Will Walmart’s Self-Defense Policy Get an Employee Killed?

Last Friday, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that several former Walmart employees were wrongfully terminated by the retail giant after they confronted and disarmed weapon-toting shoplifters.

Derek Holt (Photo: Marc Weaver, Deseret News)

Derek Holt (Photo: Marc Weaver, Deseret News)

The Utah high court effectively decided that one’s right to self-defense trumps Walmart’s employee policy that instructs workers to “disengage” and retreat in the face of an armed suspect.

“The right of self-defense is a public policy of sufficient clarity and weight to qualify as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine,” said the court in its 4-1 majority opinion. “But we limit the exception to situations where an employee reasonably believes that force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm and the employee has no opportunity to withdraw.”

There were several plaintiffs in the case, West Valley Wal-Mart employees Derek Holt and Eric Hunter, who were fired after they grabbed a shoplifter armed with a knife who threatened to stab them; and Layton Wal-Mart employees Shawn Ray, Lori Poulsen and Gabriel Stewart, who were fired after they stopped a suspect allegedly stealing a laptop computer.

“Ms. Poulsen saw the customer move a gun from his back to his coat pocket. A physical struggle ensued, resulting in the Wal-Mart employees pinning the customer against a wall and grabbing the gun,” said the court in its decision.

In either situation, the court rightly concluded that “there is a clear and substantial public policy in Utah favoring the right of self-defense.”

Yet, Walmart disagreed with the decision and stood by their rather dangerous policy.

“Our No. 1 concern is always the safety of our customers and associates, and we don’t condone behavior that puts them at risk. We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and will review our options,” Randy Hargrove, national media relations director, told the Deseret News. “We believe this sets a bad precedent for businesses and the customers they serve.”

Walmart claims that they don’t want to put employees at risk, but couldn’t I argue that not deferring to the individual’s discretion as to whether action is needed to prevent physical harm or even death putting the employee in greater danger?

According to the Walmart policy, “if the suspect is believed to possess a weapon, the suspect must not be approached. If during an approach or investigation it becomes apparent that the suspect has a weapon or brandishes or threatens use of a weapon, all associates must disengage from the situation, withdraw to a safe position, and contact law enforcement.”

The use of force in any situation isn’t a one size fits all. Yes, in many situations, retreating and disengaging (and other forms of de-escalation) are the right call — but not always. Sometimes, it’s necessary for one to take quick and decisive action to thwart an armed assault. The answer is it all depends, which is why Walmart’s blanket policy calling for retreat is inherently flawed.

Of course, I understand why Walmart takes the position it does. Legal liability. Walmart can’t encourage employees to take action or to even use their discretion because that would open a whole other can of worms as it relates to injury lawsuits, e.g. I got injured stopping a thief at work. Walmart, now you need to pay my disability because I was following company policy!

That said, Walmart’s decision to fire these employees who did what presumably they thought was right also shows a lack of compassion and sensitivity to the predicament they are placing their employees in. But I guess that’s corporate America for you. Corporations don’t have your back, they don’t value your judgment and they don’t want you to disobey orders, regardless of the outcome.

What’s funny, is that if these employees were to do what they did at a mom and pop store they would have been heralded as heroes and celebrated for stopping armed crooks. Not at Walmart though. They just want you to disengage, come what may.

{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Jst1man January 9, 2017, 1:03 am

    If a person does NOT leave the story with the item, then said person is NOT stealing. This is a policy that runs in California. As long as they do not step out the door it is not theft. You can refuse service and tell them to leave and not shop there anymore, but as long as they do NOT step foot out the door, there is NO legal case. I worked retail for 10+ years and never had a problem with this non-sense. Hell the worst thing I saw was a group of 3 filming a porn in our store and we called the cops.

    I never have a problem with someone being armed, unless they show they are not responsible. If not responsible, even I will call the police. CCW is an approved responsibility, not a right!

  • Eric September 29, 2015, 9:24 pm

    Sounds like WalMart is liberally run, with little forethought as to the eventual results of firing those who would defend them or others.

    So let the policy remain, “Don’t engage”! That covers their butts in a lawsuit if someone breaks the rule and gets hurt. But if someone successfully stops a crime, and everyone is fine, then the polite thing would be to tell the public the company does not condone their action, but quietly thank the person for their bravery. Then let it be! That’s just common, simple courtesy. What is happening to corporate America?

