Workplace Survival Guide: Training Cashiers in the event of an Armed Robbery
Since people have been known to take things horribly out of context, let me clear something up: This is not encouraging people to take up robbery as a means to support themselves. Although robbers sometimes do have what could be considered “coworkers” and there is in fact a whole reality show devoted to teaching people how to protect their homes from house burglars, that is not what this article is geared towards.
No, my loyal readers, this is yet another item that I feel does not show up in any of the workplace survival guides or manuals that I have read in my time. Vocational schools and training facilities like Job Corps would do well to teach their students how to handle such occurrences, because frankly, many of the people I have met in retail and in most workplaces would be shot if they were ever on the business end of an armed robbery.
And yes, time was you could find detailed instructions about what to do in the event of a robbery in your associate training handbook. But now it seems that major corporations have decided to leave that out of the training aspect of the hiring process. That’s a little disturbing when you think about it. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
One of the key selling points of these articles is my real life experience that readers can relate to. And so to quote one of the songs from my high school years, “There is no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice, now.” The names of people have been changed. Since the company I no longer work for the company in question and in fact the company was bought out, I have not changed it’s name for the simple reason that I would like the corporation in question to read this and consider it as a friendly bit of advice from a former employee, now turned customer.
Not a mention in any of these Workplace "safety" guides.
It was around five past eleven. I had been at the Brooks for about three hours. The store was mostly quiet and the cashiers from second shift had all gone home. The second shift supervisor Irina, and Kelly and Becky were the only other employees in the store. Kelly had a broken arm and was pretty much stuck on register the whole evening. She was going home at midnight when Irina left, leaving me in charge. Becky was scheduled until three AM, after which time I would be the only employee in the store until five.
I was just getting done with straightening an aisle, when Kelly paged me to the front.
“Nate, I’m getting bored. Can I start my chore now?” She whined, when I got up there.
I did a customary scan of the front end. There were no customers in the store and it didn’t look like anyone was coming in through the front end. The door to the office was open and I could hear Becky and Irina chatting away, presumably while Irina counted out the evening deposit. When I saw that Kelly was leaving in an hour I decided it couldn’t hurt to just count her out now.
“Sure,” I said. I counted into a register (I almost never took a register at night until one of the other cashiers went home, or I was the only one on) before closing Kelly’s.
Kelly had well over three thousand dollars in her drawer. Add to that her broken arm, and to this day it seems like fate that I got on register just then.
I counted Kelly out and carried her tray for her to the office, before returning to the floor. At that time another customer had come in and I rang her out. As was customary, I stayed on the register for a few seconds after my customer left straightening my area and making sure I had plenty of register tape.
Then, there was a blur of movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and a guy walked up to my register, hand stretched out. It took me a second to realize that his face was covered with a bandana and sunglasses, and that there was a knife, in his hand, with the jagged side of the blade pointing out at me.
“Give me the money,” he mumbled.
It took me a second longer to really register the knife. I backed up a bit.
“Give me the money,” he repeated.
I had only been working the night shift at Brooks for one week. My instincts told me to look to the office, to call Irina and ask for her input. But at that point an even stronger instinct kicked in. It’s an instinct that most people with Asperger’s syndrome have and that is what kept me alive that night.
Almost like I was possessed, I hit the no sale key on my register and took out the cash. It there was only seventy-five dollars, since I had just barely got on and the last customer paid with a credit card. So the cash wasn’t even that much.
“That’s all it is,” I said. “Unless you want the change.”
The robber said nothing else. He just grabbed the cash and left.
Only when I was sure he was gone did I let my eyes glance over to the office. At that time I saw that the door was closed. Irina stepped out, her cell phone in hand, calling the police and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.
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Now, let me just bring you back to that disturbing point I made earlier. When Brooks Pharmacy was bought out, the new company replaced the old training manual with it’s own completely automated computer course. Now, new associates who are hired by this company go through this training course and take a quiz at the end of each section of the computer program.
At NO POINT in the program is an armed robbery, or how to conduct yourself during one, ever mentioned. (For that matter, the tobacco and alcohol training program only covers best-case scenarios, where the customer actually has an ID on hand to show the cashier. And if my experience is any indicator, there is no customer more prone to violence than a guy who wants to drink and can’t do so because he doesn’t have proper identification.) This is a pretty glaring omission, considering many of this particular chain’s locations are in the middle of busy cities, or in isolated towns that are prone to high levels of criminal activity.
