my boss is ordering me to illegally trespass at a store where I’ve been banned

A reader writes:

I work for a retail store, and one of my newer duties is to go to a competitor’s store and compare prices. We’ve apparently been doing it for years and never had any problems; I personally have only been assigned to this recently. About a month ago, towards the end of my shift, one of the managers at the other store came up and told me to leave, which I did in compliance with store policy. I went back to my store and told my supervisors, who told me that their shoppers were still visiting our store, so it was probably just a miscommunication with that particular manager. I went back on following weeks and didn’t have any problems, so I assumed my bosses were correct.

Today I went in as usual, and was again confronted by the same manager. She escorted me to the door, told me to not come back, and warned me that if I do go back they’ll call the police on me for trespassing. When I informed my managers of this, they said it was ridiculous and that there’s no way the police would do anything. Even if they’re right (everything I know about the law I’ve learned from this site and reruns of Law & Order), that’s still not something I really want to risk, nor is it something I want to go through just to prove that they can’t stop me (if, indeed, they can’t).

I’m struggling, though, with how to best explain that to management. I’m scheduled to go back on Tuesday, and really don’t feel comfortable with that; $10/hour is not enough to risk arrest, as far as I’m concerned. They didn’t ask at any point, either time this happened, how I feel about returning, and while they’re usually reasonable I’m not sure what the most professional way is to say “I’m not getting the cops called on me for this.” Please help?

Your managers are being ridiculous. I suppose it’s possible that they truly believe that this particular manager at the other store was mistaken, but it doesn’t change the fact that that would need to be cleared up before sending you back.

I’d say this to your manager: “I was clearly told by a manager at the other store that if I return, I will be trespassing and they will call the police. At this point, I would be breaking the law by returning, when they’ve clearly told me that I’m not allowed on their property.”

If your manager insists you go back anyway, then say: “I’m not comfortable violating the law or risking arrest. If you’re sure that it’s okay for me to go back, can we get that in writing from the store? Since I’ve been threatened with arrest, I’m not comfortable without a clear statement from the other store that I’m allowed there — something that I can show to any managers there who might not be in the loop.”

And if you’re still ordered to go back, then you say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to do that. I’d be breaking the law. Given that it’s not an option for me anymore, how should we proceed?” And you hold firm to that — even if it means losing the job over it, although I doubt it will come to that.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. alma*

    Awful. Do NOT go back to that store under any circumstances. I have no doubt your managers would hang you out to dry if any legal consequences did result.

    1. The IT Manager*

      RE: managers hanging LW out to dry . Here’s the thing; I don’t think there’s anything that her bosses could do. If she really is trepassing and the police enforce it, saying that “my bosses told to me to do it” does not in any way mean she’s is not trespassing and that the LW is not the one responsible for breaking the law.

      I do have to say, though, I have trouble imagining trespassing really being enforced in this situation. That doesn’t mean that the LW should push the issue because her butt is the one on the line, but I can see where her managers might be allowing their lack of imagination to influence their decision to pressure her to go there.

      1. alma*

        Sure, but on the chance that the police/anyone else did investigate, I could very easily envision OP’s management denying they ever told her to do anything illegal. Wouldn’t save OP from the basic trespassing charge, but it would compound an already crappy situation.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I don’t know if I agree that it’s unlikely that the cops would do anything. It may depend on the state, and their warrant-initiation process. In some states, the store could take out the warrant without any police involvement. At the least, she would have to appear in court – which sucks. And while there might not be actual legal consequences if you don’t have a criminal background, you don’t want it on any record at all that you were charged, if you can avoid it. Maybe this is obvious, but trespassing generally means that you were told (either verbally or via a sign) that you couldn’t be on someone’s property once, and then you were on that property anyway. Sounds to me like it wouldn’t be that hard for the store management to do something – especially if they have a security guard who could detain you and call the police. This is not a legal opinion, but it is legal info that I feel confident sharing.

          1. alma*

            I didn’t say it would be unlikely that OP would be arrested/in trouble. I said “on the chance the police did investigate” in the sense that I don’t know how deeply they would look into the OP’s story or particularly care that management told her to do it. I mean I’d like to think they would, but, not all police departments are created equal.

          2. Mme Pomme*

            In my neck of the woods, a store can put a “tresspass” against someone (typically shoplifters). It does involve the police, and a record of the No Tresspass order. Returning after a tresspass is placed against a person can result in fines or imprisonment under state statute.

          3. Natalie*

            More of a PSA than anything – from what I understand, the rights of a store to detain you are fairly limited and generally only apply to suspected theft. They could call the cops, but probably not legally prevent the OP from leaving before they showed up.

            (Not to say OP should risk it. I just have a bee in my bonnet about this because of a past interaction with security I later realized was extra illegal.)

            1. John B Public*

              A store can deny service or admission to anyone, for any or no reason, as long as the articulated reason does not violate the law. IANAL, but I did own a retail store for about five years. It’s similar to hiring practices and workplace practices, anything goes even if it’s stupid, unless the law specifically says otherwise. I’d check with your company’s general counsel (attorney) or HR about this before I set foot in that store again. You were specifically told “Leave and don’t come back,” that’s as unambiguous as it gets.

      2. Vicki*

        I’m trying to envision the situation.

        Police Officer: What’s this about then?
        Manager: This woman is trespassing!
        Police Officer: Did she enter an area that is off limits to the public?
        Manager: No.
        Police Officer: Did she try to get in after hours or before you open?
        Manager: No.
        Police Officer: Why do you say she’s trespassing?
        Manager: She works for a competitor!
        Police Officer: ….

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          You forgot something.

          Manager : We have already escorted her out of the building ONCE and categorically told her NOT to return or we will have her arrested for trespassing. She has done so, which is why we called you.

