Publicly accused of theft by an Aldi employee

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JJSavage

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30 April 2021
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This incident is relevant to several areas of law (as far as I can tell) but I am posting it here as couldn't find a better suited forum.

On 29 /4/21, I was at the Aldi Bondi Junction store doing my grocery shopping.

When I got to the checkout, the cashier asked to check my shopping bags. While doing the inspection, the cashier was handling my bags and then stuck her hand in one of the bags to move around the items inside. I had some cooked food in that bag that I bought elsewhere and wasn’t comfortable with the cashier touching it. I asked her not to touch items inside my bag. The cashier then asked to see my small personal handbag. I told her it was too small (smaller than the A4 sheet of paper) and, therefore, shouldn’t be checked (as per the ARA and NSW Department of Fair Trading guidelines). I was also not comfortable with the handbag being inspected as I had my incontinence aids in there and wasn’t keen on showing them to anyone or for anyone to touch them. However, if the cashier insisted on inspecting the handbag, I would have complied; but she was OK with it and proceeded to put my groceries through the checkout.

However, at this stage another employee who up until this point had been silently observing the process, approached me and told me she had “footage of me stealing from the store”. I was stunned to hear this, as it was completely out of the blue. I asked the employee to show me the footage. She said she could not show me the footage but continued to insist that she knew for a fact I had been steeling. She did this in front of the cashier and another Aldi employee. I became extremely upset. I have never stolen anything in my life, even as a child. The store employee had absolutely no reason to make such a claim. To be accused of stealing, and in front of other people as well, put me in a state of shock. This employee then told the cashier to cancel the transaction and took my groceries away.

I went home without the groceries, feeling very upset, distressed, and humiliated.

On 4/5/21, I contacted the Aldi head office via a feedback form on their website. I complained about the incident and asked for an apology from the store and the employee, as well as a small compensation for a wasted shopping trip. I wrote that I was a person with disabilities and that this incident caused me a lot of hardship and distress.

On 5/5/21, I received an email reply from Aldi telling me they were going to investigate. I haven’t heard from them since. However, when I went to the Aldi Bondi Junction store to do a grocery shop a week later on 13/5/21, I was approached at the checkout by an Aldi employee (a different one), told to unload my shopping trolley, and that I wasn’t welcome at the store because I had been “very abusive” to their staff and “refused the bag check” (no mention of the alleged theft!), which is a complete lie. On the contrary, it was I who was abused by the Aldi staff member! I believe this was done in a retaliation after my complaint. I had gone to the store twice after the initial incident but before I lodged the complaint, and there were no issues. They have banned me from the store only after I wrote a feedback to the Aldi’s head office and threatened to make further complaints to the appropriate authorities.

I am a person with physical, neurological and mental disabilities. I am also a survivor of institutionalised childhood abuse and am suffering from depression, anxiety and cPTSD. I have now been humiliated and traumatised twice at the Aldi store by being accused of theft, as well as behaving abusively towards the staff, and refused service in front of other people. After these two incidents, my depression and anxiety have worsened. I am crying all the time and have persistent nightmares. I am also afraid to go into shops (not just Aldi) because I have flashbacks and feel fearful that I will be bullied and abused by the staff.

What should my next steps be?

What government organisations can I complain to about this? Also, are there lawyers who can take up this case on a ‘no win – no fee’ basis? I live on a disability support pension and don’t have funds for legal fees. Or is there a community legal or advocacy services that can help?

I would also like to say that even though monetary compensation would be nice, it’s not my main motivation in pursuing this. First and foremost, I feel the need to stand up for myself and other vulnerable people, and make sure the bullying and abusive behaviour by Aldi and its employees is not tolerated.

Thank you in advance. I appreciate any help or advice.
 
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Rod

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Go to your closest community legal centre and ask them to write a 'concerns notice' for you.

Being on disability they may assist you in this matter.
 
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JJSavage

Member
30 April 2021
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Isn't it a term of entry into the store that they can check bags?
My question wasn't about bag checking; but yes, they can check bags. However, they are not supposed to handle items inside the bags. If an item obstructs the view, they can ask the customer to remove it, but can't touch anything themselves. Also, both the ARA and the NSW Department of Fair Trading guidelines state that retailers are not supposed to check small handbags (smaller than the size of an A4 sheet of paper). The guidelines are not the law, and retailers can still ask to inspect the small bags (although practically nobody does). However, as I said, this was not an issue. I pointed out to the operator that the bag was too small to be checked, but If she insisted on checking it or if she said it was a condition of being served, I would have shown it to her.

I was completely within my rights to ask them not to touch items inside my bag and to point out that it was against the guidelines to check the small handbag. This is not an issue. The problem started when another employee decided to create a conflict and accused me of being a thief, saying that she had a footage of me stealing (She lied! She knew very well there was no such footage). Then she ordered the cashier to cancel the transaction and refused to serve me. Now, after I complained, they are also saying that I was abusive to their staff (I was not) and refused the bag check (I did not). They have also banned me from the store as a retaliation for complaining and for threatening to complain to the authorities and / or to initiate legal proceedings.
 
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