I’d like to say that every company I’ve worked for afterwards has been more diligent about keeping their cashiers and employees alive. But alas, I’ve worked for the Sears Holding Company, Staples, and a number of supermarkets and at no point during the training processes of either of those companies has there been an instructional period dealing with armed robbery. And since we’re talking about stores like K-mart and Sears that are known for selling high-end merchandise, it seems like just a paragraph of acknowledgement might be worth it in the long run.
In the meantime, I hope this article fills in what I consider to be a very sizable gap in job training.
The Reason I'm Alive...
Brooks Pharmacy used a good old-fashioned paper back associate’s manual. In the manual, there was a very detailed, step-by-step chapter regarding how to conduct oneself in the event of a robbery.
Paraphrased for legal purposes, the instructions went something like this:
1: Do not say anything, or make any sudden movements. Explain your movement steps to the robber so that he is not startled. If you have to call someone else, explain that too, but otherwise just do what the robber wants.
2: Take the cash out of the drawer and place it on the counter.
3: Try to get as many details as possible about the robber’s appearance.
Unfortunately for me, that last part was easier said than done. What you have to understand is that as I was following the manual’s instructions to the letter, my brain was basically shut down.
When the cops arrived to interview me, I was probably the least helpful witness in the entire store. I cracked jokes because I was nervous and I tried to give the officer as much information as possible. Fortunately there was a very detailed video of me being robbed and handling the situation, as I was required to do, though to this day I believe the robber never got caught, at least not for robbing me that night.
After The Robbery
There’s no real book of rules to follow when you’ve been in a robbery. When the cops left, Irina offered to stay at the store and let me go home early. But for one, no one was paying me to be traumatized that night. So with that mentality in mind I stayed in the store. Besides, Ashley, the morning supervisor, would be there at five to take over for me…or so I believed.
Ashley, as it turned out, had not read the schedule correctly. So for two whole hours, I was alone in a store that just been robbed not more than five hours earlier. Terrific.
The usual offenders, certain customers that treated the 24/7 stores like their personal hangout spot, gave me guff and in the mood I was in, I shouted them out of the store. So yeah, on some level I was a bit traumatized by the event. It was, after all, my first time ever being robbed.
The morning managers saw the footage and were impressed with how I handled myself. Of course, Nero, the Assistant Manager who worked nights at Brooks later told me his thoughts.
“I was looking at the angle the guy held the knife. And I just don’t think he would have actually hurt you.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” I said, as politely as my annoyance would allow. “Next time I’ll ask.”
Yes this conversation did take place. Which brings me to my next point.
How To Act If It's Not You
As I said, I didn’t have a lot of time to be traumatized. I needed a paycheck and frankly, this was just one little bump on what later turned out to be a very long and very pothole infested road.
That said, I was always a little jumpy, because especially at night, there were customers who could get belligerent, especially if you told then no about alcohol or tobacco. And if you’re alone in the store, as was frequently the case on nights I was working, some of those customers will take it to the logical extreme in trying to intimidate you.
My coworkers were patently useless that night. And they were pretty much useless every night thereafter, with comments like those that the assistant manager had made.
So, if you’re the coworker of someone who has been robbed, here’s a helpful tip. Don’t drop comments like, “Oh well, he probably wouldn’t have hurt you if you had refused.” Because then you make the guy feel bad that he actually followed company policy and stayed alive.
But what if you’re at the store at the time of the robbery, but it’s your coworker being threatened?
1: Don’t act like a hero. Don’t do anything to attract attention to yourself, or to make the robber feel like you’re a threat.
2: Try to remember everything about the robber. Because remember what I said? Nine times out of ten, your coworker is completely blanking out right now as his body goes into automatic survival mode.
3: If necessary, and you can safely do this without alarming the robber, talk your coworker through the steps.
4: When the robber leaves, call the police. While you’re waiting for them to arrive, make sure your coworker feels safe. Get him a glass of water; offer to cover for them if they want to go home. Be sure to call your boss if he’s not there, to let him know what happened, in case insurance has to get involved.
The important thing to remember is that you could just as easily wind up in this situation. You want to treat your coworkers the way you would want to be treated. And nothing cements the relationship like watching out for each other in the event of an armed robbery.
The rules are really quite simple. When involved in a robbery, keep your mouth shut and do as the robber says. No amount of money is worth your life. Survival in the workplace takes on many forms, but this is one of the few times when survival is both figurative and literal.
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