    • Mark September 6, 2016, 3:41 am

      The Walton family (the money-grubbers, not the nice TV family) are actually about as far to the right as you can get. Their concern, as the article pointed out, is over legal action, not concern for their employees. The only concern they have for their customers is for what is in their wallets. Between now and November, their money and influence will be thrown at Trump and politicians like him. With those people in office the Walton family, along with Walmart’s board, would finally be able to achieve their goal of bringing slavery back to the U.S. And they won’t discriminate because of race, creed, color, or sex. They are happy to walk all over everybody.

  • Charles Franchina September 29, 2015, 9:33 am

    Walmart does not put the life of their employees and customers at risk over trying to save some merchandise. An employee at my store engaged a customer that was stealing under $20 of merchandise. A struggle ensued and the employee ended up with several broken fingers. Was it worth it. What if the suspect pulled a weapon, the employee would have created a dangerous situation for everyone in the store.

  • Steve September 28, 2015, 7:38 pm

    I read several years ago in Playboy magazine that Wal Mart takes out what they call a “peasant” insurance policy which they pay for, not known by the employee. This policy is even in force AFTER the employee leaves WM. So whenever the employee dies WM can still cash in the policy.

  • Rod September 28, 2015, 6:36 pm

    All a bunch of thugs would have to do is get 6 to 10 toyguns and a set of wirecutters to emptyout the computer or gun rack at
    Walmart with a diversion to keep the cops busy elsewhere……..they need to rethink this policy as they did with the conceal weapons permits of customers……..75 % of Felons are captured by the public ……why cut their own thoats with this stupid policy………Walmarts offical policy might be: ” If you strongly suspect the shoplifter is carrying a knife or gun call for police backup asap. Don’t engage unless you are confident that not doing so would place you or our custsomers in greater chance of being killed or injured.”

  • Boots September 28, 2015, 3:36 pm

    I don’t believe companies care what happens to their employees. I worked for a company that would not let me fly my airplane to work for a 3 hour flight. But they let me drive foe a 7 and one half hour drive. Their problem was, if I crashed the plane, they would not get a 1 million dollar loss of employee insurance policy. Even though I was 10 times more at risk of getting killed on the road.

  • Johnny September 28, 2015, 3:09 pm

    Mr. [Sam] Walton would be turning over in his grave if he knew his company was firing employees for PROTECTING themselves, their stores, and ESPECIALLY their customers. He’d be the first to come out shotgun toting and making an example of those thieving bastards.

    • dave dye September 28, 2015, 10:11 pm

      This is a common misconception. Sam Walton was a pirate who cared nothing for his employees, except for how they could buy company stock to protect him from corporate looters. They have let that get away from them in their greed, lately.
      I worked for Mr. Walton, garnering little thanks, less money, and an appreciation for some truly good employers. I left in disgust after four years of drinking his Koolaid, and watching his hourly “associates” make him a stupidly wealthy man.

    • dave dye September 28, 2015, 10:11 pm

      This is a common misconception. Sam Walton was a pirate who cared nothing for his employees, except for how they could buy company stock to protect him from corporate looters. They have let that get away from them in their greed, lately.
      I worked for Mr. Walton, garnering little thanks, less money, and an appreciation for some truly good employers. I left in disgust after four years of drinking his Koolaid, and watching his hourly “associates” make him a stupidly wealthy man.

  • Larry September 28, 2015, 1:16 pm

    Political Correction run amuck! PC will be the reason for the ultimate downfall of our country. That and all the low life ambulance chasing turds known as lawyers!

  • Johnny B Goode September 28, 2015, 11:23 am

    Walmart employees are not bound to protect store property. By engaging the suspect they are putting their life and limb at risk. For Walmart wages I would leave the area of the thief and call the police. Moreover, employee company policy provides no incentive to make one want to protect their property. Why even call the police? The best that can come out of calling the police for a store employee is they will be home late for supper. Walmart has their own security detail let them do their job.

    • Bill September 28, 2015, 6:15 pm

      This isn’t about somebody shooting up the toilet paper aisle or cutting off all the coupons from the Little Friskies bags. That’s not why criminals bring firearms (or knives or any other weapon) to a robbery.

      I don’t know why, but I thought that people on this blog would know that.

