SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court is taking a closer look at self-defense in the workplace.
The state’s highest court heard oral arguments Wednesday on the issue, which is related to a case of four Layton Wal-Mart loss prevention workers who were fired in 2011 after they disarmed a shoplifter who had a gun.
Lorraine Brown, attorney for the workers, argued that workers’ right to self-defense trumps employers’ interests in regulating the workplace in cases where there was the potential for serious injury or death.
An attorney representing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., told the court the company’s policy was in place to protect the public, and a change in the state’s current at-will work statutes would lead to more lawsuits.
Wal-Mart's internal policy known as “AP-09” directs employees to “disengage” and “withdraw” in incidents involving people who are displaying violent behaviors.
The fired Layton workers have previously said there was nowhere to withdraw to in their case, that the suspected shoplifter rushed one of the employees and pinned him against a door with a gun to his back, saying, “Don’t make me do this.”
The other workers quickly disarmed the man.
Brown argued there should be a narrow exception in state employment statutes to allow workers to defend themselves in potentially deadly situations, regardless of company policies.
The Utah Supreme Court took up the case after the question of self-defense as a matter of public policy was certified by a federal judge, who had dismissed all other parts of the workers’ lawsuit against Wal-Mart.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said Wednesday the corporation's primary concern is safety for its customers and associates.
"We won’t condone behavior where associates take matters into their own hands and act in a manner that jeopardizes the safety of themselves and other people at our stores," said Randy Hargrove, the company's media director. "We appreciate the state supreme court’s consideration of this important matter, and we look forward to the court’s decision."