Walmart Employee Fired Because of His Beliefs – UPDATE!
July 16, 2011 was Roger Barr’s 60th birthday. It was also the day he found out that his employer — Walmart — has a policy that dictates what an employee can’t do on their free time, away from work.
Barr worked part-time as a “People Greeter” for the Walmart in Galax, Virginia. This highly religious community is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not far from the North Carolina border. It is also an area that is experiencing high unemployment.
He had only been working there for about a year. He scored very high at his yearly performance review. “The co-manager told me that in one category that I was the first associate that he had ever rated that high,” Roger said in an email.
It was obvious to fellow employees and customers that he was good at, and loved his job. After 40 years of working in manufacturing jobs, he said he’d finally found a job he enjoyed.
That Saturday, Barr clocked in for work at 6PM. Twenty minutes later, he was summoned by management to an office at the front of the store, where a Shift Manager and Asset Protection Coordinator were waiting. “I asked what was going on and the APC told me there had been a complaint lodged against me at Corporate and I was suspended immediately.”
Store management said they didn’t know what the complaint was about, but that he must leave the store immediately. He wasn’t even allowed to do some shopping before he left the store, nor was he allowed to clock out.
The following Monday, July 18, he received a phone call asking him to come in for a meeting with management. He was escorted to an office in the back of the store, where he met with the Store Manager and APC. They explained that a customer had written a letter to the President of Walmart about Barr’s Facebook posts. They read the letter to him.
“In the letter she stated that she was afraid to shop at our store because of me and my posts on old people, handicapped people and people with several children.” Barr keeps his Facebook profile open to the public, because he does not believe in censorship. He was not told who made the complaint, nor how the complainant came to view his profile, but he suspects that it was a friend of a friend who had commented on his postings. At the time, Barr had a staggering 1700 people on his friend list!
The Facebook post in question was made by Barr on June 6, 2011. It was a fairly simple status update:
“Better health care means that disabled and chronically ill people live longer.” … Reader’s Digest … But is that a good thing?
The conversation erupted into a debate of sorts, with several people agreeing with Barr, and several people disagreeing with him and other commenters.
Roger had a special needs sister, and his unique views are because of his experiences with her, and how she was treated. “[She was] the last of 10 children. She was premature and nearly died as a baby. She never matured mentally or physically past the age of 10. At that time we did not use the term ‘special needs child’ but that dreaded word ‘retarded’. She was a very happy child though and loved other children. When she started school she was immediately singled out and picked on by the other kids. The older kids were even worse. Although she did learn to read and write and do some arithmetic she never got past the 7th grade. The school system allowed her to stay in school until she turned 18 and she basically helped out as a non-paid aide. After she turned 18 they would no longer let her go to school. She died at the age of 22 in 1975 because her heart could longer support her body.” Barr explains. He feels that there is a difference between “living” and “simply existing”, and that those who are “simply existing” are “simply taking up space” if they’re not able to contribute anything to themselves or society.
How any of this should make someone afraid to shop at Walmart will remain a mystery. Barr made no threats against anyone, nor did he threaten any group of people. He candidly expressed his opinion. Roger, an outspoken atheist, also made a remark about there being no such thing as a soul, which didn’t sit well with a few of those who commented on this post.
One of the people who commented — a co-worker and friend of a friend — said she couldn’t wait for the day that something bad happened to Roger, and that she hoped she would be able to witness his “punishment”.
Another person threatened, “I hope you are lucky enough to be treated as you treat others, with no compassion or concern. I might just come to Walmart and see you sometime!”
Remember, these comments are also open and viewable to the general public, since Roger’s profile is open to the public.
At the meeting on July 18, Barr was instructed to write a statement to Corporate, explaining why he wrote the post, and that he was not a danger to anyone. The manager told Barr that his statement should satisfy Corporate, and that as far as he was concerned, the issue was settled. Barr was allowed to clock in and work his scheduled shift. His manager informed him later that evening that Corporate wasn’t happy about the way things were handled, but he also said that Roger should go back to work, and he’d let him know if anything else came up.
Barr finished his shift that Monday, worked his regular shift on Wednesday, and went to work again on Thursday. However, at around 1:30PM on Thursday, Barr was again summoned by management, and told he was again suspended, and would have to leave the store. This time, he was allowed to clock out and purchase a few items before going back home.
Upon arriving home, there was a message on his phone from the Store Manager. He called, and the Store Manager said that Barr was again banned from the store, but not to worry too much about the situation, that he was sure it would be straightened out. The Store Manager said he’d be back in touch with Barr after some paperwork had been completed.
On July 27, he was again summoned for a meeting, this time with two women from Walmart’s corporate office. “They told me that in posting what I had posted on Facebook and causing the complaint to be lodged against me that I had violated the social media guidelines policy in that it had resulted in an adverse effect on the company,” Barr said.
Barr explained to them that he had not known there was a policy regarding social media. They told him that it was on the WIRE (Walmart’s computer system for employees). Many Walmart employees are unaware that there is a policy, as it’s not something that was publicized since its inception about a year ago. When he told them that he didn’t even know how to access the WIRE, they lectured that he could have asked someone for help.
The only way to access the WIRE is on the computers at Walmart, and only while you are on the clock. It’s against company policy to do any job related functions during your breaks, so the time available to access the WIRE is very limited. Another major obstacle for employees is that company policies are not allowed to leave the building; an employee can not print out the 40 page social media and ethics policies (or the entire list of policies, which is over 300 pages!) to bring home and read at their leisure. This is especially disadvantageous for employees like People Greeters and Cashiers, who are stuck at their post for their entire shift. For them it’s only possible to access the WIRE immediately after clocking in, or before clocking out. Unfortunately, Walmart has also been cracking down on over-time, so an employee risks getting coached (an official reprimand, which can lead to termination) if they go over their scheduled shift time.
The women from Corporate had copies of his posts, and asked him to once again write a statement on a prepared form, and to sign it. He was once again sent home, and told that he should hear from them in a day or two, after they were done investigating the situation.
At no point to date has he received a copy of anything he’d read or signed. The social media policy was read to him, but he did not read it himself, nor was he asked to sign anything saying that he saw and/or agreed to any policy.
On August 1, Barr was again summoned for a meeting. It would be his last. He was fired that day. The official reason: Violation of Social Media Policy and Harassment Policy.
The good news is he’s not banned from the store any more! However, he doubts he will ever shop at Walmart again.
Roger has an army of friends who have supported him through this, and will continue to support him by boycotting Walmart. There is quite the social networking movement happening on his Facebook page, and on the pages of his friends.
In the words of Roger Barr – “Time was that an employee was judged by his on-the-clock job performance! Now it seems companies want to control them full time and judge them by their off-the-clock performance also. Shouldn’t they also pay them that time too? A company, no matter how big, should not be able to dictate what you say and do off the clock unless you have signed a morals contract.”
And that, folks, is the burning question. Should a company be allowed to control what an employee does on his or her free time?
Another question to ponder: how exactly did this have an “adverse effect on the company”? The complainant didn’t have a beef with Walmart, they had a problem with the personal beliefs of an employee. Aren’t the personal beliefs of an employee covered under the Federal EEOC rules?
One would think that the publicity generated from this incident will have a much greater adverse effect on the company!
Please voice your opinion in the comments. How do you think Walmart should have handled this? Do you think Roger should have done anything differently? What would you do, if you were in his shoes?
On Thursday, August 11, 2011, Barr was interviewed by his local television station.
The video of that interview can be seen by clicking here.
The follow up video, a conversation with a lawyer, can be seen by clicking here.
A write up of the story, with a section for comments.
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