Guns at Work: Should You Be Able to Defend Yourself?

Last Updated Sep 9, 2011 10:06 AM EDT

Walgreens' fired Pharmacist Jeremy Hoven because he saved the lives of his coworkers, as well as his own life.

Okay, technically, according to current court procedures, Walgreens terminated him because he violated a policy against escalation. Many, many companies have these policies. I know when I worked for a credit union we had a policy of giving robbers whatever they wanted, under the assumption that they would leave once they had the money and no one's life was worth the measly amount of money most banks keep on hand.

Hovens is arguing that he acted in self defense and the defense of others, and he has the right to do so, regardless of a company policy. Video exists of the event and is now available. A physician who blogs under the name "Dr. Whitecoat" comments on the video as follows:
Video posted on the mlive.com site shows two hooded thugs running into the store with guns. They took one or two employees hostage and, when they saw the pharmacist behind the counter, one jumped over the counter to presumably take the pharmacist hostage, too. The robber tried to shoot, but his gun jammed.

That's when pharmacist Jeremy Hoven whipped out his own handgun and shot back.

The robbers ran away with their tails between their legs.
Now, to be honest, I don't see the gun jamming, but I don't pretend to know anything about guns. What I do see is darn scary and everybody in that pharmacy had reason to believe their lives were in danger. The would be robbers didn't calmly walk to the counter and pass a note, like robbers do in movies. They had already taken one person hostage and leaping over the counter shows that they aren't content to have the pharmacist put their drugs of choice in nice little bottles with childproof caps and leave.

In theory, I support non-escalation rules. Whatever is stolen will not be of more financial value than the cost to a company if an employee or customer is accidentally killed or injured due to the escalation. But, in the past, escalation has been things like chasing the robber out of the store and tackling him. That's not self defense.

But should a company be able to demand that you sacrifice your own life in deference to the policy? That, I have to oppose. If I had been in that Walgreens I would have felt my life was in danger and thoughts of complying with a company policy would have not even crossed my mind. I'm sure it didn't cross Hoven's mind either.

To be clear, this isn't a political issue, but a policy one. Government is restricted by the 2nd amendment but companies are not. There are clear precedents that allow private entities to restrict weapons. Interestingly, though, it's not clear if Walgreens had a no weapons policy or not. (If someone knows, please let us know.)

Should a company fire an employee for acting in self defense when it violates company policy? Is there a specific level of threat that has to be met before you would not punish an employee for fighting back? What is that level? What policy would you set if you were the boss for a business that has a high risk of robbery?

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Photo by Steve Z, Flickr cc 2.0

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