        2. doreen*

          It actually goes like this:

          Police Officer: Why do you say she’s trespassing?
          Manager: Because we have previously told her not to enter the store.
          Police officer then arrests her or writes a ticket and escorts her out of the store.

          Just because a place is generally open to the public doesn’t mean people can’t be excluded. It just means that people have permission to be there unless they have been specifically informed otherwise. Unlike the non-public areas of a store (stockrooms and offices) or my fenced alley which in my state do not require a prior warning for a person to be charged with trespass.

          1. Annonymouse*

            I don’t get the other stores stance.
            Sure, she works for a different store but in retail scouting prices is normal.

            Maybe it’s just the culture that I’m from. You only get banned from stores for stealing or outrageous behaviour.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      ABSOLUTELY. If you have been warned by the other store’s management not to go there – and they have made it clear that you are not welcome and will be charged with trespassing — DON’T GO THERE.

      Now – if you are somehow involved in a criminal offense – you may have forgotten the #1 rule among criminals –

      “When the **** hits the fan, it’s every man for himself.”

      Now I am aware that the majority of people here are female – yes, it applies to women as well.

      If you were to be arrested for trespassing, your management would issue a string of denials. And, the fact that you were following your manager’s direction is an indefensible point, from a legal standpoint.

      If you’re asked to commit a crime by your managers, and you agree to do so, you have agreed to become a criminal. Don’t do that.

    3. nonegiven*

      “I won’t go back and risk arrest without written permission from the store’s senior manager or corporate office.” If they retaliate, sue.

  2. ProcReg*

    I’d love an update to this, once available.
    Yes, I believe her managers would hang her out to dry, should the police get called.

  3. Audiophile*

    Are stores running internal secret shopper programs now?

    I can understand wanting to see what your competitors are doing, comparing prices and the like, but if it’s been made clear to one of your employees that they’ll be arrested, that’s when it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

    1. BRR*

      There was a story (I think in the NYT) about the head of JCrew going into Banana Republic and Gap. He used to be head of Gap (corporate not brand) and would occasionally go back but all the employees knew what he looked like.

      1. Michele*

        This is standard practice in the fashion industry. Everyone spends a lot of time in the market looking at what everyone else is doing and who is copying who.

        1. Sheila*

          Yup. I used to work (in Canada) at a La Senza store and we were regularly required to go across the hall to Aerie to check out their deals and new products. We never carried any paper for notes, just browsed and did it by memory. When we returned to La Senza we would have to send a report to our district manager detailing their sales, promotions and new products.

          They started doing the same with other stores as we entered new markets. We brought in bandeaus so we would have to go check Stitches’ bandeau prices, etc.

        2. Noelle*

          It seems like for so many retail stores this could be done online though, without physically going to the stores once a month. Especially after being asked to stop!

      2. Various Assumed Names*

        This sounds weird to me just because I worked at the Gap for two years and I had no idea what our CEO looked like. But maybe they’ve changed their internal marketing since then.

    2. tomatonomicon*

      I worked at Wal-Mart as a service desk jockey when I was in college. Our store manager would regularly go to the Target across the street to comparison shop. He’d buy a cartload of merchandise he knew our store also carried, then had me run it all as a return to our store to show the difference in price if you bought the same cart load of stuff from Wal-Mart. I suspect if he’d just been over there snapping pictures and writing prices down, they’d have given him the boot.

      We had specific instructions to report anyone to management we saw writing down prices and/or taking pictures. It was spelled out in our training in no uncertain terms.

      1. Alliej0516*

        Wait a minute… He’d have you run it as a return? Like get “his” money back? Or is that something that was cancelled out? I’ve never worked in retail, so I’m not sure of procedures, but that just threw up a flag!

        1. Shell*

          You can “return” items to bring up individual prices, but then void the entire transaction before the process is final. I imagine that’s what happened here.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yeah, I think he did it just as a way to crunch the math and maybe have a printed, tangible result?

            1. tomatonomicon*

              Ding ding ding, that’s exactly what we did. It was just for the math, I think he probably bought the stuff with a corporate card or something.

        2. tomatonomicon*

          He didn’t get his money back–the other reason I just remembered to run the “return” was to get the items into our store’s inventory and generate a receipt to compare to the one from Target. He’d buy them, bring them to me, have me print off a receipt so he could show off our Fabulous! Low! Prices! and then just put the items on our shelves and sell them.

        3. Liane*

          Walmart has a register code to run mock transactions, theoretically for training purposes, & that is probably how this was done. It doesn’t affect the register’s accounting & the receipt clearly says “Not Valid” as well as using another symbol instead of the decimal in prices & totals.
          And Walmart has clearly posted that they can ask you to leave if they suspect you are a rival’s “secret shopper,” even though they have employees do this too.

      2. Natalie*

        “report anyone to management we saw writing down prices and/or taking pictures.”

        What? I’ve never been a secret shopper, but I write down notes and take pictures of stuff at stores all the time. Sometimes I comparison shopping, but a lot of the time I’m making gift lists or sending a photo to a friend because I think they’d like something. If someone asked me to leave I can guarantee you I’d never come back.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I think the occasional photo or note won’t be a big deal–mostly it comes into play if a person is obviously going around the store taking photos of displays, prices, etc. Nobody will care if someone takes a quick cell phone picture of a lamp to send to their spouse, but if someone is going around the store methodically photographing displays, prices, etc., and taking a bunch of notes–then they’d probably be asked to leave.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I’ve been asked not to, when doing it in all innocence, probably because of bosses like the OP’s.

          2. Agile Phalanges*

            I worked for a manufacturer, and people from sales and marketing often took photos of our displays (or competitors’) in stores, but since it was all in the same aisle, it was pretty quick, and not done over an extended amount of time throughout the store. And since we were in street clothes, it wouldn’t look any different than any customer taking a quick photo to remember the price, or because the movie tie-in merchandising was cool, or whatever. I never heard of anyone getting kicked out of a store for it, and I did it a few times myself without any hassle.

