Labor & Employment

Do Wal-Mart workers have right to self-defense at work? Utah high court considers at-will exception


The Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a case that contends Wal-Mart workers have a right to self-defense at work that trumps the company’s right to fire them.

The plaintiffs are six Wal-Mart workers who were fired for violating policy barring confrontations with armed customers. The policy instructs employees to disengage, withdraw and call police. The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News have stories.

One group of workers was fired after confronting a man who put a laptop down his pants. The workers accompanied the man to the office, where he took out a gun. The workers say the shoplifter shoved one of the workers against the wall, pointed the gun at his back, and said, “Don’t make me do this.” The other workers grabbed the gun and held the shoplifter until police arrived. (The Deseret News says four workers were involved while the Salt Lake Tribune says there were three workers.)

In other incidents, workers were fired for grabbing a running shoplifter who then pulled out a knife and for confronting the angry husband of a Wal-Mart worker.

The lawyer for the workers, Lorraine Brown, argued that the state’s at-will employment law should have an exception allowing workers to defend themselves in cases where they are at risk of serious injury or death.

The lawyer for Wal-Mart, Kathleen Toth, countered that creating a self-defense exception takes the decision away from Wal-Mart and puts it in the hands of the judiciary.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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