Would you have fired this person for doing this?

ManagementAre you a stickler for the rules? After all, a policy IS a policy.

And everyone must follow the rules!

But can an employer be too strict, even if the worker was fired for cause?

Consider this true story from the Hollywood Casino, in Columbus, Ohio. Would you have fired this person for doing this?

The casino had Policy No. 13, which stated that any unauthorized property found in a Team Member’s possession will be considered theft and grounds for immediate separation.

Now, that’s pretty straightforward.

I Dare You
Two plastic cups

Theft is a huge issue in any business, and especially in a gambling house. The Hollywood Casino relied heavily on its theft policy when it fought an unemployment compensation claim of an employee fired for stealing two plastic drinking cups.


During orientation, this employee was given an inexpensive plastic drinking cup that bore the casino logo. It came with a snap-on lid, and a straw. A few months later, the employee informed the casino his cup had broken. He wanted another. The casino said no. Each employee gets only one free cup.


Undeterred, the employee took two cups from the training room and placed them in his personal locker. He was caught on camera and suspended. Later, he admitted taking the cups and was fired for violating the theft policy.

The worker sought unemployment compensation benefits, but his request was denied because he was fired for cause. He appealed to the state’s Review Commission, and lost.

He next took his case to the courts, and lost a final time. The court said it only reverses workers’ comp decisions it finds “unlawful” or “unreasonable.” Since there was clear and convincing evidence he’d taken the cups — case closed.

Too harsh?

Fired for cause?

Everybody has a theft policy, or should. But firing someone over two cups … really?

Clearly, the casino was justified in enforcing its anti-theft policy to the letter. After all, there’s a lot of money floating around the premises, and bending a little on a such a critical policy can create a slippery slope that could cause big headaches – and losses – later.

But on the other hand, there is such a thing as being a reasonable employer. Was it really worth the fight over a cheap plastic cup?

Where do you stand?

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  1. Cindy Zemke says:

    It apprears that the ex-employee was informed of the policy and blatently disregarded the policy. Termination was the consequence. He “chose” to take something that wasn’t his after he had been told no. It appears that the casino has a procedure in place to investigate and they followed their procedure.

    • it appears that theft was secondary to being insubbordinate to a direct order from a supervisor.

      and chances are if the employee was willing to risk losing their job over a plastic cup,they are more than likely willing to take greater risks on much more value property.

    • Exactly as Cindy Z called it.

    • David Stanfield says:

      The employee violated a clearly stated policy and the result was justified. However, the casino missed a great opportunity to avoid the situation when it did not allow the employee a replacement cup. They may have been able to salvage a good employee at a cost far less than training a new person.

    • Mohamad Khir says:

      The employee shouldn’t be terminated. He should be given a written warning informing him/her of the serious violation of the company’s anti theft policy. If the same employee continues to violate the policy on the same violation then after three consecutive warning, he/she deserves to be terminated.
      The root cause of the theft is not for personal gain (monetary or valuables) but due to employer setting the no replacement for thou forever for the cup issued policy. I mean common where are your compassion for your worker (slave). They are living things and they deserve the right to re-hydrate themselves. After all this is a life and death matter. The employer shall be hauled to court under OSHA for failure to provide safe working condition to the employees.

    • Benjamin Rozzell says:

      I have to agree with Cindy. During the orientation they clearly went over what is expected of all employees. Also, the employee was told no he could not have another free cup, but he taught the policy and the no did not apply to him. We have to look past the “cup” issue and weather this is the type of employee working in your place of business. Based on the information in this article, this employee has no integrity.

    • Bryan Balmer says:

      I agree with the termination. What irritates me the most is how far this individual took his case. How much time and tax payer money he wasted on taking his case up the ladder. That whole time he was fighting his unemployment he could have been looking for another job. Another case of the lazy wanting something for nothing.

  2. It points to more than just taking two plastic cups–and he took two, not one, in direct defiance of the reply! It points to not following the direct response to his question, not taking the response seriously and not accepting what the answer was. This could be troublesome in a casino atmosphere where you need to follow rules for all sorts of legal and monetary reasons. It is an indicator of attitude, values and personality, not just about taking a cup.

  3. He certainly violated the letter of the law/policy and, in my opinion more importantly, also violated the spirit of it. The fact that he asked, was told no, and then decided to take matters into his own hands to ‘rectify’ the situation was clear insubordination – willful violation of policy PLUS doing the exact opposite of what his superiors had told him – so I think that makes the termination justifiable, despite the insignificant worth of the item. Had he taken the second cup in good faith, I’d feel differently about it. All of that said, it says a lot about an employer who won’t give a second cup (at a cost of $1.00??) to a new associate who says their first one broke. Of all the things to take a stand on, this seems strange to me. Is the employer worried that the floodgates will open with every new employee claiming their cup broke and demanding a second? The cups have their logo on them – I bet the marketing department gives them away at promotional events for free! So I’m not sure winning the lawsuit justifies the entire situation – which could have easily been avoided for the cost of a dollar and applying some common sense and general decency in how to treat an employee.