          3. Kristy*

            Yeah, I’ve come to understand that a fair number of retailers don’t want you taking pictures in their stores. Example: a bachelorette party with a photo scavenger hunt in a very large mall, one of our tasks (per group, and we had 3-4 groups of 3-4 people) was to get a photo of ourselves posing with a piece of lingerie at Victoria’s Secret.

            There’s nothing quite like several store associates all raising their voices to say “NO PICTURES!” and converging on a small group of women all at once. Being rule-followers, our group started asking at any location if it was alright for us to take a picture (explaining what we were doing), and most of them were not amenable. A few told us, “I’ll be looking in the other direction for the next 30 seconds, so do it quickly.” It did sap some fun from our very innocent afternoon!

            1. Aaron Gullison*

              In one of the shops at the Saint John City Market. there is a prominent notice that photographs are not to be taken. I’ve also been questioned by mall security for taking tourist photographs of storefronts.

        2. Tomato Frog*

          My boyfriend and I got kicked out of a local grocery because we were both doing math on our phones to figure out price per ounce for various foods.

          1. tt*

            In college, some classmates and I were almost kicked out of a McDonald’s, by a manager who accused us of being Burger King spies. We were actually just doing a sociology homework assignment that had to do with observing people in public places, but he didn’t appreciate all the note-taking and watching. This was pre cell phone, so we weren’t taking any pictures. We made the mistake of not ordering food right away, which is what got his attention, but we just weren’t hungry yet (and had every intention of ordering food, not just hanging out). It was rather a hilarious conversation though. Especially since I personally preferred Burger King and couldn’t imagine why they’d need someone to spy on McDonald’s lol.

            1. De Minimis*

              We were supposed to tell people to stop taking pictures [or get the manager to tell them] back when I worked retail. I don’t think it was about competitors or anything like that, they just didn’t allow any photography to take place without prior authorization.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Just to address a pet peeve, they can’t actually prohibit photography, they can only eject people who take photographs if they don’t want photos taken. Posting a sign about “absolutely no photography allowed” makes it rude, but not illegal, to take pictures, and not even a police officer has the right to demand your camera or your film. (There may be national security exceptions, but those would NOT be your local police handling those situations.)

                1. OhNo*

                  Traveler –
                  IANAL, but I don’t think just taking pictures violates copyright. You would have to use those pictures to infringe upon the rights of the copyright holder, either by making money off of them in some way or otherwise using them for something that insults or defames the rights holder (criticism or satire would be fine, but outright defamation is not).

                2. Kelly O*

                  I temped for a while at a property management company in a major metropolitan downtown area. One of the things our property manager was completely militant about was “if you see anyone making photos outside our building they have to leave, and try to get the film or delete photos.”

                  Now, she was the only one militant about that, and I knew I was not long for that temp agency when she informed an elderly couple making pictures with their grandchildren in the general direction of our building that they’d have to stop, and then took the film out of the camera citing “you’re photographing private property.” (Never mind they were across the street and their grandchildren were standing in front of a plant… her point was that “Terrorists will use people we don’t expect and we don’t want our building to be a target.” I hated to break it to her that we were really not that great a “target” in comparison to other, larger, more important buildings that were more easily accessible anyway.)

                3. LD*

                  If it’s private property, can’t they prohibit most anything they want to prohibit on their own property? Walmart is not a public place, it’s a private business. They may not want to alienate customers by prohibiting photography in their buildings, but I’m pretty sure they could. Anyone know of a law that prohibits prohibiting photography inside a business?

                4. Natalie*

                  @ LD, I think what The Cosmic Avenger is saying is that a stores only remedy would be asking you to leave. If they attempted to have you arrested for taking pictures, or have the police confiscate your camera, it would be treading into First Amendment violating territory.

                5. James M*


                  Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

                  Copyright very clearly does not extend to preventing people from taking photographs. Where privacy can be expected, there are privacy laws covering photography, but that’s nothing to do with copyright. Kelly O’s property manager should have been charged with vandalism and attempted robbery.

                6. Chinook*

                  Late to the party, I know.

                  My employer recently had an issue with a little old lady taking pictures of one of our sites (she thought she was taking a picture of our asset but it was someone else’s right next to ours) from public property. As per our safety protocol, those who saw her contacted the police through the non-emergency line with her licence plate. The police checked in with her a week later and her explanation made sense but she was indignant that she was seen as a security threat and said so to the media. Funny, if something had happenned to those assets that caused an environmental issue (or for the to go boom) and the fact that someone had been photographing them had not been reported but later discovered, you better believe that heads would have rolled.

                  The reality is that taking photographs of something that is not usually photographed (like landmarks)should raise eyebrows and get a quick question. If the answer is logical, than no harm and no foul. But, if someone was taking a picture of your no descript house, wouldn’t you want to know why?

          2. majigail*

            Back in the 1990s, I was a Girl Scout. I was at camp and in our council, in high school they had weeks devoted to teen issues. One week was about safe sex, teen pregnancy, etc. Of course we talked about all the other reasons it’s not great to be 16 and pregnant, but they wanted to drive the point home to us. They gave us all (there were probably 10 of us) a list of baby items and we had to go to WalMart and see how much it all cost… diapers, formula, clothes, etc. So here we are, a group of stinky teenagers running around WalMart price checking baby stuff when one by one security comes up to each of us and escorts us to the door. They thought we were with the competition!
            (by the way, that exercise pre-getting kicked out of WalMart was the most impactful lesson I ever got in safe sex. It’s always been about the dollars and cents to me and I knew at 16, I did not have $100 for diapers and formula…)

            1. Aaron Gullison*

              Several years ago, I was taking photographs for a college assignment, when a person came out of a nearby house yelling about my taking pictures. I was actually photographing a tall tree nearby, but he thought I was photographing his house, and that I worked for “the tax assessment people”. We settled amicably, but it was rather unnerving to me.

