Should Lululemon Fire Employees For Attempting to Stop Theft?

This week’s big news in HR is everyone’s favorite retailer, Lululemon, firing two employees who attempted to thwart some shoplifters at one of their stores in Georgia. The story is pretty straightforward, a group of folks runs into a Lulu store, grabs a bunch of stuff, and runs out. The two employees didn’t really do much. One yelled at the shoplifters to get out, and one followed them outside. Also, one took a video and called 911.

Apparently, this was enough to break a company policy and get them fired.

So, what’s the policy?

Basically, the Lulu policy on shoplifting is to let the shoplifters take whatever they want. As an employee, you do nothing to antagonize the thieves, so to ensure you do not put any employees or patrons of Lulu in harm’s way. You can call 911, but you’re best to wait until the shoplifters leave because, I mean, that might upset the thieves causing them to harm employees and/or patrons.

Is that clear?

It’s super easy to make fun of this. But, in reality, many companies have similar policies. Because, as it turns out, thieves are bad people willing to do bad things. But I will still make fun of this because this entire thing is just dumb.

Should these two Lulu employees be fired, is the real question?

My first thought:

Yes, they broke the policy, and both knew what the policy was. Lululemon claims they ensure every single employee knows this policy. How? Most likely, in onboarding and training, when they make you sign documents that say you learned it, but you might not have, but we sign stuff all the time because we want the job and a discount on those nice leggings.

If you don’t fire them, what you are really doing is telling every employee to try and stop shoplifters. This becomes a slippery slope as employees go to greater lengths to stop thieves, and all of a sudden you’ve got Lulu employees carrying guns and mace and stuff. Lulu vigilantes.

My next thought:

No! We all want “loyal” employees trying to do the right thing. These two employees didn’t try and tackle these thieves. They did what any normal human would do that saw this happen, and they reacted. They said get out. They tried to get some evidence. They called the police.

This is the problem with policies in most companies. They are black and white, but we live in a world of gray. Do these employees need some “re-training”? Yes. But Lulu says they have a zero-tolerance policy on this because it’s about employee and patron safety. That’s somewhat of a lie. This is what Lulu’s legal team is saying to the CEO. “If we get a patron or employee shot in a robbery, we’re going to have to pay millions to the victims and their families.”

I mean, it’s bad employment branding and product marketing to have dead people in stores. Even when they are wearing those amazing leggings. I mean, her butt looks great, but she’s way dead. That’s never going to be a slogan that makes it past legal.

Next next next thought:

If we live in a society that doesn’t respect the rule of law, chaos ensues.

I don’t want to live in a place where thieves have no fear of retribution. Where they can just run into any store and take what they want because they know nothing will happen to them. Do I want my employees handing out their own brand of justice? No. But am I going to fire them when they say, “Stop! Get Out! I’m calling the police!” Also, No!

If Lulu was Mom and Pop Hometown Retailer, would they have this policy? Most likely, no. Lulu gets away with this because they do not have a problem getting people to work for them because they are currently a sexy brand, and many people want that discount for their overpriced stuff.

Final thought:

The HR Guy in me knows this is an easy call, even when it’s one of those that is very hard to swallow. The policy is written and approved. It’s trained and signed off on. I might not agree with it, but I have agreed to take on this role in HR or Operations and ensure policies are followed. If I don’t agree with this policy to the extent I can not uphold it, I would need to quit.

There’s always more to these stories than the mass media finds out or will tell us. I’m sure the two employees actually knew the policy but also disagreed they should be fired, and they got the story out. The media loves beating up on a big, sexy brand like Lululemon. They also, apparently, love thieves just being able to go into stores and take anything they want without repercussions (Hello, San Francisco!).

Welcome to the show new HR graduates! You were taught in school most of HR will be black and white. What you’ll soon find is HR is almost never black and white.

3 thoughts on “Should Lululemon Fire Employees For Attempting to Stop Theft?

  1. It’s really difficult to balance the policy with encouraging initiative and doing the right thing. A tough one to call but I’m in the camp of praising them!

  2. Retired HR professor here. My students were told that HR is most definitely a thousand shades of grey. Kind of like my hair.
    I also took a box of Depends to the first class because the answer to nearly every HR question was “it depends “.
    My job was to teach them how to recognize exactly what the issue depended upon.
    Being retired, I were leggings from Costco now. Probably harder to get away with shoplifting there.

  3. You had me at “her butt looks great, but she’s way dead”… Kinda think someone should run with that..

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