Liability can kill a thriving, successful business. It’s a menace to businesses struggling to pay their bills. I don’t normally cover topics universally appropriate to all retail like this. You can google that stuff, and there is plenty of discussion about it.
What is it?
Liability is your openness to legal action—lawsuits or action by government agencies. It threatens you in a lot of ways. I’m going to deal with some here; I might leave some issues for later articles.
Always have policies in place. You can’t help but tailor a situation from a person to person, but do that as little as possible. That guy who sells like crazy but is late on time. Write him up. That woman who’s been your best friend since 3rd grade but can’t understand why it’s wrong to utter ethnic slurs in the store. Document it.
Have your policies written. Have employees sign off on them. FLGS has a web form where employees must electronically initial each individual policy when they’re hired. It gives me a permanent record of acknowledgement of those policies.
It is never too early to adopt policies. If you think it feels silly to establish a policy when you only have one employee and they’re your best friend, you’re wrong. It’s good business, and it can protect you.
Old-school Dungeons & Dragons has a lot of monsters that seem to be harmless until they attack you. A chest might be a mimic. The floor might be a trapper. The ceiling might be a lurker above. Your best friend of 10 years might be a doppelganger. The money on the floor might have contact poison. The door could be a mimic, too. Or it might have ear seekers. Or traps. Or both. Anything could kill you.
The paranoia your characters need to survive in that environment is the kind of paranoia you need to bring to your policy handbook.
Repercussions for Policy Violations
What happens if somebody violates a policy? Each policy should have a repercussion listed. What happens when an employee is late, for example? What if they’re late twice?
For light offenses, verbal warnings might suffice. For moderate offenses, use written warnings. For certain select categories, it’s acceptable to terminate someone for a single offense. At FLGS, for example, the list of things that warrant automatic termination include violence, threats, and theft.
I’ve been hiring people since 1988 or so. I’ve never had an unemployment claim filed against me. Presumably people have reached out to the Department of Labor, but when they report that I have provided documentation and they share that documentation, the process ends there.
Details vary from state to state, but these guidelines will get you started on a good path. As with all my advice, check your local and state laws. Your state might be more or less restrictive than mine. Ask your lawyer.
What’s the company policy regarding tardiness?
What’s the company policy regarding call-outs?
What’s the company policy regarding uniform use?
What’s the accepted dress code for employees?
What’s the policy regarding weapons in the store? Alcohol? Dogs?
What language use policies do you have in place?
For comparison, here’s the FLGS Operations Manual section dealing with employee theft.
Half of all retail theft comes from employees.
Taking anything that isn’t yours or isn’t due to you is theft. That includes taking cash, goods, wages, and other benefits. Some examples of employee theft include (but aren’t limited to)
- Taking money from the cash register
- Taking product from the store without paying for it
- Misapplying your employee discount to buy something at discount when you shouldn’t
- Giving your friends your employee discount
- Assigning yourself or somebody else rewards points that person didn’t earn
- Taking property that belongs to a customer
- Taking supplies or equipment from the store
- Taking things lost by customers instead of placing them in the lost and found bin
- Misreporting your hours
Company policy requires termination for any incidence of theft. We will also prosecute for theft in the store and may make a small claims case if restitution is not part of a legal judgment.
If you must terminate someone, have documentation on hand, and have the employee sign it. If they refuse to sign it, have a witness make a statement to that effect. On January 3rd, “Mr. Brown arrived at work at 9:50 for his shift that was scheduled to begin at 9:30.” In Florida, having three forms of documentation for any variety of offenses all but guarantees winning an unemployment claim.
Post rules in the store, and don’t be afraid to state the obvious: no violence, no cheating, no stealing, no threatening, no discriminatory comments. Yes, you have to have policies against these obvious things. Lawsuits aren’t about making sense; it’s about defending against laws as written (or interpreted by someone with a large financial stake in the outcome). Write it down.
You can’t ban a Magic player for cheating for life and ban a Pokemon player for cheating for 3 days. The policy must be consistent (it can change over time, but the important part is that it needs to be established ahead of time; it can’t change back and forth between individuals).
Obviously, you can’t meaningfully write up customers. Your tools for monitoring customer behavior include verbal warnings and then escalate to restriction of privileges, like not competing in tournaments, not using the game room, and banning from the store. For offenses that amount to crimes, of course, you call the police.
Returns, Refunds, Exchanges
Post your return/refund/exchange policies. Returns are not a major source of liability, but they can create problems. Consider things like collectibles (“No, man, you can’t return an open pack of collector boosters because you weren’t happy with your cards.”). At FLGS, the policy is “No returns on Magic singles or items considered collectible.”
What happens when a gamer spills a drink on the floor? Do you have a “wet floor” sign? Who puts it up? Who cleans it? How? How soon?
Do you have policies in place for dealing with the arguments that arise from rules interpretations or intense role-playing sessions? If not, go write them. De-escalating conflicts can reduce headaches.
How do you handle shoplifting? One of the reasons why large companies like Wal-Mart are so “permissive” with handling shoplifting is that the damage from lawsuits can outweigh the damage from shoplifting. They literally have accountants calculate how much it costs to accidentally kill someone while detaining them and weigh that against the cost of allowing the shoplifting.
I discussed the ADA in detail in the Game Retailer Guide. One key thing to remember is that you and your landlord are both responsible for making your space accessible. Make sure everything outside the suite is accessible before you move in.
One aspect I didn’t discuss in the book is employee accessibility as well as customer accessibility. In short, if an employee has a disability, you have the obligation to make reasonable accommodations. You do NOT have to make the job requirements easier. If employees have to make 50 widgets an hour an employee with a disability does not get to make 40.
General Liability Insurance
It should go without saying, but you should have general liability insurance to protect your business. Depending on a lot of things, it might cost $100 to $200/month for most stores. You should also get some of the cheap riders, like hired or non-owned auto coverage (which covers employees while running store errands, like picking up a Sam’s order or taking a deposit to the bank).
Training, Training, Training
It’s one thing to have a policy in place, but a policy nobody knows about is pointless. Review policies with your crew during down-time. Ask them what clothes are allowed, how to handle a shoplifter, what counts as cheating in a Magic game, and anything else you have written down. This exercise not only reinforces the policy awareness with your crew—it exposes additional needs in your policy manual.