Sorry Taco Bell, I know you’d probably rather sweep this one under the rug. But what happened in Cleveland is an important lesson on the balance of compliance and good ole common sense. And by the way, I think you did the right thing.
At 2:45 a.m. on September 6th, two masked robbers stormed a Cleveland Taco Bell demanding more than late night gorditas. They ordered three employees to the ground at gunpoint. Three other employees pulled out their own handguns and opened fire on the suspects, shooting one of them six times and ultimately killing him. Investigators found the dead suspect with a loaded gun in his hand. The other suspect ran off.
I can only imagine the scene at Taco Bell HQ the next day. From a quick Google search, it looks like the company has a no weapons policy in their employee handbook. The bigger problem? Two of the employees who opened fire were 19 years old and the age requirement for concealed carry in Ohio is 21. So not only have the employees seriously violated a company policy, they also committed a potential felony-level offense. But (and this is a very big but), they may well have saved six lives that night.
So what does Taco Bell do? They release a statement saying that they were “shocked” by the shooting and offering counseling to their employees. Kudos Taco Bell, kudos.
Now look, I’m not saying that these employees didn’t make a massive mistake; they defied company policy and broke the law, and they probably ought to be punished for it. But this situation is a perfect example of the importance of having balanced and fact specific discipline.
Issues are rarely black and white, and as Taco Bell digs further into its investigation, it may even find that its own hands are less than sparkly clean. The first question that comes to mind for me, for example, is: Why the heck did (at least) three employees feel compelled to carry guns at work? Were there serious safety concerns at this particular location? Did the company know about the risks and did it do anything to protect its employees? Or did the employees feel that they had no choice but to take measures to protect themselves?
Then, of course, there’s always the flip side of the coin that could cast these “heroes” in a more nefarious light, like: Were the suspects somehow connected to the employees? Was it some type of drug deal or vendetta gone wrong? Was it a set up?
Time will tell what, if any, action Taco Bell will take against these employees, but the takeaway here is about balance. Do not be a discipline robot. Your employees are human, and there is often more to a policy violation (for either better or worse) than meets the eye. Resist the urge to make impulsive terminations and give real consideration to what actually happened. Keep a cool head, gather all the facts and only execute any punishment when you’re confident that it fits the crime.