Walmart Says Employees Chose To Remain In Store During Flood

Last week, we reported the story of more than two dozen Walmart who became trapped inside an Ames, Iowa, store by rising flood waters. At the time, it was unclear as to just why the workers were in the store — authorities had warned managers of the impending flood the night before — but now Walmart says it was the employees’ choice to stay.

According to Walmart, when managers were given the heads-up about the possibility of a flood, they were given no reason to believe the store would have to be closed. Management then told the employees they could stay or go home if they wished.

“Nobody was asked to stay or forced to stay at any point in time,” said a rep for the retail chain. “This is something for us that is standard operating procedure within our environment. We tell our store managers all the time that safety comes first for our associates and our customers. That is what occurred there.”

The company rep says the workers “were safer there than trying to get on the road and go off on their own… That would have been more dangerous at that point.”

It wasn’t until early the next morning that employees were told by officials that they needed to evacuate. Unfortunately, the flood waters were a little too high for them to make the trek home.

A rep for the city of Ames admits that, while the employees were safely sheltering in place, it probably wasn’t the wisest idea to stay there:

But had they not been taken out of the store, they would not have been able to leave the store. So they might not have been asked to get out, but they could still be there [a day later] if they hadn’t left.

Wal-Mart: Workers had chosen to remain at Ames store that flooded [DesMoinesRegister.com]

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  1. Bort says:

    i believe in unicorns…

  2. Angus99 says:

    “But had they not been taken out of the store, they would not have been able to leave the store. So they might not have been asked to get out, but they could still be there [a day later] if they hadn’t left.”

    Okay, I’ve read that like twenty times and now I can’t remember who I am anymore.

    • Rachacha says:

      Yeah Same here. I have tried to disect the statement and have failed every time. This is the closest that I could come.

      “But had they not been taken out of the store, they would not have been able to leave the store”
      TRANSLATION: If they had not been rescued by authorities, they would have been trapped inside the store.
      “So they might not have been asked to get out, but they could still be there [a day later] if they hadn’t left.”
      TRANSLATION: [Picking up banjo] I am my cousin’s uncle’s first born sister of my mother’s sister’s dog.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Dammit, stop speaking gibberish. I just want my multigrain bagel.

    • Cyniconvention says:

      It’s the second part that just throws a wrench in my brain.

    • coren says:

      I think it means

      If they weren’t rescued, they would still be stuck there. So they might not have been asked to leave and yet could still be stuck there (because it was impossible to leave otherwise).

      It’s more or less what they meant, but it still doesn’t make sense.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “…when managers were given the heads-up about the possibility of a flood, they were given no reason to believe the store would have to be closed. “

    So it wasn’t the store managers’ fault, it was the district or regional managers’ fault. He told them there was a flood, but that the store would stay open.

    Classy!

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Also”

      “Nobody was asked to stay or forced to stay at any point in time,” said a rep for the retail chain.

      Threating your job if you leave is not forcing someone to stay, just adding incentive to.

      • DanRydell says:

        Who says their jobs were threatened? I think it’s more likely that they just didn’t want to give up the hours of pay they’d receive if they stayed. When you’re poor and need money you’re willing to some pretty stupid things for insignificant amounts of money.

        • Shadowfax says:

          Both. In retail, if you just walk off the job before your shift is over, for any reason whatsoever, you’re very likely to get fired. Back in my college days when I worked at a hardware chain which shall remain nameless, I saw a guy get fired for leaving early without permission because his wife was having a baby. Retail companies know that they can replace any of their employees with any of hundreds of willing workers, and so they generally set things up in a very draconian way.

  4. hennese says:

    Yeah right Wal-Mart. You aren’t exaxtly known for letting employees off just for the ‘heck’ of it. Didn’t you used to LOCK YOUR EMPLOYEES inside stores at night, with doors padlocked shut, so they would stay and clean/restock? I don’t buy it –

    • domcolosi says:

      exaxtly?

    • Charmander says:

      I work in a store where they “lock the employees in after hours.”

      Of course, that’s not entirely accurate. The graveyard employees can leave the store – the exit doors can and do open. It would be in violation of all fire codes everywhere to truly lock employees in without access to an exit.

      The reason the doors are locked from the outside, is, obviously to prevent unauthorized people from entering while the store is closed for business.

      • haggis for the soul says:

        That doesn’t make sense to me. What makes sense to me would be to lock the doors from the inside to keep outsiders out. Locking doors from the outside makes it seem like they’re trying to keep the insiders in.

        • Charmander says:

          Oops, they’re not locked from the outside, my mistake.

          They open so you can exit when you are inside, but nobody unless you are a employee with a card to swipe, can enter from the outside.

    • Coalpepper says:

      Depends on where you are, i’ve never seen it here in Phoenix, but i remember chatting with a friend online who’d worked in a WalMart that did that. What most people don’t realize is that in a lot of ways, behind the scenes each Walmart can operate quite a bit different, the company is more concerned with results, than how the stores accomplish that.

