I’ve asked many times on Ethics Alarms why so many Americans stand by, inert and passive, when a fellow citizen is in peril. Maybe the stunning ethics blindness exhibited by Safeway in a recent incident is part of the answer.
Ryan Young, who works in the meat department of a Safeway grocery store in Del Rey Oaks, California, was on the job when he witnessed a man beating a pregnant woman, apparently his girlfriend. Young told the man to stop, but he continued with his assault, shoving and kicking the her. Young jumped over his counter, pushed him away, and ended the attack.
His reward was to be suspended without pay. Safeway has a policy that directs employees to summon security personnel and not to personally intervene when they see a crime or fight in progress. Even though police confirm that Young may have saved the woman and her unborn child from serious injury, the company is insisting that Young’s conduct warranted discipline, not praise.
Safeway is wrong. Its policy is sensible, and protects the store from lawsuits while discouraging employees from playing hero when they don’t have the experience or ability to do so, endangering themselves or third parties, and making a bad situation worse. Nonetheless, all employees, like all human beings, need to be prepared to act independently when policies don’t make sense, and when someone is in obvious and immediate danger. A pregnant women being beaten and kicked doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for responders, for every second endangers her health and the life of her child. A witness in a position to stop the attack should do so, if he believes that he can. It is responsible and courageous, and the last thing he should bethinking about is a store policy that doesn’t apply to the current emergency.
Praising Young and rewarding him for representing Safeway nobly and well would not require that Safeway reject its policy, only that the company acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule, and Young properly identified the parking lot incident as one of them. Suspending him, however, appears as insensitive as it is stupid, and stands as an apparent rejection of initiative, heroism, and the value of life over legal risks. That is how much of the public is seeing it too, with an online petition calling for Young’s reinstatement obtaining over 171,000 signatures, and a flood of criticism being directed at Safeway via Twitter and the company’s Facebook page.
The culture is correct to see Young as the hero here and Safeway as a villain, encouraging anti-social values over altruistic ones. This is corporate group-think at its worst, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that the company will eventually have to reverse itself, because heroes aren’t supposed to be punished for saving pregnant women. To the contrary, executives are supposed to be fired for making it look like their company doesn’t care about pregnant women.
UPDATE: As we all expected, Safeway reinstated Ryan after “conversations” with union reps, and gave him back pay. For good measure, the company also released an embarrassingly idiotic statement, saying, “As we have said from the outset, Mr. Young’s decision to intervene on behalf of one of our customers was commendable Whatever the circumstances, a physical confrontation between an employee and a customer is something we must take very seriously and examine very carefully. We appreciate the customers who took time to share their opinions about this incident, and we appreciate their patience as we completed the process.”
Suuure, Safeway, we buy that. So let’s see: Safeway’s reaction to commendable performance by employees is to suspend them? Is that what we are to glean from this? No? You suspend commendable employees before you examine what they did “very carefully?” Is that more accurate?
Wait! Wait! Safeway! Someone dropped out the “We’re so sorry!” line out of your release! Where should we put it?
Facts: Business Insider
Graphic: Allison’s World
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