        3. Alter_ego*

          Every retail store I’ve ever worked in had a policy of asking anyone who was taking photos not to. It never came up, but I imagine if it had escalated, and they kept coming back, we’d have asked them to stop coming.

        4. Michele*

          Most luxury good brands will not allow any pictures taken in their stores. I have worked for a couple. Security will ask you to stop and if it is a digital photo ask that it be deleted.

        5. tomatonomicon*

          I worked there waaaaaay pre-smartphone, so I have no idea if the rules have changed. But that was the policy. I never actually saw it enforced.

      3. Cautionary tail*

        I always take price photos whenever I go grocery shopping because at least once during every major grocery shopping the price on at least one item rings up more expensively than what’s on the shelf. When it does and I show it ot them on my phone I get one of that item free. Going to the clearance rack is a bonanza because the store almost never changes the prices from when those items were on a regular shelf so if you are unaware then you pay full price for the clearance item and if you know and have taken photos then getting an item free is like shooting fish in a barrel. One time ACME had 5lb bags of potatoes marked wrong and I got a free 5lb bag every few days for three weeks. We were sick of potatoes by the time they corrected the price. :)

        In my view everyone should take photos of prices at the store.

        1. nicolefromqueens*

          I once took pics of the prices of the same bottle of sauce at Whole Foods in Manhattan ($9) and Duane Reade in Queens ($12) because I thought everyone needs to know who the bigger ripoff is.

      4. Melissa*

        I go into stores and write down prices, although I never take pictures. It never occurred to me that they might think I was a competitor – I do it so I can compare prices elsewhere. And nowadays some places encourage you to scan things with QR codes!

    3. the_scientist*

      Yes, this is something that happens in retail. It’s called “comp shopping”; my boyfriend does it quite regularly as part of his job.

      1. Worker B*

        All the time. I’m a little stunned by the accusations of trespassing and threat of arrest, however, and don’t know quite what to think.

        1. the_scientist*

          Maybe they are being overly aggressive with their comp shopping? I know bf’s consists mostly of scanning competitor’s flyers and then occasional visits to stores to see markdowns; how many of a particularly hot item the competitor has on their shelves, etc- but not actually buying anything. I’m with you that I’m more shocked with how the store is reacting, since I understand this to be common!

          1. Your gut*

            I wonder if the OP is especially noticeable or awkward instead of acting more like a regular customer. I mean, I would be, too, under the circumstances – there is a reason I’m not Meryl Streep.

            1. Canadamber*

              Yeah, maybe the OP forgot to take off their work uniform or something? If I was going to do that, I would be sure to store clothes either in my car or the locker room and change first.

        2. AVP*

          I’ve heard stories from friends who work in fashion about being asked not to return if it was clear that they were taking pictures and examining construction to knock off a garment. That I would understand, especially in a luxury store where there aren’t many customers and what you’re doing is obvious. In this case though it seems a bit overblown.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            I used to do that for a Big Department store. But I would take the garments to the dressing room to measure them and take notes. No one was the wiser.

            1. Clerica*

              This is the weirdest thing to me. They didn’t have room in their budget to buy one of an item which they could then take apart at the seams and create a pattern?

      2. Rebecca*

        Yes, we do this all the time in the retail industry! I’ve never been asked to leave a store for it. I don’t typically take pictures, just kind of jot down notes for myself. That is truly bizarre, I almost feel like there is more to the story here.

      3. Lauren*

        I worked at one of two small home decor stores in a mall and we both knew each other’s staff well. We chatted with them (no trade secrets, just “Yeah, it’s lampshade week again!”) when they comp shopped our store and they did the same for us. When our assistant manager wanted a second job, they offered her a few hours and that wasn’t seen as inappropriate. I know it must be different with big retailers but this reminds me of how great the culture at that job was.

    4. Lucy Ricardo*

      When I worked at Walgreens, we had to go to the CVS and Food Lion near by us and compare prices. I got to do this at the CVS, and it was interesting because essentially you go around looking at a bunch of different items and noting their prices but you never buy anything. I swore I looked like a shoifter, but no one said anything to me…

    5. L McD*

      This is so incredibly commonplace in retail that I’m really confused as to why the competing store is making such an issue of i. But that doesn’t mean the LW should have to be in this awful position, this needs to be worked out between management without an employee being in the middle.

    6. Sascha*

      Is pulling up the store’s website and looking at prices there not a good option? Because that seems a lot easier and less fraught with legal implications.

      1. Noah*

        Instore and online pricing is rarely identical for exactly the reason we’re discussing. Stores use their local market to set prices.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      I’m wondering if this is a situation where retail stores have different pricing from online at the discretion of the franchise owner or store manager. Occasionally a retail store won’t publish pricing on the Internet, or just “Varies by store”–which would explain why a competing store would need to check in person to see what competitive pricing would be.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yeah, I’d thought of that too. If it’s a big enough retail company, that’s wouldn’t be the case. But we don’t know.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      I was sent to several stores one time to take note of how many shelf feet were devoted to a particular brand of item, because I worked for a law firm representing a competitor of that brand in a patent infringement case. Couldn’t have done that online–although I suppose if I’d been queried by the store management they might have let it go since I wasn’t snooping for their competition.

    3. Hummingbird*

      There are several stores that have different prices in store vs. online. Online is usually cheaper. I found that out when I went in BigName bookstore to purchase a book I knew they had as according to their website. When I looked at the price tag, I saw it was different. I questioned customer service, and they admitted to the price difference. They offered to order it online for me and have it shipped to the store for free, which I ended up doing.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I wonder if it’s also that not all items are sold online. Little stuff – like sodas.