  4. I’m torn. Yes, harsh to fire over 2 cups, but policy is the policy. Sounds like a stupid question, but did the employee know about the policy? It doesn’t excuse the employee’s behavior, and I’m sure he signed something that said he would not steal. But the company needs to be realistic with the “supplies” they give out. I’m assuming that this was a cup for the employee to use while on duty; even if it was just for personal use; plastic things to break. How much would it really cost an employer to replace a broken plastic cup??? Require the employee to return the broken cup, issue him a new cup. That way the employee is not collecting cups for their friends. Maybe limit it to 2 a year free, have to pay for numbers 3+.
    The cost of hiring and training a new employee, not to mention the cost of having to fight the unemployment claim and the court costs are WAY MORE then a plastic cup that they buy by the hundreds or thousands.
    Put the employee on very-short-leash probation, reevaluate your cup policy, and put some humanity back in business.

  5. The Company had a clearly stated policy regarding theft which is given to all employees in “new hire orientation”. When he asked for another cup he was advised of the policy again and which the employee blatantly chose to ignore. Yes it was only a plastic cup but once an employer sets precedent by not adhering to its own policy, where does it end? Clearly the employee violated the policy and admitted to violating the policy – the Company made the right decision.

  6. Tracy Swager says:

    This isn’t just about a theft policy or two cups. The underlying issue is do you want an employee who is given clear direction about a matter, who will then sneak around behind the back of management to do just the opposite? The answer is no. To keep an employee who will not follow instructions in a simple matter is to invite all manner of trouble in the future. It is better to part ways early on.

  7. It’s not the amount of the item it’s the principle of the act, if he can’t be bothered to purchase such an inexpensive cup then he can’t be trusted around much pricier objects and the like. Basically by showing how petty he was because of the how stingy his workplace was he bore his true colors and was reprimanded for it. If he valued his job he would have valued his employers rules as well.

  8. Jennifer Wade says:

    Regardless of the value of the items taken, the company had a straight forward policy regarding theft, and any exceptions given to that policy create a precedent that could prove problematic later. That is a can a worms that should never be opened. He requested another cup and was denied, so he knew what he was doing was wrong. The casino was more than justified in taking the action it took.

  9. William Roman says:

    The issue is not that the employee was fired unfairly for theft. The employer had a policy, clearly communicated it and the employee chose to violate it. In fact, he was told he could not have another cup but took one anyway. Because of that he should have been denied unemployment.

    The real issue is if the employer should have refused to give the employee a replacement cup for the one that was broken. The casino likely makes enough profit to afford to replace the broken cup, and probably should have just given him a replacement, problem solved and the employee continues employment. How much labor cost was involved to defend the unemployment claim vs. how much the replacement cup costs?

    • Where does it end though? Employee(s) learns they will replace cups anytime, employee stops caring about being careful with items because hey, it’s on their bill, all employees follow suit (or most) and now the company is replacing cup after cup. They may make enough to replace them, but it’s expense they don’t need and are not required to foot.

      I see this all the time where I work with the phones our employees have. They don’t give one damn about the equipment, and some have admitted to as much when asked if they treat their phone the same way. Their answer? “No way, I had to pay for this myself!” Unfortunately for us we have to foot the bill since the phones are required for work. Not so much so with drinking cups.

  10. Richard Sherman says:

    I concur with Cindy, and not specifcally because of the policy alone. It was because of the total sequence of events. The employee actually asked first, was told “no”…and then did it anyway. That truly is a knowledgeable, willful and blatant disregard of the rules-based directive he was given. Ironically, if the employee had not asked FIRST, but simply taken them, there would be more “room” for the employer to find different, lesser alternatives to termination. It certainly could have been a “teachable” moment for the employee. But alas, that’s not what happened. Instead, not only did the employee violate the anti-theft policy, he engaged in an act of WILLFUL disobedience. And all this after only working for the employer for a few months, when employess should be on their best behavior and trying to impress? I would’ve let him go as well. The employer made a good call in this case, both in firing the employee, and in defending it post-termination.

  11. Kim Koci says:

    Casinos are one of the most highly regulated businesses. Because of the amount of cash in and cash out stealing of any sort has to be dealt with. There is no gray area for employees to make a choice on what is stealing. A mistake is one thing when the “intent” was not to steal but to blatantly take something after being told no shows that this employee’s character had sufficient flaws that a casino could not afford to take an easier stance on the situation.

  12. That employee got what he deserved for flouting the rules. However, God help us all if we adopt a world of absoluteism. Those jackasses in management better hope they are able to maintain that level of commitment in every policy including benefit and safety standards and not only to company assets. If what is good for the goose is good for the gander, their’s will be the best place to work because everyone will at least know what to expect irrespective differing opinionand or preferences.