      As to this story, i’m sure they told the employees they didn’t have to work, or they could leave if they wanted to. Of course they’d be docked, and its not like WalMart pays employees well, and they’d probably get written up for it. Yep, of course they could leave… And probably expect to need a new job. That sounds fair.

  5. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Sounds like any workplace to me.

    When we had some blizzards up North, I had employers that would say, “You can go if you want” but some people didn’t care to leave and figured they’d ride it out.

    I rememer during a bad snow storm, my ex and I decided to go food shopping because we figured no one would be there. Plus we had a 4WD. We saw maybe 4 employees. Place was dead.

    Same with the area of Florida I lived in. With “hurricanes” warnings, stores never shut down. That’s because the last 7 million hurricanes never actually hit the area like everyone thought they would.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      typos.

      ah, whatever

    • jessjj347 says:

      Yeah but with Walmart it’s different, because the employees who left probably risked losing their jobs.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      That’s also how my past employers and current one handle it. They couldn’t close our office on the chance of adverse weather, because there’s always a severe weather warning going on — our office would be shut down for 1/3rd of the year if they did.

      People are typically given the option of leaving but hourly staff have to use their sick or vacation time to do so. I usually just ride the bad weather out and go home late if snow hits right at quitting time. We did have a severe blizzard several years ago where I lost power for about 10 days in my house. It was before I had kids or was married, so I just lived in my office during that period since my office was on a commercial electric grid that never went down.

    • tbax929 says:

      I was thinking the same thing. If this were any company other than Walmart, I doubt anyone would care.

    • graylits says:

      All I know is if there’s a major disaster here, I’d rather be stuck at my workplace then stuck at home. They have generators, food/water provisions, and cots.

      At home, once the power goes out, the heat goes out, and no one will be coming around to help me there.

  6. Platypi {Redacted} says:

    Hmmm, so they weren’t in danger of anything other than being trapped in a Walmart for a day or two? I mean, that sucks a little, but I can think of worse places to be stuck. At least there, you have access to food, water, clothes, and even board games and hunting equipment if you get bored.

    • MarkSweat says:

      Hunting equipment? Is the sporting goods section going to try and bag a fashion department employee?

  7. Shappie says:

    …and how many employees stayed because they thought their jobs would be on the line if they actually left?

  8. Erika'sPowerMinute says:

    Sounds like store management lacked decisiveness on this one. My husband’s a retail manager; local and district policy severe weather policy is always, 1. secure the site (batten down the hatches); and 2. send all personnel home well in advance of their safe travel being compromised. Duh. Sometimes this results in lost sales if it’s a false alarm, but safety comes first. I would bet cash money that the WM store manager was petrified to close the store/send home employees in case the flood didn’t materialize and thus get reamed by district management.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      “2. send all personnel home well in advance of their safe travel being compromised.”

      I think that would be the hard part, especially in a large organization. Where I live, there’s pretty much a constant “severe winter weather advisory” from Dec – Feb. In the summer, there are flash flood and thunderstorm advisories a few times a week.

      I guess one of the perks of working with less than 20 people is that our boss can just leave it to the individual to decide if he or she needs to go home.

  9. mantari says:

    Translation: We may have used every possible means of coercion, including threatening their jobs, to make them remain. But we didn’t actually lock them inside against their will. We twisted their arm until they relented, so they willingly chose to stay, against their personal wishes and better judgment.

  10. scratchie says:

    I’m sure they had the option to leave, assuming they could live without that day’s paycheck that week…

  11. AllanG54 says:

    So what’s the big deal. The store didn’t flood, there was plenty of food and bathroom facilities and probably battery backup for the lighting if the power had gone out. Hell, I’m sure in the sporting goods department there were a few life vests and maybe an inflatable raft. Oh, and I’m sure their choice was put to them something in the vein of, “you can stay or…..you can go home and not have a job when you come back.”

    • physics2010 says:

      Completely agree. Food, ammunition, first aid, camping, flotation devices and enough duct tape to build a boat. Sounds like the right place to be.

  12. Wang_Chung_Tonight says:

    isn’t this ithe premise of saw XCI?

  13. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    you stay, you get paid.

  14. Clyde Barrow says:

    LOL,,so there are little over six billion people on this planet, but hey, this Wal-Mart just happens to have a tiny group of them that, doggone it, is going to stay on the store’s premises during a storm to sacrifice their lives for their bosses. LOL.

    Gee, where did you manage to find such great employee’s Wal-Mart management?

  15. Nighthawke says:

    LIARS!

    I call shenanigans on their politicking. This is but a half-truth. I will bet that they were told to stay. Then afterward, strong-armed to say that they chose to stay or lose their jobs. Lots of luck in trying to weasel your way out of this one Bentonville.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Given that the local official uses the correct industry term of “Shelter in place”, it is more than likely correct. The local officials dropped the ball.