        1. Natalie*

          Or random sales due to inventory – Target in Minnesota is going to be clearancing swimsuits right now, but they might still be full price in Florida.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            Target in Minnesota was clearancing swimsiuts in July, to make room for back to school. The swimsuit racks are now holding winter coats and snowpants. :/

  4. Katie the Fed*

    Holy schnikees!

    First, I didn’t even know this was a thing!

    Two, your manager is a terrible person and would absolutely leave you to twist in the wind if you were arrested. Don’t do it. And start looking for another job ASAP.

    1. Mimmy*

      First of all, love “holy schnikees”…I just may steal that :)

      Second, absolutely agree with your post.

  5. Adam*

    Hold firm! You’re an employee of this store; not an indentured servant. You can refuse to do something you don’t want to do. It’ll suck if you get let go as a result, but at least you won’t be subject to this idiocy any longer. Good luck!

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Especially when that firing is due to “my bosses asked me to do something illegal and I refused.”

      2. Adam*

        For sure. I’ve been stuck in jobs I hated at times where being let go would suck for financial reasons, but it’s not the end of the world if it happens. There’s got to be other jobs available where the managers aren’t so blase about what might happen to their workers.

      3. Dan*

        To be technical, the arrest isn’t much of an obstacle; it’s the conviction that’s a killer. And even then, felonies are the big gotchas.

    1. Cube Ninja*

      Not to mention that if OP is fired as a result of a refusal to break the law, that’s an easy complaint to the state department of labor in addition to practically guaranteed unemployment coverage.

  6. Wilton Businessman*

    The stores may have an agreement between them where the other manager is just plain wrong. But before I stepped into that store again, I’d want a piece of paper that said I permission to do so.

    This is something I’d be willing to lose my job over.

    1. Busy*

      An agreement regarding prices with another store actually could have antitrust implications, so them having an agreement could actually be even worse than just plain getting arrested. Just hold firm, OP!

    2. OhNo*

      +1 to that.

      It sounds like it is just the one manager, as well, which leads me to believe that either the person threatening the OP at the other store is new and doesn’t understand that that’s just how business is done here, or they don’t realize that all the OP is doing is price shopping (maybe they think OP is there to steal?).

      Either way, there must be a piece of paper with permission from the other store’s managers in hand next time OP goes there. OP should also have a contact point if they are threatened again – nothing shuts down that line like “Talk to your boss, regional manager Jerry, who should be in the office today. I received permission directly from him to do this, as this paper says. I’ll wait here while you talk to him.”

  7. Elkay*

    Did you get the name of the manager who asked you to leave? It might hold a bit more sway if you could say “Penelope told me not to come back” rather than “Some manager”, that way your management can attempt to deal with the issue with the other store and it’s less of a case of “he said, she said”.

  8. some1*

    I am not a police officer or lawyer, but I’d be surprised if there was anything your company could do for you if you were arrested or cited for trespassing and it was pursued.

    1. Cautionary tail*

      Assuming you do get arrested you will need to put that on job applications for the rest of your life.

      Are you willing to risk the rest of your life?

      1. OhNo*

        Actually, very few companies ask about arrests, at least in my experience. Mostly they are interested in convictions, and even then I’ve only ever been asked about felonies, not misdemeanors (which is what I think the trespassing charge would be).

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          A misdemeanor can still haunt you. If you seek a security clearance, it can certainly get in the way.

      2. Dan*

        No you won’t — not unless you’re convicted. And FTR, just because someone is arrested, doesn’t mean they will be convicted.

        That doesn’t mean getting arrested is a picnic, but it’s far different than an actual position. Few positions (mostly related to national security) actually require you to disclose an arrest.

    2. bridget*

      Probably not as to the criminal issue, but if you were sued for civil trespass you would have an indemnification claim against the employer. (Although that would require legal fees much in excess of the value of a $10/hour job).

  9. Mike C.*

    And if you’re still ordered to go back, then you say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to do that. I’d be breaking the law. Given that it’s not an option for me anymore, how should we proceed?” And you hold firm to that — even if it means losing the job over it, although I doubt it will come to that.

    Bullshit. The kind of boss that wants an employee to break the law is the kind of boss that will fire someone for standing up to them. The rest of the advice is perfectly fine, but the idea that we’re dealing with anyone who resembles a reasonable person is simply nuts.

    1. AMG*

      I wonder what consequences there are for a company that fires an employee for not breaking the law, or what specific types of recourse that employee would have. I’d bet there are some and that it varies by state.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        This is exactly what I was thinking. I think in most states, you can’t be fired for insubordination if the employer admits that the “insubordination” is that they asked you to do something illegal and you refused. Generally, contracts to perform illegal acts are considered unenforceable…so no, you can’t sue your pot dealer if they sold you oregano.

        1. fposte*

          Right, the public policy notion. (And I always love the people who call the cops when they’re cheated in drug deals.)

      2. Dan*

        Probably none, at least in an at-will employment state, where an employee can be terminated for any or no reason whatsoever. If I were the boss, I’d just say “oops, not working out” and not give a reason.

    2. Colette*

      I’m not sure this is a boss who wants the employee to break the law – it’s entirely possible that it’s a boss that just hasn’t thought it through.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Yeah–it’s entirely possible that the manager insisting she go back hasn’t thought it all through, or thinks she’s overstating the case, or what have you. I wouldn’t jump straight to “is actively encouraging OP to break the law and considering firing her if she doesn’t” without a bit more evidence.

      1. Squirrel!*

        This is a good point. They might back down when she requests getting this information in writing, i.e. having proof that she was ordered to do this, with them knowing full well she had been told not to. They would be less likely to fire her if she could go to a lawyer / state labor board with a document that essentially said, “We told her to do something illegal after she was told not to, and we told her we were willing to fire her over it.”

