Walmart’s Latest Employee-Relations Debacle Speaks to the Need for Proactive Communications Policies


A Kemptville, Ontario, Walmart employee was fired this week after urging a customer to not leave his dog in his car while he shopped. The story quickly grew legs and amounts to yet another PR black eye for the company. 

Walmart had enjoyed a wave of decent PR for a while, but now it finds itself back in a defensive posture–both because of this incident and also for other employee-relations horror stories that play to a now-familiar narrative. In fact, it’s hard to stay on top of all the negative stories about the big-box retailer. However, this particular story might have been avoided had the company weighed its options more carefully and recognized the value of quality employee-relations.

The lesson for PR pros is to think ahead. That may seem to be a simple notion, but when you dive into Walmart’s handling of the situation, it seems clear that management responded in a knee-jerk fashion.

The employee admits that she directly addressed the customer who allegedly left his dog in the car. She also indicates that the customer responded with anger and claimed that he would not shop at the store again. Later that day the she was called into her manager’s office and told that such issues should be taken up with him directly. Unsatisfied with this solution, she instead declared that the next time she would contact the police. Following that statement, she alleges, she was terminated.

The manager was correct to ask his employee to openly communicate troublesome situations with management, and to avoid confronting the company’s stakeholders directly. Where he arguably went wrong was in terminating an employee who was acting on a humane impulse—rather than exploring alternative solutions or council from human resources. Not only that, but the manager’s decision to let his employee go helps reaffirm a popular narrative that Walmart cares considerably more about its bottom line than its employees.

Walmart (and others) should consider ahead of time how actions can impact reputation. And that goes for a company's entire personnel—from a store greeter all the way up to the CEO.

Discover "7 Essential Skills Communicators Will Need to Thrive in 2014 and Beyond" at PR News’ Next Practices Conference on August 6 in San Francisco.

Follow Caysey Welton: @CayseyW




4 Comments

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About Caysey Welton

Caysey Welton is Associate Editor at PR News and Folio: Magazine. He spent more than a decade as a chef and restaurant professional before switching tracks to pursue his passion for media and communications. Caysey has a deep interest in converging media landscapes and ecosystem disruptors, public relations and crisis communications. He holds a BS in Media, Culture and Communications from New York University.



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  • JAS

    Walmart is one of the most successful businesses on earth and we are to see this as a controversy? Please. $50 says the employee was some kind of animal rights activist who just wouldn’t leave it alone. The boss said next time tell me rather than confront the customer; a reasonable approach, if you ask me. There is no controversy here other than what the media wants to make of it, and that, Walmart cannot control.

    • Nsa Iswatching

      Hey Jasmine… They are a pretty messed up company.. I have been issued a right to sue letter from the EEOC, because I was wrongfully terminated from one of Walmart’s subsidiary companies. I was there a year and a half. 8 months of perfect performance reviews and a promotion, until I reported a coworker for openly joking about hanging black people. Add to that the fact I went over my bosses head and suggested a way the company could save $6 million a year. I was retaliated against by certain employees and my immediate supervisor. I was falsely accused of sexual harassment, which was proven by surveillance footage, and then I was assaulted by another employee. I was written up for things that happened on my day off, because my supervisor had some issues with me and was friends with the others in my department. They refused multiple requests for my employee records, which are protected information to disclose to an employee/ex employee. They also refused to hand over the surveillance tapes to the police, which was noted on the police report. Had I stolen anything there, they would have used the surveillance system to convict me of retail fraud. They transferred my immediate supervisor, but corporate has been withholding information from the EEOC and an investigator verified that. The EEOC has not done all they could do in this matter, because they essentially ask Walmart for certain documents or items and all Walmart has to say is “We don’t have those” or “They don’t exist”.. The EEOC should have gotten a court order to seize all my records, the assault report, and their attempt to fight my unemployment which was overturned in my favor. They are a horrible company, ran by snakes and thieves. They will lie and break any law they can get away with. Good thing I kept copies of all my emails about every incident. Don’t shop there. They just got fined $181 million for dumping toxic waste in California. Horrible company, ran by cutthroat horrible people.!

    • Candies

      Their success does not mean that they are ethically correct in the way they treat their employees.

  • Nsa Iswatching

    I have been issued a right to sue letter from the EEOC, because I was wrongfully terminated from one of Walmart’s subsidiary companies. I was there a year and a half. 8 months of perfect performance reviews and a promotion, until I reported a coworker for openly joking about hanging black people. Add to that the fact I went over my bosses head and suggested a way the company could save $6 million a year. I was retaliated against by certain employees and my immediate supervisor. I was falsely accused of sexual harassment, which was proven by surveillance footage, and then I was assaulted by another employee. I was written up for things that happened on my day off, because my supervisor had some issues with me and was friends with the others in my department. They refused multiple requests for my employee records, which are protected information to disclose to an employee/ex employee. They also refused to hand over the surveillance tapes to the police, which was noted on the police report. Had I stolen anything there, they would have used the surveillance system to convict me of retail fraud. They transferred my immediate supervisor, but corporate has been withholding information from the EEOC and an investigator verified that. The EEOC has not done all they could do in this matter, because they essentially ask Walmart for certain documents or items and all Walmart has to say is “We don’t have those” or “They don’t exist”.. The EEOC should have gotten a court order to seize all my records, the assault report, and their attempt to fight my unemployment which was overturned in my favor. They are a horrible company, ran by snakes and thieves. They will lie and break any law they can get away with. Good thing I kept copies of all my emails about every incident. Don’t shop there. They just got fined $181 million for dumping toxic waste in California. Horrible company, ran by cutthroat horrible people.!