Friday, December 28, 2007

Whole Foods: Shoplifters Are Customers Too. Leave Them Alone.

Notice I didn't use quotes in that title. Whole Foods didn't literally say that, but they essentially said that when they fired an employee who stopped a shoplifter in Ann Arbor.

John Schultz says he lost his job at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor after he tried to stop a shoplifter from making a getaway. But the company says he went too far and violated a policy that prohibits employees from physically touching a customer - even if that person is carrying a bag of stolen goods.

There are several factors that need to be considered for this man's future lawsuit against Whole Foods. Let's examine the first one here in this paragraph. He was fired for "physically touching a customer." Since when are shoplifters customers? A customer is someone who pays for a good or service. You don't pay ... you aren't a customer.

Schultz says he had just punched out for a break at 7 p.m. on Sunday when he heard a commotion at the front door of the store.

Point two is that he had clocked out. In other words ... he was not on company time. If he doesn't get paid for that time ... he isn't on the job. Things get sketchy when you fire someone who wasn't on the job.

He said he came to the aid of the manager who yelled for help in stopping a shoplifter. Schultz, the manager and another employee cornered the shoplifter between two cars in the parking lot.

The third point is that he was assisting the manager (his boss) after being requested to do so. What's the point in chasing someone down, and asking others to help you chase them down if you won't do anything when you catch up to the crook? Now his manager becomes liable for his actions because he requested assistance.

The final point is that this did not happen on Whole Foods property. How can you fire an employee for stopping a shoplifter, while not on the clock, and not on company property?

With this logic, an employee could be fired for stopping a bank robber after work because the bank robber was in Whole Foods earlier that day. I smell a windfall in this man's future.

Schultz said he told the shoplifter he was making a citizens arrest and to wait for the police to arrive, but the shoplifter broke away from the group and ran across Washtenaw Avenue and toward a gas station at the corner of Huron Parkway.

Before the man could cross Huron Parkway, Schultz caught up and grabbed the man's jacket and put his leg behind the man's legs. When the manager arrived at the intersection, Schultz said, the manager told him to release the shoplifter, and he complied, and the shoplifter got away.

Schultz said he was called to the store's office the next day, on Christmas Eve, and was fired because he violated a company policy prohibiting employees from having any physical contact with a customer.

Again, he didn't touch a customer at all.

So what was Whole Foods' response to the firing?

Kate Klotz, a company spokesperson, said the policy is clear and listed in a booklet that all employees have to acknowledge that they received before they can start work.

"The fact that he touched him, period, is means for termination," said Klotz.

Schultz said he acted as a private citizen on property that isn't owned by Whole Foods, but Klotz said where the incident happened doesn't change the policy.

"He is still considered an employee of Whole Foods Market regardless of where he was and what was happening," she said.

I would love to see the company policy that this man signed when he was hired 5 years ago. Does it really say that shoplifters are customers? I doubt it.

If merely touching the shoplifter was grounds for termination then why even chase him out of the store? Keep in mind that the store's manager gave chase, and asked for assistence which this man provided while on his own time.

As for the Whole Foods rep saying that he is considered a Whole Foods employee "regardless of where he was and what was happening" is ludicrous, and the worst kind of stupid. I refer you to my argument above about him preventing a bank robber from getting away because he was in Whole Foods earlier that day.

Schultz is right on by saying he acted as a private citizen on his own time while not on company property. He is given the right to make a citizen's arrest by the Constitution. Whole Foods has no authority to remove Schultz's constitutional protections.

What would you expect from a store run by a bunch of hippies. Physical violence won't be tolerated ... even in self defense of the store's bottom line.

Peace, Love and Masturbation!


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