On September 18 the Utah Supreme Court ruled that under circumstances where retreat is not possible, business policies requiring employees to disengage or withdraw when under duress cannot be used as grounds for firing an employee who takes action to protect his or her life.
The decision came in a case revolving around a 2011 incident in which “six workers were fired after they fought with a shoplifter who pulled a gun on them inside the Layton Wal-Mart.”
According to Fox 13, when Walmart defended their actions, Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham asked if employers should be able to fire employees “for refusing to take a bullet for the company?”
The court ultimately ruled that, “Utah law reflects a policy favoring the right of self-defense, and that policy is of sufficient magnitude to qualify as a substantial public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, but only under the narrow circumstances where an employee cannot withdraw and faces imminent serious bodily injury.”
The court explained the ruling:
An at-will employee who is fired for exercising [the right of self-defense] may maintain a wrongful termination action, but only if the employee faced an imminent threat of serious bodily harm in circumstances where he or she was unable to withdraw. We so hold because (1) Utah law strongly supports the right of self-defense while recognizing circumstances in which a person may have a duty to withdraw; (2) a policy favoring the right of self-defense is also of broad public importance because it protects human life while deterring crime; and (3) despite the strong interests employers have in maintaining a safe workplace through de-escalation policies, the right of individuals to defend themselves against imminent bodily injury or death is simply more compelling where the employee cannot safely withdraw.
This same scenario has played out again and again in various states across the union as gas station clerks and other employees fight back or shoot back when their life is under threat. For example, a clerk at a Nashua, New Hampshire Shell station was fired after he pulled a gun on an alleged robber who entered the business at 3 a.m. and allegedly drew a knife on the clerk.
The clerk has a concealed carry permit and never had to fire a shot–the would-be robber fled at the sight of the gun–yet Shell defended firing the clerk by describing a weapons ban as part of the effort to keep employees and customers safe.
Walmart likewise stands by their de-escalation policies and is reviewing their options in light of the Utah Supreme Court ruling.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.