The latest incident involves a 13-year assistant manager at a Kroger grocery store in Arlington, Texas, and it’s a bit more blood-chilling than usual. The suspected shoplifter pulled a knife on the employee. The manager kept his cool, disarmed the shoplifter by shoving him against a parked car, then body-slammed him onto the asphalt.
The suspect is in jail, charged with aggravated robbery. The assistant manager is at home, clutching a pink slip from Kroger.
Of course, in our plugged-in age, the confrontation was captured on someone’s smartphone, posted online and has now gone viral. The firing of the employee prompted a wave of protests on social media, which in turn has led to news coverage Kroger likely would have preferred to avoid.
While it seems to me a less severe action would have worked, I’m no HR expert, so I’m reluctant to comment about Kroger’s decision. What the employee did was exceptionally dangerous—which is why most retail stores have policies against apprehending shoplifters, instead directing employees to call police. In this case, the assistant manager easily could have been injured or killed.
But I do feel qualified to opine on Kroger’s PR response. In my view, they dropped the ball.
When asked why it fired the employee, Kroger’s spokesperson responded via email with dry corporate language about its policies: “[The employee’s action] is not a reflection of our company’s fraud prevention protocol, procedures or training…. He is no longer employed by our company.”
In going the fired-for-breaking-the-rules route, Kroger told the world it doesn’t care about their employees’ well-being; it only cares about policy.
The company should have placed its decision within the context of worker safety. “We’re determined to keep our employees safe at work at all times. That’s why we train them on what to do, and what not to do, when a crime happens at one of our stores. Going beyond that training puts people at risk. We simply can’t allow it, not even once, because next time someone might get hurt or killed.”
Even a response along this line wouldn’t rescue Kroger from all criticism. But at least it would have cast the company in a more favorable light, one in which a hard decision was made for the sake of people rather than policy.
Tell us what you think: Was Kroger best served by citing its rules and procedures? Should it have focused its message on employee safety? Or should it have taken an entirely different PR approach?