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Drugstore worker slips children's medicine to mom-of-3 who couldn't afford it, sparks debate

They argued that corporations make so much money that it's okay for an employee to give free medicine to someone who desperately wants it.

Drugstore worker slips children's medicine to mom-of-3 who couldn't afford it, sparks debate
Pretty young mom shopping with her lovely daughter in a drugstore joyfully/Getty Images

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 7, 2022. It has since been updated.

While we're all guided by our own moral compass, not everything is strictly black and white. Laws define right and wrong, but some situations challenge our understanding of ethics. A drugstore employee faced such a dilemma when a mother of three couldn't afford cough syrup for her feverish youngest child. She secretly slipped the cough syrup into the woman’s handbag, believing the store had little to lose while the mother had much to gain. The incident sparked a debate on the ethics of individual actions and corporate responsibility. The post was shared on Tumblr and then reposted on Reddit where many weighed in on the matter.

Pharmacist charging the client for the medicine - stock photo/Getty Images


The employee first explained the low pay and the disparity between drugstore profits and employee wages. "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. "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, adding, "Employees should be able to steal, actually." 


Reddit users debated the morality of the employee's actions. Some argued it wasn't the worker's place to decide if the woman could have the medicine for free, but the 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.

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