Chamber of Commerce Reacts to California Bill’s New Shoplifting Policy

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As controversy and confusion continue to surround rules around how retail store workers should handle the shoplifting epidemic, the California state senate last week passed SB 553, which would prohibit retailers from requiring staff to confront people trying to steal.

The move comes in response to a rash of incidences where sales associates trying to stop shoplifters has led to escalating situations, sometimes with fatal outcomes.

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It also comes as a new National Retail Federation study finds that shoplifting is becoming an existential threat to brick-and-mortar commerce altogether and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the growing problem of retail crime.

The study found that 55 percent of consumers say they believe retail crime has increased since the start of the Covid pandemic. Among the 5,031 consumers polled, 64 percent say they are concerned about gang-led shoplifting, a number that goes up to 75 percent in urban areas. Three out of four said they have shopped in stores where merchandise has been kept under lock and key, 79 percent believe retail theft affects the cost of items in stores and 51 percent believe the police and courts have been too lenient on shoplifters.

Meanwhile, another retail trade organization, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, hired Khris Hamlin as its new VP of asset protection. Hamlin comes over from VP of loss prevention and logistics operations for Saks Off 5th after holding similar positions with Nordstrom, Belk and Macy’s.

“With experience working in-house at several retailers, Khris knows firsthand the complex and evolving role of asset protection professionals,” said RILA senior executive VP, retail operations Lisa LaBruno. “Among the many challenges retailers face, addressing organized retail crime and workplace safety has never been more critical for retailers and the communities we serve.”

Passed in the senate, the California bill heads to the assembly, where if passed and then signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it would authorize labor unions to seek temporary restraining orders on behalf of employees based on workplace violence or credible threats of violence. It also would prohibit employers from “maintaining policies that require employees to confront active shooters or suspected shoplifters.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), said the bill was motivated by recent tragic incidences at California Walgreens and Home Depot, where a shoplifter at the former and an employee at the latter tried to stop shoplifters, per company policy in each case.

“With growing awareness of workplace violence, California needs smarter guidelines to keep workers safe in the office or on the job site,” Cortese wrote on his website. “Under my SB 553, employers would be prohibited from forcing their workers to confront active shoplifters, and all retail employees would be trained on how to react to active shoplifting. The legislation has other provisions that keep people safe at work. Let’s take every reasonable step to prevent another workplace assault or shooting.”

The California Chamber of Commerce, however, has reservations about the measure.

“California’s employers—both public and private—should be very concerned about SB 553 because it requires all employers to meet workplace violence standards that exceed even those applied to hospitals under present regulations,” the organization’s policy advocate Rob Moutri said in a statement. “Cal/OSHA staff specifically rejected using the hospital standard for all industries, and have spent years working on a general industry draft that makes sense for all of California’s workplaces. Sadly, SB 553 ignored those years of work and applies the hospital standard—with a few additional provisions—to even the smallest employer in the state.”

Meanwhile, the shoplifting scourge rages on. A manager of a Ross “Dress for Less” store in Denver told CBS News Colorado that her store is hit as many as four times a day. Ross has a no-confrontation policy on shoplifters, who were filmed on Tik Tok loading duffel bags full of fragrances.

“We’re not allowed to touch them, follow them, or we are putting our job in jeopardy. We don’t even intimidate them at this point—they just come in here, get what they want, then they leave. We can’t touch them, can’t grab anything from their hands, can’t put ourselves in jeopardy,” the manager told the outlet.

That frustration drove a pair of Lululemon employees in the Atlanta area to film and tell shoplifters to “get out” as they took handfuls of clothing out of the store with them. Both employees were fired for violating Lululemon policies of not confronting and not filming shoplifters at work.

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