In July 2014, when Ross Harris left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, locked in a car while he went to work at Home Depot, the entire community—if not the nation—mourned the death of an innocent child. And, while Cooper’s death was certainly tragic, the case raises concerns for business owners that go beyond child safety.
In leaving Cooper in the car, Harris engaged in unlawful activity on company property. Even if the child had not been injured by Harris’ action, he would have been guilty of unethical behavior. Under the terms of the Employee Handbook that we provide to our customers, employees are strictly prohibited from engaging in unlawful or unethical activities. This prohibition extends to include, not only areas peripheral to the actual work site (such as the parking lot), but also to locations completely away from the work location. This prohibition is important, because illegal or unethical activity by employees can have serious ramifications for their employers. At the least, such behaviors can adversely affect the company’s reputation. At the worse, they can leave the company or other employees liable for a lawsuit or criminal charges.
Home Depot released Harris from employment shortly after the incident—long before he was indicted in early September for malice murder in the death of his son. The company’s action is completely legal and defensible, even if Harris is eventually found not guilty. His decision to leave the child unattended was both illegal and unethical, in and of itself.