  • Orrin M. Knutson September 28, 2015, 11:13 am

    Dear Friends of Freedom,

    I don’t know when it happened (I think in the 60’s or 70’s), but we have all become targeted victims of the civil lawyer class. There is no moral compass left. We fear lawsuits to the point of utter stupidity. Criminals are not “afraid” of being sewed for good reason. Our criminal and our civil justice system is so broken, by the removal of commonsense as the meter for responsibility.

    A stupid woman who spills coffee on herself while driving, gets millions from Mc Donald. A burglar who locks himself in the victims garage and cannot escape for a week, gets 3/4 million. People committing crimes are allowed to sew their victims and win everyday, because our judges haven’t the guts to refuse outrageous filings.

    The criminals don”t give a damn who they hurt and have no respect for the law, right and wrong, or anything else other than what “they want” … that is until they are then allowed to benefit from their crimes by filing lawsuits.

    It by any measure of reason it is legally wrong, it is immoral and it will never stop until We the People get tired of the corruption in our courts and our government.

    God Save America,
    OMK

  • BigR September 28, 2015, 10:58 am

    I used to buy every thing at Walmart, but it’s all over now! They suck anyway! A lot of retailers in my area are meeting or beating Walmart’s prices. Also many of these retailers are closer to my home anyway, so I’m saving on gas too!

  • Cam September 28, 2015, 10:06 am

    Walmart decision is opening it self for many more problem with armed and dangerous people and will in turn put it’s customers in greater danger, They should put it in the local papers and let the undesirables know that it a free for all place to get what ever they want and not worry about anyone stop them, come one come YOU GO WALMART, I thinking I’ll send this article on to our local jails, I know you’ll want me to help pass it on !!’ Oh yes I won’t be there, I’m shopping next door, SORRY, Hey do the right thing and bring your employees back and talk to your employees in turn you are showing that you are a family business and that Big Business still care. ” “I have been a long time customer of WalMarts. I had no idea, that they did NOT allow their employees to defend themselves. I hope that the FIRED Employees get a HUGE settlement for Wrongful Termination” ” nicely said Thomas

  • George September 28, 2015, 10:05 am

    I’ve taken lots of WalMart shoplifters to jail and worked with the loss prevention folks a LOT. I often asked them why did they care if the guys walked out with booze or whatever? WalMart makes billions a year and the AP folks simply don’t make enough money to risk anything for corporate who don’t have their back period.

    A guy I got to know real well confronted a drunk with a 750ml bottle of brandy in his pants. Shoplifter pulls out the bottle and whacked the AP guy upside the head with it. Broke a whole bunch of bones in his cheek and face. WalMart refused to pay his medical bills and he’s now suing them to make them pay. The AP guy was within policy when he stopped the guy, doing his job and WM hosed him. I’ve told them to call the cops, keep an eye on them but if we don’t get there in time, just let people walk out with the stuff. There isn’t a single thing that WM sells that is worth a human life and they can surely afford the loss.

  • Kip September 28, 2015, 9:49 am

    Virtually all public companies have a similar policy, as do many if not most large private companies. All states have worker’s compensations laws, and while details may vary, under all of them a dead or injured employee has a fixed cost that is covered by insurance, and the company cannot be sued for more. But a dead or injured criminal is an open invitation to an open ended lawsuit, which will cost a fortune to defend even if the plaintiff is not sucessful in the end.

    Corporations have a legal duty to maximize returns to shareholders, and if they can do so by prohibiting employees from taking actions that, predictably, will lead to lawsuits against the company, it is arguable that they have a legal duty to the shareholders to adopt such a policy. Utah (uniquely, so far) has decided that the state’s self defense right can trump a company’s disengage-and-withdraw policy. But in any other state, the company policy will prevail.

    • Doc Loch September 28, 2015, 3:25 pm

      I wish you wouldn’t call it “the state’s self defense right”.

    • Bill September 28, 2015, 6:05 pm

      Actually, workers compensation amounts only apply if the employee makes a claim against the fund.

      LOTS of people sue their employers for, among other things, negligence, and win.

      While the cost of a corpse can be calculated by an actuary, the actual award to the family is awarded by the jury.

      More than that, every man, woman and child, has the right of self-defense. Eff the actuaries.

