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When Stupid Corporate Policies strangles Personal Initiative, tragedy and hilarity ensues (NOT Southwest Airlines)

Updated on March 3, 2015


Corporate policies are existing guidelines to how a business is to be operated, and they are meant as rules. However, when they go too far in restricting how an employee must act, the results is either tragic, or hilarious, depending on which side you're on.

We will explore an example of such choke-collar corporate policy, and its victim, its repercussions in various areas.

We will also mention a case where the employee violated corporate policy to do the right thing, and was praised for his thinking, and how can such a corporate culture be fostered.

So, let us go on... to explore this tragi-comedy.

A Circle K Convenience Store
A Circle K Convenience Store

Clerk Saves Self by Disarming Robber, Gets Fired

Eric Henderson had been unemployed for two years before landing the job as a sales clerk in a Circle K convenience store (similar to 7-Eleven). In the US, this is one of the most dangerous jobs available (the only thing worse is taxi driver) He was happy though in finally landing a job, and he was doing well for four months... Until one fateful day in December 2011.

On that day, three robbers entered his store, two women and one man. One has a gun.

No doubt, Mr. Henderson immediately thought about his corporate policy, which states that the clerk is not to engage, provoke, or chase a robber. So he did nothing.

That is, until the woman that does NOT have the gun, yelled at the woman holding the gun "Just shoot him! Shoot him!"

At that point, Henderson saw that the woman was distracted for a second, and he grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground, and grabbed the pistol. The robbers escaped and was later caught by the police.

The managers of Circle K. saw the tape of the fight (which helped police nab the 3 perps), and fired Henderson immediately.

Choke-Collar Corporate Policy

Human beings are NOT robots, so treating them as such is just stupid to start with.

Convenience stores often do get robbed, so it makes some sense for a corporate policy to order clerks to not engage the robbers, but that is ASSUMING that the robbers are logical and sensible, that if you don't resist they won't hurt you just for the heck of it. Such a policy makes absolutely NO SENSE when one of the three robbers yelled "shoot him! shoot him!" at her partner holding the gun. It is clear they are high, drunk, or just plain crazy.

And Circle K's managers are crazy for not realizing the inherent stupidity in their corporate policy.

Strangely, this is very reminiscent of the "Zero-Tolerance Gun Policy", in the wake of Columbine High School Massacre. It makes sense for schools to disallow weapons in schools, but the policy often went too far. For example, a first-grader (that's 6 year old), who got a combination knife/fork/spoon for his boy scout membership, brought it to school to eat lunch with, and was immediately suspended for bringing a "weapon" to school. Fortunately, the school board immediately realized the policy was stupid and revised it.

The reactions to the news on Facebook and TV station's comments are scathing for Circle K, to say the least. There are talks of boycotts. This news was even picked up by the Daily Mail in UK (who loves to print news of stupidity all over, esp. Yank stupidity).

Furthermore, this has the effect of telling all employees of Circle K: your company values adherence to company policy more than your life, common sense be ****ed.

Would you want to work at such a place? I wouldn't.

Let us now explore a different case, where an employee chose to break corporate policy, but instead, do the right thing.

Southwest Airlines Logo
Southwest Airlines Logo

Pilot Refused to Take Off For 12 Minutes

In January 5th, 2011, Mark Dickinson, grandpa, was told that his 2-year old grandson, who was grievously injured when his mother's boyfriend threw him across the room, was declared hopeless, and would be soon taken off life support so the organs can be donated to others in need. The problem is his grandson lives in Colorado, and he's in California on business, and he really needs to go see his grandson one last time as the organ harvest had been already scheduled.

Grandpa got to LAX 2 hours ahead of time, and his heart sank. The line was GINORMOUS both for check-in and for TSA security. His check-in took a while, and he's sobbing already. His request to be prioritized at the TSA checkpoint so he could make the Southwest plane to Colorado was denied, and the next flight won't be until tomorrow. By then it will be too late. There was no way he'll make the plane ontime.

Someone informed the captain (I'm guessing the check-in agent), and captain, on his own initiative, violating company policy to stay ontime, held the plane on the ground for 12 minutes to wait for the grieving grandpa to reach the plane, who ran all the way from the security check area to the gate without putting on his shoes. The captain reported told grandpa, "They aren't going anywhere without me, and I'm not going anywhere without you." The grandpa did reach Colorado, and was able to say goodbye to his dying grandson, who was taken off life support in the evening of January 5th, 2011.

Twelve minutes may not be very long to you and me, but Southwest crew is known to "turnaround" a plane (clean, deplane, replane, refuel, etc.) in merely 20 minutes, so 12 minutes is VERY VERY long for Southwest's efficiency.

This story was submitted to, and was immediately picked up by various news outlets in the US such as USA Today, and later around the world such as Australia, Netherlands, and UK.

Corporate Culture to Do the Right Thing

Southwest Airlines has always been known as the maverick airline, who do things a bit differently, and this demonstrates that they actually teach their pilots and crew to do the right thing instead of adhere strictly to corporate policy. The captain exercised his initiative to hold the plane, even though every minute late will result in a bad rating for the airline and other problems.

Instead of being punished for intentionally delaying a plane, the captain was praised by Southwest Corporate for keeping customers first. Furthermore, the captain asked his name NOT to be used, so he is NOT out for fame.


As an old cliché goes, "rules are made to be broken". There should be an additional caveat at the end though... "but only with good reason".

Somehow, the Circle K managers doesn't think that even one's LIFE is not good enough reason to violate corporate policy. They clearly don't "get it".

On the other hand, Southwest Airlines thinks that timetables are just some numbers and treating customers right is far more important than keeping up with "on-time statistics".

What does your company's corporate policy say about the company?


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    • kschang profile image

      kschang 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      @jpcmc -- Corporate policy is not Commandment from God. There are situations where one are forced to break the policy. When the execs refused to make exceptions even when exceptions make sense, both the policy and the exec have failed.

      Linking is always welcome.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Corporate policies are there to guide employees on how to go about their work. Every company has a standard and everyone must follow. But sad to say every individual has his own take on the policies. True, there should always be room for special instances. But what irks me is that everyone comes to me with their very own special case.

      I appreciate the collection of stories and I'm linking your hub in one of mine - if you don't mind. :)

    • carozy profile image

      carozy 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Very interesting read. The second story brings tears to my eyes.