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McCULLOUGH: Corporate policies steal honor, punish integrity, reward mischief

Corporate America is slowly teaching us that it doesn't pay to care anymore.

In the latest in a string of nonsense firings over the past few years, a 69-year-old Wal-Mart greeter in Florida was terminated recently for having the nerve to try to write down the tag number of an alleged shoplifter and then defending himself when the man took a swing at him.

According to the police, Ed Bauman did nothing wrong the day after Christmas when he punched back at a shoplifting suspect who was angered by Bauman's attempt to stop him. But according to Wal-Mart — whose law apparently supersedes Florida's — Bauman made an unforgivable error in trying to protect the megastore's merchandise — and himself.

The suspect was apprehended and charged with felony battery. The police said Bauman was within his rights to defend himself. The merchandise was recovered.

Wal-Mart then fired him.

If you're like me, you read that and then you say, "Huh?"

It's a worrisome trend. Another Wal-Mart employee — this one an actual security guard — was fired recently after struggling with a knife-wielding shoplifter. Several other big-box and specialty retailers have added to the list of conscientious employees who are fired for doing their job.

The same reason is always given: they were fired for touching "customers."

When did shoplifters and guys with knives become "customers?" The answer is they didn't. But in corporate America, the bean counters would rather let a slimeball walk out the front door with $50 worth of imported Chinese junk than to pay to defend themselves against a lawsuit from the same slimeball if he happens to get a little bloody while trying to steal something. And they don't have to worry about any wrongful termination lawsuits because it's right there in black and white in company policy: Don't ever touch the "customers."

But, as usual, corporate America talks out of both sides of its mouth. It can't actually tell these employees, "Hey, just let 'em walk out with the stuff. It's cheaper than a lawsuit." At the same time, they don't want people carrying off the whole store. Otherwise why does the receipt Nazi stop me every time I try to leave one of these stores?

You know the receipt Nazi. They're armed with a highlighter and a look that stops you in your tracks. How dare you leave this store through these loss-prevention detectors with merchandise you paid for without letting us put a yellow streak on your receipt — that's what the receipt Nazi's look says.

And the reason for that look? Because no matter what these superdupermegastores say, you are not a customer. You are a criminal that happens to shop there. They want you to come in and spend money, but they assume that you will try to add to your bargains by lifting a few things for free.

To that end, they hire people like security guards and receipt Nazis to stop you. Then, when someone actually steals something and those people try to stop them, Superdupermegacorp. fires the employee, thus making sure that honor and integrity also walk off with whatever the creep stole.

So you know what? The next time the receipt Nazi tries to stop me on the way out of the store with my lawfully purchased, paid-in-full merchandise I'm just going to walk on by. Sorry pal. Highlight something else. What are they going to do — tackle me and lose their job?

Bu, bu, but you won't be able to return it without the little yellow stripe!

Yeah? Well guess what. I won't be able to return it anyway because they assume it's stolen then, too. And after giving them my Social Security number and a copy of my driver's license, going through the background check and donating a DNA sample, I don't really care about getting my $4.27 back anyway.

I guess it's kind of the same attitude the corporations have when it comes to letting employees do the right thing.

It's just not worth it.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.