Target Workers Fired Over Stanley Cups and “15-Minute Rule”

By: Chris Gorrie | Published: Feb 04, 2024

Target, a retail giant, recently made headlines with a series of abrupt firings related to its obscure 15-minute rule.

This finally sheds light on a policy that has long been mentioned but remains poorly understood within the company and little-known publicly. 

Target Fires 7 Employees Over Stanley Cup Purchases

The massive retailer recently terminated seven employees who purchased special-edition Stanley Quencher cups, leading to accusations of an unexpected crackdown.

Stanley Quencher cups lined up on a store shelf.

ishmael daro/Wikimedia Commons

Among those fired is Catherine Carter, a dedicated Target employee of 19 years who had never faced any disciplinary issues. Carter, who had a personal connection to breast cancer, purchased a pink stainless-steel insulated cup from her store’s Starbucks café during her break. Despite the presence of managers during the transaction, she was terminated the following week.


Target Starbucks Team Fired in Maryland

Social media anecdotes suggest instances of blatant policy violations, but the terminated workers argue that they were unaware or did not expect such severe consequences for buying the cups. 

A Starbucks store inside of a Target chain.

TaurusEmerald/Wikmedia Commons

In one case, a Starbucks team lead in Maryland was terminated for allowing a cup to be sold before the official release date, even though the store’s standard practice was to stock items ahead of schedule to prevent empty shelves.

Target Tries to Ensure Customers Have a Fair Chance

Apparently, the rule these employees had violated–“the 15-minute rule”–is designed to ensure that customers have a fair opportunity to purchase merchandise before Target employees can buy the items for themselves. 

A representation of justice: a statue of a blindfolded woman holding a scale.

Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

However, many employees are unaware of the specifics, with the rule often communicated verbally and rarely presented in written form.

What is Target’s 15-Minute Rule?

The 15-minute rule, a crucial yet elusive aspect of Target’s employee purchasing policy, has sparked controversy and confusion among the workforce. 

A person sits scratching their head in a look of attempted comprehension.

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Business Insider (BI) conducted interviews with Target employees, revealing a lack of clarity and understanding surrounding the rule. The information is not prominently featured in the store employee handbook, and even when mentioned, it is usually in a separate document called “Team Member Purchasing Guidelines.”

Target’s 15-Minute Rule is Difficult to Find

The elusive nature of this document, stored on an internal human-resources site, makes it challenging for nonmanagerial employees to access. 

A person stands at the far right end of a hallway of drawers, looking into one of them.

National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

An anonymous Target employee shared insights with BI, emphasizing the difficulty in locating the guidelines and stating, “It took some looking to find it.” This lack of visibility contributes to the overall ambiguity and confusion among employees, many of whom were not even aware of the 15-minute rule until recent firings brought it to their attention..


Lack of Specific Guidelines in the Employee Handbook

Target’s store employee handbook vaguely outlines that workers “cannot use their status to gain an unfair advantage over guests when it comes to purchasing merchandise.” 

A blue book sitting on a wooden table.

Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

However, this general guideline lacks specificity, leaving room for interpretation and contributing to the misconception surrounding the 15-minute rule.


What Target’s 15-Minute Rule Actually Says

The critical text of the rule causing numerous firings is buried within the separate document, where the 15-minute duration is explicitly mentioned.

An image from the inside of a Target store, showing the intersection of the produce section and the home essentials section.

Source: FASTILY/Wikimedia Commons

The rule reads: “HDM moved to the sales floor…must remain on the shelf for enough time necessary to ensure the guest has a meaningful opportunity to purchase such items (15-minutes is sufficient) before team members are permitted to purchase such items.” This snippet is part of the broader Team Member Purchasing Guidelines that employees find elusive due to limited access and visibility.


Team Member Purchasing Guidelines

Apart from the 15-minute requirement, the guidelines emphasize that employees must be off the clock, remove their name badges, and refrain from concealing or holding merchandise for later purchase. 

A document with writing on it. The bolded word “steps” is circled in highlighter.

Clayton Robbins/Unsplash

The consequences for violating these guidelines are severe, ranging from formal warnings to immediate termination, as outlined in the “consequences” section of the document.


How Target Enforces the 15-Minute Rule

Target’s enforcement of the 15-minute rule seems to vary, with instances of immediate termination being comparatively rare but not unprecedented. 

The outside of a Target store. You can see one Target employee walking into the store.

Source: Kelly Martin/Wikimedia Commons

The firings often occur unexpectedly and seemingly in waves, catching employees off guard. Some employees reported that, before January, the company generally opted for less severe actions, such as formal warnings, when dealing with policy violations.


Target Appears to Prefer Correcting Behavior Over Termination

A list of prepared responses for managers, obtained from an employee, underscores the company’s preference for correcting behavior rather than resorting to termination. 

Two people speaking together at a table.

Christina @

The document emphasizes, “It is your responsibility to know, understand and abide by the team member purchasing guidelines,” and encourages employees with questions to seek guidance from a leader.


A Clear Need for Improved Communication and Transparency

Target’s 15-minute rule, though crucial in maintaining fairness for customers, has become a source of confusion and controversy within the company. 

A woman stands before a conference table where her colleagues sit listening at their laptops. She is pointing at numerous sticky notes on the wall and speaking.

Jason Goodman/Unsplash

The lack of clear communication, limited visibility of the guidelines, and inconsistent enforcement contribute to an environment where employees may unwittingly violate the rule, leading to unexpected and severe consequences. As Target navigates this challenge, there is a clear need for improved communication, transparency, and clarity surrounding its employee purchasing policies to ensure a fair and just workplace for all.