When Is Doing Right Not Okay?

This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, an eight-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.

One minute the police were calling Ryan Young a hero. The next minute he was suspended from his job without pay. Young, a meat clerk at the Safeway in Del Rey Oaks (Monterey County), saw a man pushing and kicking his pregnant girlfriend. Young intervened. He asked the man to calm down, but the batterer became irate.  Young believed he had no choice but to stop the assault.

It seemed to be the right thing to do. Or was it? Safeway doesn’t necessarily think so. Did Young break company policy by intervening? Should he have called store security or a manager first? What would have happened if he’d delayed taking action? It’s been weeks now, and Young is without income while Safeway investigates to see if company policy was, indeed, violated. It’s been very stressful for Young and his wife, who is five months pregnant.

While I don’t have the advantage of seeing the security video of the incident, I would tend to side with the Del Rey Oaks police chief who said things could have been much worse for the victim if Young hadn’t stepped in when he did. How many times have we heard about a person or animal in distress being ignored because no one wanted to get involved? Young believed it was his responsibility, as a Safeway employee, to take action in the interest of customer safety – that of the victim as well as other customers.

Predictably, Safeway is getting a lot of unwanted publicity, with some outraged shoppers threatening to boycott Safeway. E-mails and Facebook messages – not just from people in Monterey County, but from across the country – are calling for Young’s reinstatement. The general tone is that Safeway should be proud, not punitive, that one of its employees did the right thing out of instinct rather than second-guess his responsibility as a concerned bystander, if not as a Safeway employee.

Domestic violence is about power and control and is most often confined to places where others won’t see, judge or intervene. For an abuser to choose a public venue to attack as this batterer did there is no telling what he would do and has done behind closed doors to his victim. Outrage is the expected and proper response. Certainly, Safeway has to have employee policies governing customer care and interaction, but should the policies be so strict that an employee can’t make a split-second decision about doing the right thing?

I would hope Safeway would give Ryan Young the benefit of the doubt, reinstate his job, pay him back wages, give him an employee commendation and make a generous contribution to a Monterey County agency that provides shelter and support to domestic violence victims. It would be even better if Safeway instituted an employee education program about the insidious epidemic of domestic violence, which, statistically, affects one out of three of its own employees. What do you think?