listed above. But if someone does take the initiative to either defend themselves or protect the interests of the store, a policy which mandates their being terminated seems extreme and counterproductive. Surely there must be some middle ground here where the company can protect themselves from expensive court proceedings without punishing their employees who step up and stand their ground.

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