Vietnam Veteran Employee Fired? Home Depot Isn’t All Wrong Here …

You are a loyal employee. You work hard, and take ownership in your job. You witness someone stealing from your employer, so you leap into action. That’s what a Vietnam veteran did at Home Depot:

A 70-year-old Home Depot employee was fired after attempting to stop shoplifters from making off with tools from a Pearland store.

Jim Tinney jumped into action last month when he saw three men running out of the store carrying tool sets. The U.S. Army veteran threw a paint roller extension at one of the men’s feet, KTRK-TV reported.
“In the Army, they train you to do things like that,” he said.

The men got away, and two weeks later Tinney was fired from the job. He acknowledged that he violated the company’s policy that only permits trained security personnel to confront shoplifters.

“I think they could have written me up, reprimanded me. But terminate me? That’s pretty strong,” Tinney told KTRK. “I’m 70 years old. I need to work. I needed that job. I enjoyed working with customers figuring out what they wanted to do. It’s fun.”

This is a disappointing situation that should have been handled differently by both Tinney and Home Depot, but it helps to understand on the rationale behind this and similar cases where employees are fired for intervening when confronting shoplifters.

I used to be a Loss Prevention Officer (LPO) for what is now Macy’s (former Dayton’s). The loss prevention industry is big, and dedicated to avoiding approximately $30 to $40 billion in annual “shrinkage”, the difference between what your inventory system says you have and what’s actually on the shelves.

As with many problems in the business world, the underlying issue is cost. When a shoplifter is stopped, arrested, and booked, there are opportunity costs. If LP staff are processing a suspect, they’re not on the floor preventing others from shoplifting. Worse, what happens if the suspect compromises the merchandise so it can’t be resold, or breaks something else in the process of stealing or being arrested?

What if he sues for – you guessed it – discrimination? That last scenario is what we faced when we arrested anyone “of color”. So if we didn’t have our Five Steps (I’ll explain), we could see ourselves in court, a price tag that was at a minimum over $12,000 in today’s dollars.

To protect themselves from litigation, large retail stores generally require the following for LP staff to affect an arrest (Note: Most law enforcement agencies do not require these):

1. LP staff must witness suspect enter the store or department without merchandise
2. LP staff must witness suspect select merchandise
3. LP staff must witness suspect conceal merchandise
4. LP staff must witness suspect pass more than one opportunity to pay for merchandise
5. LP staff must witness suspect break the plane of the door or entry way with merchandise

If you arrest a suspect without all of the above, you’re opening yourself and the store to prosecution. In those cases where a suspect sues, retail organizations often settle. Pay $12,000 and time in court and potentially lose, or hand the suspect $5,000-7,000 to walk away.

What about chasing a suspect through the store? What would happen if that suspect mows down an old lady where she breaks her hip, gets pneumonia in the hospital, and dies? That’s an extreme example, but the employee who gave chase could potentially expose the store to paying millions. A true story told in training: A loss prevention officer chased a woman through a clothing store. The woman jumps into a waiting truck driven by her boyfriend. Hanging onto the merchandise, the LPO jumps into the back of the truck, and off they went. The LPO gets dumped a block down the road and ended up in the hospital with thousands in medical bills that the company had to pay for. No joke, the woman had stolen a swim suit on clearance. Was it worth it?

The big problem this Home Depot employee and every other legitimately frustrated employee has is when you get involved, the cash register starts ringing – in the negative. This is a firm grasp of the obvious: We all pay higher prices because people choose to shoplift. The best and most cost-effective way to prevent most theft is customer servicing suspects to death. It’s not foolproof, but most of the time thieves don’t like an audience.

While Home Depot should have given Tinney a final written warning, don’t blame the retail stores: Blame opportunistic attorneys, unprincipled judges who allow cases like these in their courtrooms, and your
legislators for their deafening silence on tort reform.

photo credit: MikeKalasnik The Home Depot – Frederick Towne Mall via photopin (license)

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Michael Cummings

About the author, Michael Cummings: Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns. View all articles by Michael Cummings

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