Walk of Shame: How It Backfires

Question:

When a large retail chain hired me into a midlevel manager position, I was surprised and thrilled. They were giving me a chance. I don’t have a retail background. I’m also the only supervisor who hasn’t risen through the ranks.

Retail has been a shock.  My store has been plagued by employee theft. I’ve learned employees I’d never suspect of pilfering merchandise steal and then lie with a straight face about how they didn’t take the items hidden in their clothes and coats as they attempt to walk out the door.

My employer has been clear. We made it clear we prosecute any employees we suspect. This hasn’t stopped the amount of theft; nothing has.

Last week, we were told in a supervisor’s meeting that we’re going heighten the pressure on employees we catch stealing. We were given handcuffs and authorization to march anyone we suspect through the store to the manager’s office where they’ll be interrogated.

This morning we did that. A customer took a cellphone picture of the employee we apprehended.

What we’re doing bothers me. In the past, we’ve walked the employees into the back office for questioning but not with handcuffs.

I don’t have police training and either do any of my fellow supervisors or managers. I went to our store manager and said the handcuffs bothered me. He told me was naïve.

Am I?

Answer:

Employers that publicly shame an employee that management only suspects suspect can seriously backfire. Never treat an employee as a criminal.

When a manager suspects an employee of misconduct, they need to discreetly investigate the situation without humiliating the employee or turn the investigation over to the police. An employer can tell the employee that cooperation with the investigation is mandatory and failure to cooperate can result in termination. Further, the employee needs to be free to leave of his or her own accord.

An employer that handcuffs the employee or restrains or confines the employee to the point where they feel “imprisoned” can be charged with false imprisonment. For this reason, the investigator in most investigation interviews reassures the employee that they will not be kept from leaving.

As an example of what can go wrong when an employer corners an employee, two Target managers confused Jason Kellner, a senior team leader for Target, with another employee they suspected of stealing. They had security personnel lead Kellner away from a discussion with co-workers to the front of the store, where they handed him over to police officers who handcuffed him. Said Kellner in a Business Insider interview, “It was humiliating. All the customers were staring, and I had no idea what going on.”

In an even worse situation, when a Target cashier arrived at work, his pockets were emptied. Then he was handcuffed and paraded through the store in front of customers and co-workers. After being interrogated, the employee was paraded a second time past customers and co-workers to a patrol car and taken to a police station, where he was released and not charged with a crime.

Days later, the cashier jumped to his death from a Courtyard Marriott roof. According to the employee’s mother’s lawsuit, her son told her that it was the worst day of his life and “the walk of shame is a Target policy to purposely cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target.” Target denied they had a “walk of shame” policy.

Finally, if you call in the police, don’t accuse the individual employee of theft. Instead, tell the police what leads you to suspect the employee’s involvement and let them conduct their own investigation.

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