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Lululemon holds firm on decision to fire employees who intervened in robbery

Phil Dickinson the senior VP and global creative director of Lululemon, has died.
Lululemon has a zero-tolerance policy for its employees engaging with thieves.

Lululemon has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to its employees intervening in robbery attempts at its stores.

The athleticwear retailer fired two employees at its store in Peachtree Corners, Ga., after an incident during which the employees confronted two masked men who entered the store, took armloads of merchandise from areas near the entry and then ran out. After yelling at the men, the women followed them outside and watched as they got into a getaway car. They reported the robbery to the police. (The men were later apprehended.)

Although Lululemon has faced backlash from some for firing the two employees, one of whom was an assistant manager, CEO Calvin McDonald stands by the decision, which he said broke the company's "Employee Response to External Theft" policy.  The decision comes as the California Senate has passed a bill that would, among other things, prohibit employers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.” It also would require all non-healthcare employers to provide active shooter training to workers. 

“We have a zero-tolerance policy that we train our educators on around engaging during a theft,” McDonald told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”  (Lululemon refers to its store employees as “educators.”) “They're trained to step back, let the theft occur, know that there's technology and there's cameras and we're working with law enforcement."

McDonald said that the policy is in place “because we put the safety of our team, of our guest, front, and center.” 

“It’s only merchandise,” he told CNBC. 

Retailers are on edge about the rising tide of retail crime.

“We’ve had instances, and we’ve seen in other retailers instances, where employees step in and are hurt or worse, killed,” McDonald told CNBC.

Read Hayes, criminologist at the University of Florida and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, told CNN “these situations always are a delicate balance.”

You’re dealing with potentially very aggressive and violent people committing these crimes,” he said in the CNN report. “Retailers have seen employees lose their lives when they’ve tried to intervene.”

In a statement to CNN, Lululemon reiterated its “absolute zero-tolerance policy” for “engaging with guests in a way that could put themselves, or others in harm’s way.”

 “The two employees at our Peachtree Corners location in Georgia were not terminated for calling the police…. Employees are able and instructed to call 911 when needed, and that was not the cause of termination,” the statement said.

 “The employees risked putting themselves and others “in harm’s way,” noted Lululemon.

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