June 28, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
“My sister and I live in Central California and were recently hired as Food Demonstrators at Costco,” Sara’s e-mail stated.
“Several years ago, civil war broke out in our country, and we thank the U.S. government for allowing us to join relatives here last year. Your country is loved and respected for the way you help people in our situation.
“But handing out food samples has shown us a side of America we could never imagine possible. Now, we are worried that our reactions will get us fired.
“The importance of being polite, of having good manners, saying please and thank you was part of our upbringing. As kids, we attended the American school, where our teachers and staff were always warm, helpful, and polite.
“But now, every day, we meet different Americans: ungrateful, unappreciative, rude and at times just plain nasty, all summed up in two words food demo people almost never hear: Thank You
“As if they had not eaten for weeks, human vacuum cleaners don’t just take a sample, but as many as they can grab, returning 2 minutes later-rarely showing any degree of politeness by asking for more, which we would never refuse, of course. When they give us eye contact, it is as if we are their servants.
“Scary is how many food demo employees describe some shoppers. For example, while preparing a tray to set out, customers patiently waiting, when suddenly a hand appears, taking the entire item we’re cutting into small pieces!”
“Obviously not everyone fits that description. Children are usually polite and show appreciation.
“The other thing which has taken us completely by surprise, is how many of the people who don’t need extra calories go from one food station to another, each bite bringing themselves closer to a heart attack or diabetes.
“When you see entire families of grotesquely fat people – little kids, 9, 10-years-old who appear to weigh twice what they should – chomping away on our samples, this is just horrible for America’s future,” Sara observes.
We at You and the Law challenge anyone to disagree with that last statement.
“In the country we had to leave, as a teaching tool, when a child forgot to say Thank You, a parent, teacher, sometimes even other kids, would loudly say, ‘You’re welcome!’ We would then hear, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Thank you!’ from the forgetful child.
“So, we both tried this with customers, sometimes hearing, ‘I’m sorry, Thank you!’ but more often, “Who the !!#$!! Do you think you are??”
“And then, over comes a supervisor, warning that if we do anything like this again, we will be fired. One of the store managers told me that my job is to just hand out food samples and not run a charm school for shoppers.
“We do not have an employment contract, and something tells me that we really could lose our jobs over this, or am I wrong?” our reader asked.
“This is a sad and very common situation, commented labor law attorney Jay Rosenlieb. His firm is a friend of this column, and with offices in Fresno and Bakersfield, has earned a reputation for telling it like it is.
“I’ve seen the same things that your reader describes. The lack of civility and sometimes outright rude conduct of a few can make the job extremely challenging. A simple “thank you” to these demo people – who are on their feet for hours – is both socially appropriate and should be expected.
“After all, how much of an effort does it take to express your appreciation with those two words?” Rosenlieb asks.
“The employment reality for these sisters is that they could very well lose their jobs if, as it would appear, they are at-will employees. What this means simply is that an employee can be dismissed for any or no reason at all without the need to establish just cause for termination.
“We need to ask, ‘What is the role or place of a food demo employee? Is it to shame or scold unappreciative customers?’
“Of course not, and for that reason, just cause would probably be found and lead to a denial of unemployment benefits. This would be a sad but potential result.
“The two sisters are working in service positions with direct contact to the public. These jobs require tact, diplomacy, a permanent smile, and acceptance of the fact that some shoppers are going to be rude.
“We all wish that the members of the public practiced civility. The bottom line, however, is that employees must follow company policy.
“Some jobs require biting our tongue, and these would seem to fit in that category,” Rosenlieb concluded.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.