        1. A Cita*

          Yes, but that’s all moot. Maybe she wouldn’t get fired, but she’d definitely be on her manager’s shit list. And anyone who has ever worked retail, where it’s a struggle to get enough hours, the good shifts, and a break once in a while when you need to be late or call in sick, knows you do NOT want to be on your manager’s shit list–a list that is very easy to get on. She wouldn’t need to be fired. She’d just have her hours reduced so much that she’d be effectively unemployed. It’s a major reality of working retail.

          1. Squirrel!*

            I’ve worked retail before, so I understand what you’re talking about. But it’s still not a bad idea to do a pushback. Her two options are: 1) Stand up for herself and possibly lose her job (or not), or 2) Listen to her boss, get arrested and possibly lose her job anyway, and then be denied unemployment and have a criminal record. Are you really suggesting she put herself in a situation where she can get arrested, just so she won’t upset her terrible boss? Really?

            1. Mike C.*

              I can’t imagine the OP would be denied unemployment. The instant a court finds out that the OP was fired for being arrested for doing something that was ordered by the manager, they’ll award it.

              1. Kristy*

                Sure, but the instant a court found out that the OP was fired for refusing to do something illegal, they’d award that, too. And it saves the hassle of a possible arrest and court appearance. If s/he were to do it and get into trouble, the manager could also deny that they ordered it. A manager that was scummy enough to force an employee to do something illegal is a manager scummy enough to deny it if sh*t hits the fan.

            2. A Cita*

              Not sure where you get I’m saying the OP should do as asked and break the law. I’m responding specifically in Mike C’s thread where he points out that it’s bs to assume the OP won’t lose their job over it. The discussion turned to how to protect the OP from getting fired or losing unemployment, and I was pointing out that they wouldn’t need to be fired to effectively lose their job. And that kind of push out is very common in retail. Absolutely agree that OP shouldn’t do it. Just also agree with Mike that there will mostly likely be consequences and OP should be prepared for that (would love to be pleasantly proven wrong).

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I believe that in my state if OP filed for unemployment all she would need to do is mention, “I was asked to do something illegal and I refused”.

                No problems with unemployment benefits.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Absolutely, AAM. I once worked at a place where I was asked to photocopy copyrighted manuals for a program product — I refused.

        Then my manager said = Do this or else. I told him to take a long trip to a certain very warm place, no way I was breaking the law. I threw the original copy of the manual – “Here’s the manual. YOU send it out to our print shop for the copyright violation.”

        OH – OH – when HIS name was going to be on the request sheet, boy was it a different story!!!! “Oh, I can’t do that, uh……” Yeah, bozo.

        I think he found another stooge to do it, though. Sad.

    3. mel*

      I find the advice on this website is professional and wonderful, but retail/hospitality is on a completely different planet altogether. I’d be surprised if OP could even finish the sentence!

  10. Angora*

    It’s quite common to ban individuals that are scoping out your business for a competitor. In this situation it’s time to job search. If the main part of your job is being a “corporate spy” tongue in check on this one, but you are recognizable so are no longer viable in this position. I would look for something else as soon as possible because they will be laying you off, or terminating you for cause so they do not have to pay unemployment. They could always say you returned to the store when they told you not to, or let you be arrested and state you have an arrest record and are terminated for cause. If they are scoping out the competition on a regular basis, they know they are pushing their luck, am surprised that they haven’t told you to wear a disguise.

  11. Erica B*

    I’m curious as to how long she was in there before getting kicked out? I mean could she actually buy things- as a customer- while doing her job too? or what if this person just wanted to go to the store to buy things?

    and your manager sounds nuts

    1. JamieG - OP*

      The first time I was there for almost my full shift, so about seven hours. The second time, when they threatened me with arrest, it was only about an hour into my shift, but they recognized me.

      1. Windchime*

        I can see how someone hanging around a competitor’s store for 7 hours without buying anything would raise some red flags with the manager. I was picturing you going in, scoping out a couple of items, and then leaving and that seems reasonable to me. But lurking around for 7 hours? I can kind of see why they don’t want you doing that.

      2. The IT Manager*

        Hmmm … Okay, that does sound suspicious. Who spends 7 hours in a store shopping?

        What were you doing? Writing down prices or watching them work or something else?

  12. Alliej0516*

    No way would I go back in there. But you say that their employees are scoping your store out too? Management should have them banned from your store. If they won’t let you check them out, they shouldn’t have free will to check you out.

  13. LBK*

    For the record, you can absolutely ban someone from a retail store, you can absolutely call the police on them if they come back, and the cops will absolutely come and arrest them if you call. Watched it happen with my own eyes.

    1. MK*

      Not in every juristiction. In my country a place that is open to the public cannot arbitrarily “ban” people from going in, unless there is a reasonable cause for it (e.g. the place is already full, the person is creating a disturbance, etc.). There are people who won considerable sums of money as compensation from companies that threw them out of or didn’t allow them in their premises (mostly casinos who tried to ban players that fairly won too much or clubs that were picking and choosing their clientele). The rationale is that, if your bussiness is open to the public, not allowing a specific person comes across as branding that person as undesirable, so you better have a good reason to consider them so.

      Apparently, it’s different in the U.S., as most comments seem to agree it’s illegal. And even in my country, banning the employee of a competitor who is coming to your store just to snoop and spy would be legal, though I doubt it would be a criminal matter.

      But that isn’t the point. Even if the OP’s managers are correct about the legal point, it’s unreasonable of them to expect them to create an incident in which they will have to resort to legal arguments while being thrown out of a store.

  14. Ann Furthermore*

    OMG. OP, I’m with everyone else here. Stand your ground, and don’t set foot back in that place unless you’ve got something from the store in writing that says you’re allowed to be there. As someone else said, it would suck to have to find a new job, but at least you’ve got a great answer to the “Why are you looking for a new job” interview question. Better that than having to explain an arrest for trespassing any day of the week.

