They argued that corporations make so much money that it is okay for an employee to give free medicine to someone who desperately wanted it.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 7, 2022. It has since been updated.
We are all guided by our own moral compass, but not everything is strictly black and white. In a world where the law decides what's right and wrong, we often come across situations that question what constitutes ethical behavior and what doesn't, in the eyes of the law and otherwise. An employee at a drugstore was faced with one such dilemma when a mother of three kids couldn't afford cough syrup for her youngest child who was crying from fever. She slipped the cough syrup into the lady's handbag without her noticing because she felt the drugstore had very little to lose while the woman had so much to gain. The incident sparked a debate on the morality and ethics of not just individual actions but also of corporations. The post was shared on Tumblr and then reposted on Reddit where many weighed in on the matter.
They first explained the low pay and how much the drugstore makes in comparison to the employees and the drug prices. "I feel a cough coming on, because I work in a drugstore, and all of my customers are sick. I always feel a little bit sick, now. I can't afford to eat well enough to keep my body healthy. Cough medicine is worth two hours and 20 minutes of work. Our store probably bought a case of cough medicine for the price we're selling one box," they wrote, before adding that even they couldn't afford medicine at times. "If this cough gets worse, I might have to call out, which will cost me more than the medicine in the long run—but that doesn't give me the money to buy the medicine right now. I stock a case onto the shelf. I don't buy any."
They then explained the situation of the mother who had walked in. "A mom wrangling three crying sick kids enters my line and sets two types of children's medicine down, and says they're both on sale and thank god for that. I ring her up, and she gets very quiet, because she misread the sign, and her total is twice as high as she was expecting," they wrote, aware that she needed the medicine. "Her youngest screams in the cart because she's burning up with fever. Her mother very quietly asks, please, she's so sorry, if I could please take the more expensive one off her total."
The employee does what's requested of them. "I agree, I move the box below the counter, and when she's not looking, I slip it into her bag. I pray as hard as I can that if she notices the 'mistake' she says nothing because I so desperately want her to have that medicine." They then contemplate the cost of the action in terms of the company and the woman. "The store has lost profit at the cost of a child's health. I don't bat an eye. This is a terminable offense. If I'm presented with the same situation tonight, I'll do it in a heartbeat," they wrote.
The employee justified themself, arguing that it wasn't unethical. "The myth of evil employees stealing from the company falls apart the second you realize the company would shoot you dead to make a profit. This isn't two equal players, one of whom is stealing from the other. This is someone fighting for survival versus someone fighting to make an extra million. It's not equal," they write, before adding, "Employees should be able to steal, actually."
Reddit users debated the morality of the employee's actions. Some argued that it wasn't the worker's place to decide if the woman could have the medicine for free but an overwhelming majority sided with the employee. "Quite frankly, if any medicine is so expensive that the people who need it have a difficult time affording it then keeping its price as is morally unjustifiable," wrote one user. "Same. I did something similar when working in restaurants and had someone who was clearly struggling and just wanted a coffee and some human contact. Management told me I was 'being taken advantage of because of my naivety' and I'd have to pay for the coffee out of my own pocket. Keep in mind this is a single coffee that costs the company all of £0.12 to produce but charges guests £2.95," wrote another. "Years ago when I worked retail, I’d see people shoplift all the time. I never said a word. I don’t care about this billion-dollar company that barely paid me enough money to live on. I had to eat saltines and peanut butter for dinner for a solid week cause I didn’t have enough money. But was working 50-plus hours a week. One time a young woman looked at me while stealing diapers. I made eye contact and very deliberately turned away and left the aisle. She slipped me a whispered 'thank you,' the next time I saw her," wrote another person.