Wal-Mart worker fired after 18 years for turning in $350 cash found in parking lot too slowly
Michael Walsh of Schenectady, a Wal-Mart maintenance worker for 18 years, was fired on Nov. 6, a few days after he turned in $350 in cash he found in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
He was called into a manager's office, interrogated and terminated for "gross misconduct."
His offense? He waited about 30 minutes before he turned in the money.
"The only thing I did wrong was hesitate," Walsh said, who is 45. "I didn't steal anything. They didn't give me any warning. They just fired me."
The firing happened on the same day that Thomas Smith, 52, of Albany, an East Greenbush Wal-Mart employee, was fired for redeeming $2 worth of cans and bottles left behind in a shopping cart.
Worker rights advocates are organizing a Wal-Mart boycott through Jan. 1 and additional East Greenbush store demonstrations in response to Smith's controversial termination.
In the Niskayuna incident, a manager at the store, located on State Street in Mansion Square, said Tuesday she could not discuss Walsh's firing. A Wal-Mart spokesman, Aaron Mullins, said he had no comment.
Walsh said he found a $5 bill in the parking lot and immediately went inside and turned it over to a manager. When he went back outside — his job involved picking up garbage and collecting stray shopping carts — he found a small stack of bills, $20s and $10s, in the parking lot. It was not in an envelope and bore no identification.
He completed his task and when he got a moment, he counted the cash: $350. He stuffed it in his pants pocket. He went back inside the store, which is adjacent to a Berkshire Bank branch, and was about to turn in the bundle when he heard a commotion.
"A woman was yelling at a manager, freaking out that she lost her money and I got nervous," said Walsh, who speaks haltingly and has anxiety issues. "I kind of froze and didn't want any trouble."
Walsh returned to his job, which included cleaning the bathrooms, and he gave a manager the $350 in cash about 30 minutes after he found it. The manager took the money and Walsh heard nothing more.
Two days later, a manager showed him a surveillance tape that was time-stamped and confirmed that roughly 30 minutes elapsed from the time a camera captured Walsh's discovery of the cash and when he turned it in.
"They didn't let me explain and said they knew what happened. They told me how it happened in a way they wanted it to go," Walsh said. He was told to sign a statement, but was not given a copy. He was told to turn in his badge and his employee 10 percent discount card. He was fired for "gross misconduct."
Walsh, who has a general equivalency diploma from Mont Pleasant High School in Schenectady, worked at the Glenville Wal-Mart for 10 years and other Wal-Mart stores in the area before being shifted to the Niskayuna store. It's one-quarter the size of a standard Wal-Mart Supercenter and includes a grocery, pharmacy, deli and bakery.
"I enjoyed my job, I was a good employee and always got to work on time," he said. "I got treated like a common criminal."
In all his years as a Wal-Mart worker, including computer-based training, Walsh said he never received a handbook of employee rules or company policy about items found in the parking lot.
Walsh got a raise in September to $14.35 an hour, near a $15 cap for a maintenance worker. He was a full-time employee who worked 40 hours per week.
The timing of his firing also upset Walsh because he lost out on his 20 percent employee holiday discount and fell short of a coveted 10 percent lifetime discount card for 20-year employees.
"I was really looking forward to that lifetime discount card in two more years. They took that from me," Walsh said.
Without a paycheck, he is struggling to pay his $680 monthly rent and car payment. His wife is on disability for anxiety and depression.