    Some managers just don’t think things through. Years ago I had to go to Canada to do some consulting work. I was told to not say I was there on business if I was asked, since (according to my manager) there are some stricter laws around consultants coming into Canada to work. Something about the government wanting to be sure that work wasn’t being taken away from Canadian citizens, I believe. This was earlier in my career, I was still pretty young, and it didn’t occur to me to say no. The first time I went, I wasn’t asked why I was going to be there — no problem. Then I had to go back the next week and I had to hem and haw about why I was coming back to Canada the 2nd week in a row, and I had to spin some BS story about visiting my boyfriend. At that point, my guardian angel smacked some common sense into me. I called my manager and told him that if they wanted me to come back, they would have to get me a work visa (or whatever was required) because my job description did not include lying to immigration officials.

    1. Arjay*

      I had the same thing happen to me back in 2007. Our company had a contract with the Canadian Armed Forces, but we were still instructed to be evasive about the purpose of our travel. It was my first trip, so I was partnered with a more senior person on the account. Customs asked the purpose of my trip and I told them “training.” Then they asked if I was training or being trained. Since I was primarily shadowing the senior person, I said I was being trained. I have no idea what she said she was doing there though. And this was just one of the many sketchy things about working for the company. I ended up quitting before I was scheduled for another trip.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Yeah, I didn’t stay with my company much longer after that either. Many things contributed to my decision to leave, but this was definitely on the list.

  15. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Given the questionable scruples of the OP’s manager, I’d be wary even if she presented me with something in writing – unless I witnessed the other store’s manager signing it. I do like the “how should we proceed?” advice. Let them be the ones to take action.
    I would imagine the first time the police are called out for trespassing they’d issue a warning, but different jurisdictions do things differently. They may go straight for the tazers.

    1. Squirrel!*

      Yes, but if the OP gets something in writing from the boss, telling her specifically to go to the store even after being threatened with arrest, she can show that to a labor board or a lawyer if she gets fired over this. Especially if they try to fight her unemployment case.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        Yes, that would be golden in the unemployment office, but wouldn’t mean squat if she actually went back to the store and got arrested or whatever.

        1. Squirrel!*

          I didn’t say she should go back to the store, I’m saying she should get that information in writing, and then not go back. That way if she’s fired, she has an ace up her sleeve.

  16. Joey*

    If I were you I’d do some research on the definition of trespass in your area so you can show your supervisor its a real possibility and not an empty threat.

  17. Mimmy*

    Horrible. Please do not go back to that store and find yourself another job. I would not want to risk my reputation by obeying your boss and, potentially, get arrested. PLEASE keep us posted!!

    Actually, I wonder if the OP’s store could be on the hook should the OP get arrested by doing something she was told to do by her employer.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Pretty sure OP could sue her store, but that wouldn’t stop the criminal complaint against the OP for doing it.

      1. Your gut*

        Pretty sure anyone making $10/hour isn’t going to sue his or her employer — that’s what THE MANager is counting on, anyway.

  18. Grey*

    I’d try to get written confirmation from the store where you’re not allowed. That way, if you’re fired for insubordination, you’d have proof of your case if your employer tried to challenge an unemployment claim.

  19. meetoo*

    Even if you did not get arrested getting kicked out of the store every time means you are not able to get the info they want anyway. It seems pointless to keep sending you now that the manager knows who you are and has made it clear they don’t want you there. You may want to bring up to your manager that you might not be the best person for this assignment anymore. I’m with everyone else, don’t risk getting arrested.

  20. just laura*

    I think they are just blowing smoke– how can you be arrested for entering a public store? That’s not illegal. They can ask you to leave but it’s not like they can cart you off to jail.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, if a private business tells you that you can no longer enter, and you return, they can indeed have you arrested for trespassing. At least in most jurisdictions in the U.S.

    2. De Minimis*

      It’s not public property so in theory you can be arrested for it. I don’t know what the likelihood is of it actually happening assuming you agree to leave. Also, even if it did happen I don’t know how likely it would be that it would actually amount to something that would give you a record.

      Still, why risk it?

    3. Gene*

      If you have been legally trespassed form the store, you can certainly be arrested for going back.

    4. JamieG - OP*

      Yep, definitely illegal! That’s what my managers were saying, so I looked up the actual state law, and if a representative of a business (like a manager) says that I am not welcome, it is trespassing to keep going back.

    5. doreen*

      No they can’t cart you off to jail- but the police can. And having dealt with more than a few people who were banned by retail stores, it is my experience that the larger stores have a process that makes arrest and prosecution easier – affidavits completed at the time of the warning specifying who warned you and when , possibly with a photo from the security camera attached or a signature from you acknowledging that you received the warning (in some circumstances.)

      And people actually do get convicted for returning to the store after they have been told they can no longer enter

    6. JMW*

      We have banned people from our place before (letters in writing delivered via Fedex). But in our jurisdiction (county in Texas, outside city limits – not sure if that makes a difference), in order for a person to be arrested for trespass the sheriff has to issue a warrant of trespass (which they have to do while the person is on our property), after which a further occurrence will result in an arrest.

      A couple of times we have had banned persons return, but only on one of those occasions did the sheriff arrive while the person was still there to issue the warrant of trespass. So if he comes back now, he will be arrested.

      I don’t think your manager should ask you to do this, but you can contact your local policing authority for the rules.

  21. Gene*

    Before having the discussion with your boss, find the appropriate laws in your state/province/canton/arrondissement on trespassing and have a print of it with you.

    A. You will then have the penalties to which you would be subject if, in fact, the other store legally trespassed you, and
    B. You will be able to see if you have been legally trespassed from the other store. If you haven’t, you don’t risk arrest but the police would be there to legally trespass you. Then if you go back you would be subject to arrest.