      • Al November 4, 2016, 1:12 pm

        That is incorrect. You can make those claims against a third party if you can prove the conduct of the third party resulted in injury, e.g., defective product was cause of injury. You can never sue the employer and recover based on a negligence claim. If the employee could elect to have a jury decide, workers comp would not work.

  • LAH053 September 28, 2015, 9:40 am

    What does WalMart do when they get sued for not providing adequate safety for not just the employees but the customers that make WalMart the financial giant they are. What do they tell the families of those who may lose their lives because WalMart created a fish in the barrel opportunity for some mentally unstable person and how can you defend that. WalMart has a policy of just come on in and rip us off we’ll just charge the customers to make up the difference. The biggest deterrent to people who kill is that they may face someone who is willing to defend themselves and others by engaging the perpetrator. What is the difference, a person dies by protecting themselves of dies because they were sheep led to the slaughter by a stupid policy of non-engagement. I am seriously ready to dump my stock in this company!

  • Salty September 28, 2015, 9:38 am

    So if someone comes into a WalMart with a weapon all the “employees” are to run and hide in a safe place, leaving all the “customers” to fend for themselves – that’s just great!

    • GC September 28, 2015, 11:32 am

      I have a concealed carry permit and I carry my weapon all the time. I am sure I have been in Walmart many times armed. Now if a group of employees rush me with the intent of holding me there for the cops when I an legally licensed to carry a gun, do I look at that as an attack on my person and defend myself or what. I have already made that decision in my mine. If you carry, you must know already what you will do. In my case their may be several people hurt for attacking me so Walmarts policy may be a good one.

      • Kalashnikov Dude September 28, 2015, 3:06 pm

        GC, it’s great that you have a concealed carry permit. More people who can, should. But the scenario which you posed here is not realistic. The situation the article mentioned involved someone switching the location of their gun from a back pocket to a coat pocket. It doesn’t sound as though a holster was involved at all, and the customers actions could very easily be construed as preparing for a stickup or some kind of dangerous confrontation. I carry every day of my life, concealed when the situation calls for it and open when that’s convenient. Here in AZ it’s my choice, the way our 2nd Amendment leaves it. The way our Governor, Jan Brewer saw it when she signed a bill removing the requirement for a “concealed carry permit”. The way I see it. And when I see someone fooling around with a gun, no holster, and in a Wal-Mart filled with people, I will take action. The type of action I take depends largely on what the person fooling around with the gun does next. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I shop at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club because of their policy of accepting our 2nd Amendment as it’s written where customers are concerned. Costco on the other hand does not. The day I found this out I handed Costco their card back for a refund and purchased a Sam’s Club card with the money. I feel Wal-Mart’s is more in line with true American values than many people are led to believe. Bring American manufacturing back to America and Wal-Mart’s will be filled with American products. Shut out the lunacy perpetrated by unions who have one goal, to unionize this great body of employees so they can drain their wallets and use the money to buy off Democrat politicians and influence policy. Then, lawyers and liberals be damned, what you have left is one of the greatest American success stories with legions of employees who are breaking the trend by staying employed, and being productive instead of living on the dole. A place where someone can shop for the necessities of life without being turned away for exercising their God given, Constitutionally affirmed 2nd Amendment rights. A place they can afford to shop at…….

        • Bill September 28, 2015, 6:02 pm

          Oh, get off that anti-union crap. Jeez … what do you think would happen to the money the unions give to the Democrats if the Republicans stopped being anti-union? Stop pandering to an elite few uber wealthy individuals and take some heed of “the little guy” and starve the Democrats to death.

          Even after I paid union dues as a railroad conductor I still brought home 3x what my non-union friends and neighbors did. While they were struggling to break $10 per hour, (many people STILL struggle with that!) I was making $24 and, with overtime, often netted over $1,000 a week even as a single man.

          My friends were excited to gross half that.

          I busted my hump for that money — was seldom home, always exhausted, and worked truly crappy hours in every imaginable kind of weather in an inherently dangerous job — but I was able to buy nice clothes for my family and feed them healthy foods. After two years I was forced to sit for promotion … a grueling 8+ hour written exam based on the 5# of rule books that we were required to carry with us that took a score of 95% to pass. My wife was pregnant with our first son. Had I failed, I would have been unemployed.

          Lots of guys. Good men of every stripe, failed. Lots of them, upon seeing the exam, left the room without even sitting down. The top page of the exam was an employment application for a local fast food chain. Mine was for Burger King.

