Monday, September 12, 2011

EEOC sues for disabled shoplifter

As a parent of two small children, I am very cognizant of the importance of leading by example. For example, I don’t want them to them text-and-drive when they are older. So, I try my hardest (and, it’s hard) not to pick up my mobile while they’re in the car with me.

Last week, the EEOC announced that it had filed suit on behalf of a diabetic (and terminated) Walgreens employee who ate a bag of chips off a store shelf:

open-bag-of-chips According to the EEOC, Josefina Hernandez, a cashier at Walgreens’ South San Francisco store, was on duty when she opened a $1.39 bag of chips because she was suffering from an attack of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)…. Walgreens knew of her diabetes. Nevertheless, Walgreens fired her after being informed that Hernandez had eaten the chips because her blood sugar was low, even though she paid for the chips when she came off cashier duty.

You might think that a $1.39 bag of chips, for which the employee later paid, is not a fireable offense. Yet, no rule is more important to a retailer than its no-shoplifting rule. Most stores have zero tolerance policies, both for customers and employees. It may seem unreasonable to fire a diabetic employee over one bag of chips. Consider, however, that the employer might not want to set a precedent that it is acceptable to eat food off the shelf without paying for it first. If customers see an employee consuming merchandise without paying first, they might think it’s allowed by the store, which makes shoplifting and loss prevention that much more difficult for the employer to control.

There are no hard and fast rules about reasonable accommodations or undue hardships. One employee’s reasonable snack is another employer’s unreasonable exception to an important and unbending rule. I’m not saying that this employer should have ignored the employee’s diabetes in reaching its termination decision, but this case is not nearly as one-sided as the EEOC’s self-serving news release makes it appear.