What Would You Do?

Published: August 24, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Here’s the scenario:

You’re an executive at a large, retail store. Company policy clearly tells employees that if they witness any shoplifting, they are not to go after the suspected thief outside the store.

Word comes of a shoplifting event at one of your stores. Two employees wrestle the suspect to the ground outside the store, but in spite of their best efforts, the suspect escapes. Corporate policy says that you must fire any employee who violates the policy whose purpose is to protect the safety of both employees and the public.

What do you do?

This scenario was played out early this month at a Best Buy store in Broomfield, Colorado.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Bergstreser said he gave chase when a man burst out of the [store]… with an armload of electronics he hadn’t paid for. Mr. Bergstreser, a 20-year-old former high-school football player, said he wrestled the man to the ground. Mr. Trapp, 23, said he also rushed out of the store and pinned the suspect.”

“I really wasn’t thinking,” Bergstreser said, adding that he was familiar with the policy. “I just sort of reacted.”

“Somehow, the alleged shoplifter was able to grab a pocket knife,” the Journal reports, “and cut a store manager who also had run outside. The suspect and a male accomplice then fled, jumping into a getaway car… No one has been arrested, the police said.”

In spite of what some have called “heroic efforts” by the two employees, they were fired.

“Employees who work in our stores are aware, and trained, on the standard operating procedures for dealing with shoplifting or theft,” Best Buy spokeswoman Kelly Groehler said. “These procedures are put in place first and foremost for the safety of our employees.”

However, several locals had a different reaction to the firing of the two.

The two were “punished for not being cowards,” one commentator wrote on a Facebook page.

“Welcome to Best Buy, where no good deed goes unpunished!” said another.

“Shouldn’t heroism be rewarded?” asked an editorial in the Denver Post.

So, who’s right, Best Buy or the employees?

Clearly, Best Buy has the policy in place to protect employees as well as any shoppers who may be caught in the middle of an altercation, and they have made clear in their training that they want employees to avoid any trouble.

“I definitely went against company policy,” Bergstreser who worked the store’s “asset protection desk” said. “I don’t disagree with [the firing]. I put people in danger, and I put myself in danger.”

So, was Best Buy right in firing the two?

Legally, yes, but here’s how I think Best Buy could have handled the situation.

After debriefing the two employees on the incident, management could have made the following public statement:

“Our employees are a valued asset of the company. It is for this reason that we have a ‘hands-off’ policy regarding confronting any suspected shoplifter outside our stores.

“In reviewing the details of the incident, we have concluded that Mr. Bergstreser’s reaction, though against company policy was done in what he believed to be the best interests of the company. Mr. Trapp came to Mr. Bergstreser’s aid out of a sense of loyalty when he saw him in possible danger.

“We wish to emphasize that policies are put in place for the safety and well-being of both our customers and employees. In this incident, the store manager was injured, in part, due to the actions of Mr. Bergstreser and Mr. Trapp. As a result, Mr. Bergstreser and Mr. Trapp will be suspended without pay for (X) weeks, during which they will undergo further training in the proper way to respond to such incidents.

“We appreciate and acknowledge the duty both employees demonstrated to Best Buy. In the future, however, that duty can best be demonstrated by following the rules. Best Buy believes it is better to lose an armful of electronics rather than risk injury to any employee.”


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