  13. In my opinion, this was unduly harsh and there are other (maybe better) ways to handle it by considering the severity of the “crime” and the response. Yes, I understand that casinos need to be most vigilant on theft. But, a plastic drinking cup?! Come on!
    Did they offer the chance for him to buy one? Or have the cost taken out of his pay? These are cheap, believe me. Are they allowed to have different drinking cups at work?
    I wonder what their policy is on a piece of a worn out uniform?
    Yes, he did the “crime”. Fighting this all the way to court cost the company a LOT more than the cost of a plastic cup.

  14. If the employee was willing to “take” the cups, the bigger question as an employer turns to trust. The employee thought as long as he/she wasn’t caught they were entitled to the cups. As time went on and the employee was more comfortable, what else would they feel entitled to simply take? It’s not the cups, it’s the mindset of the employee that can not be tolerated.

  15. Is there agreement on the definition of stealing? Is it about the cup or stealing?
    Here is the definition of stealing (verb):
    1. take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.
    If I take $1, is that stealing? The act is what is being disciplined.

  16. Based on the information provided in the article, yes, I would have fired the employee. They specifically asked for another cup and were told No. They then proceeded to “take” two cups knowing they were not supposed to. Based on the verbal “No” plus the “policy # 13” it is clear that what they was a conscience choice. And after knowing that each employee only gets one cup they proceeded to take TWO. Nor one to replace the broken one but TWO.
    Had they had not asked and then took the cups then maybe there might be a little wiggle room that would allow for a written warning.

  17. Employer could have replaced the broken cup or offered to sell the employee a replacement cup at cost…situation may have been avoided. Employee chose to be defiant and lost his job…too bad.

  18. Neishall Schuyler says:

    Harsh yes, justified, yes. The policy is the policy and the employee was made aware of the policy. In addition when they asked for another cup, they were told no and subsequently and admittedly took / stole two (2) cups. The casino had no choice, but to follow policy. If the rules do not apply to everyone, then they do not apply to anyone.

  19. Unfortunately, it isn’t about how much the 2 cups are worth, it’s about the policy. If 2 cups is OK, what about 3? If 3 is OK, what about 10? If there are 1000 people working at that casino, and each one takes 10 cups, now we’re talking about 10 cases. If cups are OK, what about all the other supplies?

    If an employer wants to have a very strict policy, that’s their business, and as long as all employees are given explicit notice of said policy, those employees have to consider every choice they make. Including taking that job.

  20. Miriam Meek says:

    This incident is about a person’s integrity, not about the pettiness of the offense. Unfortunately, the employee demonstrated that he could not be trusted to follow directions or respect clear boundaries. I would have to let that employee go, because I would always wonder what he was trying to get by with–without trust, what basis is there to keep him?

  21. While walking home from 4th grade I stopped in the burger place to get a drink. When I got home my mother ask me why I had more than one straw. I told her that they had put one in my drink and that I taken one from the counter. She made walk back to the burger place to return the straw and apologize for stealing it. Lesson learned.

  22. Rosaline G. says:

    The Policy is straight forward. He choose to go against the policy by stealing two cups and was terminated. The termination was justified. Maybe they would have allowed him to purchase another cup if he asked.

  23. I agree he should be terminated. The age old question is how much is acceptable loss or how do we define theft. Here is one way to look at the subject: If you see an employee stealing money from a cash register do you fire him for taking $1.00 or do you fire him for taking $5.00 or is your tolerance $20 or $100? The answer is that theft is theft and in this case as others have stated there was a clear policy, he knew the policy, and deliberately chose to violate the policy. As one of my HR managers so aptly states “integrity is not a faucet you can turn on or off, you either have it or you don’t”. Even a $2.00 plastic cup can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars for large companies. If you don’t set direct and fair policies regarding employee theft and hold your employees accountable, you are not being good corporate stewards of your shareholders (or owners) money.

  24. S Sullivan says:

    I believe there is insufficient information to pass judgement on the employee in this case. My first question would be “is the cup the employee was given, the employers acceptable vessel in which to drink water while working”? If so, it sheds a new light on the importance of the cup. While the employer has the right to enforce their rules, which the employee agrees to upon accepting the position, the manager in this case made a very poor decision in refusing to replace the cup. It shows a lack of empathy and a ridiculous amount of ridigity.

  25. Actions have consequences. He made a decision so he has to live with the outcome. The dummy probably could have bought one at the gift shop for $5.00.
    @Mohamad Khir.you say .he should not have been terminated despite the no tolerance policy? Because it’s just a cup. What if it was a $50.00 chip.? You say this wasn’t for personal gain? Then what was it for? Individuals with high morals see things as black & white not grey & then try to turn it around and play the victim card.

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