Are hugs okay at retail?
While knowing a customer’s name is often praised as top-notch customer service for a sales associate, hugging can apparently go too far. A cashier was fired last year by Plumb’s Valu-Rite Foods in Whitehall, MI for inappropriate hugging, dividing sentiments in the small town.
Fred Civis, 57, had been working for 39 years at Plumb’s and was known for his hugs. In August, he was arrested and fired after a customer he hugged reported him to the store and police.
He told Fox 17 it was a friendly "pal hug" but four other women subsequently came forward with similar allegations. According to police records, Plumb’s had received formal complaints about Mr. Civis in 2012 and 2013.
Many in the town of 2,700, however, rallied around Mr. Civis, believing the complaints were a misunderstanding or an overreaction. A Facebook page was launched, "Boycott Whitehall Plumb’s for Fred," and has received 13,381 likes.
"I have known Fred since seventh grade," wrote one customer on the Facebook page. "He was a kind gentle soul then and has not changed a bit. He would never do anything to hurt anyone, and if it was done unintentionally his heart would break."
Picketers with "We Want Fred!" signs demonstrated in front of the store. The demonstrations apparently stopped following a store meeting with Mr. Civis, who never backed the boycott. In mid-October, Mr. Civis pled guilty to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. He is undergoing counseling but avoided jail time and a fine.
In multiple local articles on the incident, some customers were said to have waited in his longer lines over the years to enjoy his boisterous personality and embraces that have been referred to as a "handshake from the heart." Others avoided his line for the opposite reasons.
In a statement following the uproar, Plumb’s president and CEO James Nadar said the dismissal came after "multiple violations" of store policies. He added, "We remain firm in our belief that the safety and comfort of our customers must always come first."
He further told the Detroit News that Mr. Civis had been warned several times about touching customers in ways they found too personal. He said, "We don’t terminate someone for giving unwanted hugs. He just couldn’t follow the policy."
- Grocery clerk fired, arrested for hugging customers – Detroit News
- Boycott Whitehall Plumb’s for Fred – Facebook
- Grocery store cashier says he was fired for hugging a customer – Fox 17
- Cashier known for giving hugs fired after complaint – The Associated Press/Detroit Free Press
- Fired Plumb’s cashier pleads guilty to disorderly conduct; no other charges requested – Mlive
Where should the the line be drawn between friendly, personable service by store associates and annoyance or creepiness? Are incidents in which gregarious associates violate a shopper’s personal space more common than thought?