          After 40 more years of inflation, today’s “good” non-union jobs don’t pay what my union job paid in 1975.

          If the Waltons had paid better wages right along, they wouldn’t have been as big as they are … but more Americans could afford something not made in China.

          Wal-Mart doesn’t carry Snapper mowers. It’s not because they didn’t negotiate for them … it’s because Snapper refused to lower their quality standards to match what Wal-Mart was willing to pay for a mower. Snapper is made in the USA and has a reputation for quality to protect. Take a look at the “brand” Wal-Mart sells. Measure how thick the steel is, examine the wheel bearings.

          There’s your non-union product and you’re welcome to it.

          • Kalashnikov Dude September 29, 2015, 2:00 am

            Bill, I could relate my own personal stories regarding the stupid BS unions expect us all to accept as part of earning a living. But they would be wasted on you. Soooooo……..

        • Winston September 29, 2015, 10:54 pm

          Wal Mart was quite instrumental is getting US manufacturing to leave for China several decades ago. Wal Mart has around 10,000 suppliers just in China.

          • Kalashnikov Dude September 30, 2015, 4:15 pm

            Who gave Wal-Mart that kind of power? American consumers. They voted with their dollars. Don’t believe me? Too bad, that’s what happened. Don’t like it? Too bad. Better get used to it. Capitalism, market driven economics, politics, and culture are here to stay. That all being said, what do you suggest we do to improve things regarding these matters?

      • Jack September 29, 2015, 11:14 pm

        Sounds like you are a legend in your own mine, I doubt if your fast enough to identify the threat then draw, aim, and fire before your attackers had you on the ground beating you senseless then finding your gun and using it on you. Your comment assumes that you are some kind of awesome bad ass derived from some sense of courage you get from your gun. You would probably be better off if you had a giant strap on dildo in place of your strap on gun

        • Kalashnikov Dude September 30, 2015, 4:03 pm

          Jack, off with yourself.

  • AlleyKat September 28, 2015, 8:05 am

    When seconds count… Police are just minutes away…

    • Michael September 28, 2015, 2:06 pm

      A gun in the hand is better than a Cop on the phone

    • David Braemer September 30, 2015, 3:12 pm

      When seconds count police are minutes away? Think about that statement and how stupid it is. How many kids did Adam Lanza kill in just 60 seconds.

  • Larry C. September 28, 2015, 7:53 am

    I am not surprised. Walmart has been giving large donations to Hillary’s cause.

    • Dave Hicks September 28, 2015, 10:56 am

      No wonder with Clinton’ Arkansas background.

  • Jay September 28, 2015, 7:15 am

    “Our No. 1 concern is always the safety of our customers and associates, and we don’t condone behavior that puts them at risk. We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and will review our options,” Randy Hargrove,
    I guess this person just can’t see that Wal Mart’s behaviour of making rules for self defense puts everyone in danger! Im sure this is the result of all the sue happy people and low life lawyers in the USA! Idiots!

    • Jeff September 28, 2015, 9:59 am

      As the author of the article mentioned, as far as company policy, Walmart has little choice in what their policy states for the very reasons spelled out. “Legal liability. Walmart can’t encourage employees to take action or to even use their discretion because that would open a whole other can of worms as it relates to injury lawsuits”. That said, the practicality of actually firing them for defending themselves, seems like the bigger issue here. Being Walmart lost the lawsuit as far as illegally firing the employees, even if they do disagree with that outcome, I’m wondering what kind of settlement they have to pay!

  • Thomas September 28, 2015, 3:42 am

    I have been a long time customer of WalMarts. I had no idea, that they did NOT allow their employees to defend themselves. I hope that the FIRED employees get a HUGE settlement for Wrongful Termination

    • LCDR USN Ret September 28, 2015, 9:17 am

      That HUGE settlement will come out of the pockets of other Walmart customers.

      • Dave Hicks September 28, 2015, 10:58 am

        Commander Sir your problem is your RIGHT !

      • rouge1 September 28, 2015, 2:03 pm

        So be it. Go somewhere else.

    • Mark Bertolet September 28, 2015, 4:28 pm

      I agree totally with you. They employees deserve a huge settlement. Just how are you supposed to disengage from and armed assailant. Hello…. you can’t out run bullets. I totally disagree with any policy that in effect says “just run away and make someone else deal with it”.

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