  22. JamieG - OP*

    Thanks, Alison, for the advice and everyone else for the feedback. It’s always nice to hear that I’m not being completely unreasonable in refusing to go!

    Fortunately, I did get this resolved. They wanted me to go back today, and I clearly wasn’t going to go along with it, so I tried to follow the advice I was pretty sure Alison was going to give me!

    The first time I tried to get it resolved, I went to the manager in charge of the comp shop position. She told me that they would try to get somebody else to do it, but that I needed to go back until they could find a replacement. That wasn’t good enough for me; I’m not going to risk (a totally legal, according to state trespassing laws) arrest just so her score on that particular metric doesn’t suffer.

    Finally yesterday I found a different, higher-up manager and explained the situation to him – including that it was definitely 100% in their rights to have me arrested. He thankfully agreed that it was ridiculous to expect me to go back under the circumstances, and told me to stay away until they get it resolved. (Store management is talking to district management to try to figure out what’s going on, since this is a definite change in policy from what the other store has always done.) I do a lot of other things, so my hours don’t have to suffer as a result of stepping down from this duty.

    I’m still not happy with the first manager I had spoken with. That conversation (“I realize you don’t want to get arrested, but if you stop going it’ll make me look bad!” is basically what I hear when I think about it, though that might not be completely fair) did a lot to undo the goodwill that the store has built up in almost three years of employment. But I rarely have to work with her, and since I didn’t actually get arrested or disciplined by my store, I can deal with that.

    To clear up some questions from the comments: Upper management didn’t actually think that I was breaking the law. Our stores have done comp shops with each other for at least five years, and this is the first time there’s ever been a problem with it, so I think it came across as some weird miscommunication. And maybe it is, and they were just bluffing about getting the police involved, but I’m not particularly interested in calling their bluff!

    And yeah, it’s a totally normal thing to do. We have people in our store comparing prices for other businesses all the time, and as long as they aren’t being disruptive we have no problem with it. So it was really weird and unexpected that the other store started kicking me out, but as far as I’m concerned that’s on management to resolve!

      1. JM in England*

        So perhaps your store can do the same to the other store’s comp shoppers ie ban them threaten to arrest them for trespass if they return. This may sound petty but what’s good for the goose……………

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      I’m glad this all worked out reasonably well.

      Can you explain a bit more why you spent 7+ hours in the other store? Is that normal for your line of work? Because I’m having a hard time thinking of any retail establishment where it would be normal to have someone from another store spend nearly a full day there–which is possibly what the other store manager was thinking.

      1. hildi*

        Yeah, I’m curious about that, too (kind of like those few posts AAM did about other people’s cool and unique jobs; spending 7 hours secret shopping sounds pretty dang unique!).

    2. AndersonDarling*

      If your boss is worried about looking bad, can’t they go do the comp shop?
      It sounds like there is a scorecard and your manager’s team has to spend x hours comp shopping to pass. That seems like an unusual thing to attach a goal to. If I was the boss, I’d rather my employees comp shop when it is necessary, not because it is mandatory. But…that is the way these things work…

    3. Mimmy*

      One thing that occurred to me earlier in thinking about your post: Maybe the other store overall is totally fine with you comp shopping and that this manager is just someone who disagrees with her management to allow you in, thus behaving the way she did.

      Either way, I’m really glad you got this resolved so quickly. I hope your upper management has a nice chat with your direct supervisor!

  23. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Sounds like the two stores need to come to some sort of agreement about comp shopping. Totally not fair for them to bust people for doing it in their store when they’re sending their people to do the exact same thing. Maybe the two managers could sit down and hash out some sort of arrangement.
    If both stores start calling the cops on a regular basis to report comp shoppers as trespassers, pretty soon the cops are going to get tired of it. And then the tazers come out :-)

  24. Mochafrap512*

    I work in a grocery store and can honestly say we hand out “no tresspassing warnings” all the time. Everyday, more than once a day.We do enforce them. The police are notified when the warning is given, so when the police are called to come, they already know who they are coming for.

  25. Mochafrap512*

    ****I should also say, these no tresspasses are not for comp shopping, but for other wrong doings.
    I was just trying to state to some of the people saying that the police don’t take no tresspasses seriously, that yes the police do.

  26. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I think you fell into the middle of something and no one is telling you what it is.

    I don’t understand why they can’t send someone else. Why isn’t anyone else having a problem? But, okay. Next. [Not a slam against you, OP, just the opposite. I think there are a couple people in this story that are having problems with each other and you are a handy pawn in that fight.]

    And your manager, why can’t she just go over and talk to the other manager? This is sort of an open secret thing. Everyone knows.

    Is there security? Do you have a friend in security that might be able to shed light on what is happening here? When I worked in a mall, security was great for getting the rest of the dish on something.

    Like all the others have said, stand your ground. Do not go to jail for a job. No job is worth it. If this doesn’t totally go away- quit the job. What needs to happen next is that they never, ever ask you to go into that store again.

    I will say. Any retailer I have worked for, if you stayed in the store for seven hours you would be escorted out and told not to return. I don’t know why your manager does not know that.

  27. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I am reminded of a post around a year or two ago in here, where an OP was facing criminal charges, because she was doing accounting and knowingly was cookin’ the books. If I recall, she thought she’d be in the clear because

    a) she was not benefiting directly by her actions, and
    b) her boss told her to do it.

    Uh, no. No defense. If you’re committing a crime, you are a criminal.

  28. Phoebe*

    Terrible managers aside, how is this trespassing? Comp shopping is frequently done in the retail industry. I can understand not being allowed to take pictures, but what’s to stop you from pulling out a notebook and writing things down?

    Unless the OP is doing something egregious or illegal, the other store doesn’t have any ground to stand on if they call the police on her for “trespassing.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, but they do! If a private business tells you that you are not welcome there and not to return, it is indeed trespassing if you insist on coming back.

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