Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald defended the firing of two employees who confronted three masked thieves robbing a Georgia store and called the police, with McDonald saying that company policy is for staff to “let the theft occur” and not try to intervene.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy that we train our educators on around engaging during a theft,” McDonald told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Friday, with “educators” being the company’s way of referring to their employees.

“We put the safety of our team, of our guests, front and center. It’s only merchandise,” he added. “They’re trained to step back, let the theft occur, know that there’s technology and there’s cameras and we’re working with law enforcement.”

The two former staff members—Jennifer Ferguson and Rachel Rogers—told local news outlets that they called the police after a group of robbers entered the store earlier in May.

“We didn’t really feel very protected or know what else to do,” Rogers, 23, told local TV station 11Alive.

‘You Can March Back Out’

Video of the incident shows masked thieves burst into the Peachtree Corners store in metro Atlanta earlier in May, grabbing as many items as possible before being confronted by Ferguson.

“No, no, no, you can march back out,” Ferguson can be heard telling the thieves.

At one point in the video, the thieves seemed to pause and consider the employee’s demand before re-entering the store and grabbing more items.

“Seriously? Get out,” Ferguson can be heard saying to the robbers.

The employees recorded the thieves as they exited the store and got into a waiting car to make their getaway. The video does not show the two staff members making any effort to physically prevent the thieves from stealing items or leaving the store.

Following the incident, the women reported the robbery to the Gwinnett Police Department, who later tracked down the thieves and charged them with felony robbery.

‘Not Supposed To Get In The Way’

Ferguson, who’s a former assistant manager at a Lululemon store in Peachtree Corners, told 11Alive that company policy is not to engage with thieves.

“We are not supposed to get in the way,” Ferguson told the outlet.

“You kind of clear path for whatever they’re going to do,” Ferguson said of the store’s policy. “And then, after it’s over, you scan a QR code. And that’s that.”

“We’ve been told not to put it in any notes, because that might scare other people. We’re not supposed to call the police, not really supposed to talk about it,” she added.

Both women were later fired, with some claims circulating online that the reason for their dismissal was because they called the police.

McDonald disputed that this was the reason for their firing.

“Unfortunately, in this situation the educators knowingly broke the policy, engaged with … the thieves across multiple points, including following them out of the store,” McDonald said.

“So post investigation and the zero-tolerance policy, which is well known, that was what resulted in the termination,” he added.

“Just to be clear, our educators are able to call the police. We train them to step back. It’s about their safety. We take that policy seriously because we have had instances—and we have seen with other retailers, instances—where employees step in and are hurt, or worse, killed,” McDonald said.

“And the policy is to protect them. But we have to stand behind the policy to enforce it.”

Separately, a spokesperson for Lululemon told 11Alive that the reason for the firing was due to violations of the company’s zero-tolerance policy regarding chasing or physically confronting thieves.

”The two employees at our Peachtree Corners location in Georgia were not terminated for calling the police. They were terminated for knowingly violating our zero-tolerance policy related to physically engaging with the perpetrators which put their lives and the safety of our guests and other employees at risk,” the spokesperson said.

“Employees are able and instructed to call 911 when needed, and that was not the cause of termination in this case. We are grateful no one was hurt during this altercation,” the spokesperson added.

Retail Crime Wave

It comes as stores nationwide have seen a sharp rise in crime and some major retailers have shut down due to rampant theft that costs the businesses millions of dollars.

Several industry groups have warned that retail theft has increased despite efforts to bolster security and prevent losses.

According to an executive with the National Retail Federation (NRF), described as the world’s largest trade organization, the loss of inventory due to retail theft hit $100 billion in 2022.

The executive, David Johnston, told Fox Business in a recent interview that this figure is likely to get worse.

“There have been employees and customers injured,” he told the outlet. “There have been employees killed while these shoplifting events are taking place,” he added.

Not only is organized retail crime (ORC) on the rise, but its perpetrators are getting more violent, according to a recent NRF report.

ORC incidents shot up by 26.5 percent in 2021, according to the study, which is titled “Organized Retail Crime: An Assessment of a Persistent and Growing Threat.”

The report says that data shows that 15 of the 21 crime rings analyzed began operations in 2021, suggesting that “the uptick in the use of violent tactics during theft operations is a recent development.”

The ORC report found that around 45 percent of the stolen goods were resold through online marketplaces.

Jane Nguyen contributed to this report.

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