February 24, 2004


Bernie Slattery is keeping watch on Australia’s own version of the Gilligan scandal. Also, he has news of a deeply unfair dismissal:

Last week an angry father called 3AW to complain that Coles Myer (to non-Australians, our biggest retailer) had sacked his son from his manager's job at the retail giant's Pakenham supermarket.

Apparently his son, I think his name was Wright, had witnessed a youth shoplifting and followed the thief from the store. (Although subsequent reports have appeared in the Melbourne press, I can't find any links. C-M's a big advertiser).

Outside, young Wright was confronted by a gang of about 12 of the thief's cohorts and took the best defensive action.

Translation for US readers: by “took the best defensive action”, Bernie means “kicked the guy’s ass”. After which the gang fled -- and the young manager was fired. Bernie is a Coles Myer shareholder, and urges other shareholders to follow his lead: Write to the company. Tell them to re-hire this bloke.

Or just wander into any of their stores and take stuff. They’ll soon get the message.

Posted by Tim Blair at February 24, 2004 11:23 PM

Morally the guy did the right thing.

Having worked in retail for more than a few years, I have seen more than the odd pair of shoes go walking out the door with akid who deserves a quick lesson in societal values.

Having said that, every manager - and all the staff in any decent retail store including CM - are instructed clearly and often NOT TO TOUCH anyone who flogs anything. Legally, the shoplifter has a lot more rights than the shop once they leave the store.

I can sympathise with Dad but I can also understand why CM reacted the way they did - the shoplifter can easily slap a suit on the manager, the shop and the company for assualt while all CM would ever get back would be a half-hearted, judge ordered apology.

Posted by: Dylan at February 24, 2004 at 11:46 PM

What Dylan says is true, and if he attacked the guy first (which the story seems to indicate) then his self defence argument could be a little shaky. This is particularly true as an assualt case would be tried 'summarily', and therefore in front of a magistrate, rather than a jury (who would almost certainly give the guy three cheers and a slap on the back)
That said, I think firing him was an overeaction. I think Coles Myer should have publicly stated that he had been 'strongly counselled', and given him a slap on the wrist.
I remember a friend of mine who had finished work at a Safeway and got jumped by a gang just outside the carpark, with his watch, phone and wallet stolen. He dashed back to work, whistled up all the male staff (you would be suprised how many staff work at a supermarket - many of whom cart heavy boxes all day) The gang of morons hadnt even moved, and were set upon by a bunch of blokes in short sleeve shirts and red ties. Must have been the most humiliating beating those little punks had ever received.

Posted by: Paul Dub at February 25, 2004 at 08:22 AM

That policy is in line with most US retailers as well. It's not just that the employee may be held culpable in an assault but that the thief could turn around and shoot/stab/etc the employer.

That's why bank tellers hand over wads of cash to bums who only claim to have a gun or bomb...they figure 'let the cops sort it' so the employer doesn't assume more financial liability for the employee's health and insurance.


Posted by: JDB at February 25, 2004 at 09:03 AM

"shoot/stab/etc the employEE" (duh!)

Posted by: JDB at February 25, 2004 at 09:05 AM

Methinks that if there was a gang outside the shop, it is the embers of that gang who are guilty of assault, which is threatening not actually hitting.

In any case sacking the bloke is like slamming the door after the horse is bolted: the company will still be laible for his actions as they occured when he was an employee.

Me, I prefer the old rules: if you were in the middle of a criminal action, you forfeit all rights to sue your attacker for tort. it's simple , it's clean and it's morally right. And stuff all the namby pambies who care about the "rights of the criminal".

Posted by: Toryhere at February 25, 2004 at 11:08 AM

Man. If I ever get to Australia, I'm gonna clean up! (Starts making list of things to look out for to take as "souvenirs.")

Posted by: Andrea Harris at February 25, 2004 at 11:26 AM

Unfortunately US stores have the same sorts of policies. I'm not surprised the guy was fired. I don't agree with the policy, but it's how the store covers their ass in the event of a lawsuit.
(A lawsuit by the robber and/or the employee/employee's family in the event of death or injuries to employee.)

IIRC from back in the days when I worked with loads of cash for a large retailer, if we got robbed I was just to hand over the money *PLUS* I had to refuse any comments to the press. They explained that, until the robber was caught *AND* convicted we had to be careful about making comments because we could be sued. I think it had to do with making sure we used "Alleged", etc. until the robber was convicted.

Stores, especially large chains with deep pockets, are very careful to try and limit what they can be sued about. We were never robbed and this was way back in the 70's. So they were sensitive about things even then.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at February 25, 2004 at 05:58 PM