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HOW TO FIRE

A Steal or Just a Really Good Deal?

Four L.L. Bean workers bought a company product that was incorrectly listed at a super-low price. Did they do something wrong?
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Famed mail-order retailer L.L. Bean has rehired four workers that it fired in June for buying a $169 woven leather tote bag for $19. For two days last month, the bag incorrectly was listed at the superlow price on the company’s website.
 
L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem told Maine’s Bangor Daily News that the company has apologized to the workers, all women, and will pay them lost wages. They will resume working "as soon as their schedules allow," Beem said. Meanwhile, the company will create a new policy about what workers should do if they see a price that could be wrong.
 
The workers learned of the deep discount when customers began calling in to order it. They then placed their own orders because the price was so good. Orders piled up until the item was flagged and, eventually, the price corrected.
 
The workers' orders were placed on hold then canceled while they were investigated for fraud and—a week later—fired, one of the women told the newspaper.
 
"We were never trained to question the price," one of the women told the newspaper. "We were always told to trust the system, trust the system."
 
Currently, the website offers items up to 60 percent off, though occasionally there are fire sale prices on items being discontinued, for example.
 
"How are employees supposed to judge if this is right?" one of the workers said. "It wasn’t the fact that we were being conniving or we were stealing or whatever, it was the fact that something was on sale and we said, 'Hey, this is a good deal. Let’s get it.'"
 
The women hired a lawyer, and the company then conducted what it called an independent review of personnel decisions.
 
L.L. Bean’s human resources department "used the word 'wrong' in a letter to [the fired workers]," the women’s lawyer, Rebecca Webber, told the newspaper. "It isn’t just that the discipline wasn’t justified, but that there was no misconduct at all."
 
"L.L. Bean ought to be applauded for taking full responsibility for what happened. I’m glad they did that," Webber said.
 
The company said in a statement:  "In accordance with our well-established fair treatment review process, L.L.Bean has concluded that the disciplinary actions taken were not justified. Proper protocols for reporting possible pricing discrepancies will be in place for the future, and employees will receive training on the new protocols."

What do you think? Did L.L. Bean use poor judgement when it fired its workers? Or should the company have not rehired them?

Last updated: Jul 7, 2011

COURTNEY RUBIN

Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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