Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Can AutoZone Fire Its Employee for Stopping an Armed Robbery?

An AutoZone in Virginia was held up by a man who police say is responsible for 30 robberies in the area.  He came in as the store manager and an associate, Devin McClean, were closing the store. 

The assailant put McClean in a restroom, and then took the manager to the safe.  He was armed with a handgun. 

McClean was able to exit out a side door of the building.  He ran to his car, pulled out his Glock and ran back into the store.  McClean pointed the gun at the assailant and told him to freeze and drop the weapon.  The assailant took off.  McClean stopped the robbery and potentially saved the manager from physical harm or death. 

A couple days later AutoZone fired McClean for bringing a gun into a store.  It's a "zero-tolerance" policy the company maintains.  Of course, most who hear the story think the policy is a 100 percent stupid policy and that AutoZone should hail McClean as a hero rather than a rule-breaker. 

What if this had happened in California?  Could AutoZone fire an employee for stopping an armed robbery?  I think the answer is probably yes. 

I assume AutoZone does not enter into employment contracts with its associates.  Thus, a termination would not breach a contract.  Thus, the only question is whether firing the employee violates public policy. 

California law prevents an employer from retaliating against an employee for making a complaint of unsafe working conditions.  But this is not the situation with AutoZone.  In essence, AutoZone fired McClean for doing something good, heroic and against company rules. 

The law allows an employer to fire an employee for a stupid reason, or for no reason at all.  An employer is permitted to make errors in judgment and to exercise discretion, so long as public policy is not jeopardized. 

Mr. McClean would probably be out of a job in California without a lawsuit.  He could probably get unemployment benefits.  And I suspect another employer would quickly hire him.  But he probably would not have a viable lawsuit against AutoZone. 

So much for justice. 

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