  16. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    As someone who has prepared a safety action plan for a multi-national Property Managment Company, shelter-in-place is in almost every emergency response guide which are tailored to each location. They also include “safe haven” areas away from windows and structurally sound that employees can stay in to avoid injury from flying debris.

    That said, the local authorities usually have the say as to when it needs to change from a SIP to a evacuation, as they have more information than any manager at a company. In this case, the local authorities took too long to give them that order. From what I have read, this was a flood which hasn’t had levels like it seen in over 15 years, which makes sense that the officials weren’t used to dealing with the conditions and didn’t have the experience to forsee what could be coming.

  17. c!tizen says:

    Store management to employees: “Anyone with a green card, benefits, and access to a lawyer can go home, everyone else can purchase a life vest in sporting goods.”

  18. longleggs1979 says:

    “Nobody was asked to stay or forced to stay” “we were told we could go home if we wished”!!
    I was there…….That’s not true. None of the managers told us that we could go home if we so desired to…….if you go home early you get a point against you for attendance. If that was the case most of us would have chosen to go home!! The water was already over the end of the lot when we came to work that night and we had to move our cars 4-5 times through out the night!! Managerment didn’t communicate anything with us about what to expect or leaving….we just went on guessing. We started to “sand-bag” the exits early on but we still remained open…..by 1 am it was too late and we couldn’t leave even if we wanted to. Our Co-mgr should have been on her toes and we never should have gotten stuck on Wal-Mart Island!!

    • Spin359 says:

      you need to find a lawyer…. there should be a line forming now

    • BrazDane says:

      I believe you! I also live in Ames and have had to deal with store management on issues of customer service. They absolutely don’t give a sh*t and will say anything to avoid losing money. Corporate Walmart’s statement is exactly what we could expect and is their first line of defense against criticism and a possible lawsuit. I mean, come on – what did people expect them to reply to this issue? “Sure, we are greedy bastards and compromised employee safety because that is pretty much company policy” ??!!!
      I often find the staff in this Walmart polite and friendly, but the management, in my personal experience, is a bunch of arrogant idiots!

  19. brianisthegreatest says:

    I don’t need to stay at my job. I can leave if I want. If I want to lose my job that is. So, I guess I am willfully here.

  20. suez says:

    I suspect Walmart did more of the passive-aggressive thing like my firm did during the Snowpocalyse this year… Sure, you can stay home where it’s safe, but you’ll have to take a vacation day or day without pay. You don’t have a vacation day to spare or can’t afford to miss a day of work? Tough luck, see you at the office! Whoops, I won’t actually be there because I can telecommute! Sucks to be you!

  21. Scuba Steve says:

    They probably would have been fired if they didn’t stay.

  22. sopmodm14 says:

    i guess in hindsight, it was better for walmart to lockdown the building if it was in the best interest and safety of all inside

    if there every was a zombie apocalypse, i’d be barricaded in a walmart !

  23. jbandsma says:

    Ever read the rules for getting suspended or fired from Wal-Mart? Leaving before your shift is over is one of them. Having a dying spouse and wanting to be there is another.

    As for Wal-Mart’s assertion that the employees wanted to stay? That’s a big bunch of what’s deposited from the south-bound end of a north-bound male bovine.

  24. Big Mama Pain says:

    Sounds like exactly what I thought from the original article. They just didn’t really know what was going on and waited until it was too late to leave. Having a place like Walmart stay open as long as possible before a natural disaster is important so that people in town can stock up on emergency supplies. I wonder what the whole town’s outrage would have been if Walmart had closed.

  25. alienaa says:

    If this was a super-walmart, sheltering in place seems to make sense. There is a lot of food, clean water, even medical supplies.

  26. Pax says:

    “According to Walmart, when managers were given the heads-up about the possibility of a flood, they were given no reason to believe the store would have to be closed. Management then told the employees they could stay or go home if they wished.”

    Uh-huh. They were told they could stay (and still get paid), or go home (after punching out, and thus, losing wages).

    At Wal-Mart, which already pays as little as they can get away with.

    Is anyone at all surprised that the “you can go home if you want” offer WASN’T taken up on in droves? :rolleyes:

  27. MarkSweat says:

    On one hand… “risk dangers of flash flooding by driving home”
    On the other hand… “risk getting stranded at a business where I am getting paid by the hour and that is stocked with food and drink, has employee showers, and even cots to sleep on”

    I’m going to side with the employees on this one.

  28. P_Smith says:

    Tom Landry was infamous for his (*ahem*) “optional practices” when he coached the Dallas Cowboys.

    The “option” that Landry gave the players was, show up or lose your job.

    I’m sure the same goes for those at Walmart.

  29. UrIt says:

    they were probably told “you can leave if you’d like, but you won’t get paid.” which is understandable but still crappy, because it’s putting money over safety, and if you’re dead the money doesn’t really help.