Sunday, January 20, 2019

Should I cancel an uncashed check to my newspaper deliverer?


Late every November, a reader we're calling Anne receives a self-addressed envelope with a note from the person who delivers the daily morning newspaper to her doorstep. On weekdays, the paper typically arrives before 6 a.m. and on weekends before 7 a.m., even in the foulest of weather.

"My deliverer gets up early and works hard to get the newspapers delivered," writes Anne. Several decades ago, a teenager in the neighborhood delivered the newspaper and Anne knew him by name as well as his family. He would even collect delivery fees from his newspaper route subscribers in person, once a month. But the days of kids delivering newspapers in Anne's neighborhood have long passed.

Now, while Anne occasionally has caught a glimpse of her deliverer driving off in the early morning, she wouldn't recognize her. She only knows the deliverer is a woman because of the name on the annual envelope provided.

In the old days, Anne would include a monthly tip for her newspaper deliverer when he came to collect. But now she waits for the annual envelope to arrive in December before tipping the deliverer.

"In the past, I've put cash in the envelope and sent it back to her," writes Anne. But this year she decided to write a check for $50 and return it.

"It's been more than a month and she still hasn't cashed the check," writes Anne. She's torn about whether to cancel the check, but she wonders if she was wrong to write it in the first place.

"I'm pretty sure the deliverer doesn't make a lot of money," writes Anne. "Was it wrong for me to assume she had a checking account?"

Anne asks if she should cancel the check and wants to know if she made an egregious faux pas by writing a check instead of including cash.

As for writing a check rather than giving cash, Anne did nothing wrong. If the deliverer couldn't accept checks, she should have indicated so in the note she left with the envelope. Given the choice, it's understandable that Anne chose to write a check rather than send cash since a canceled check would indicate that the deliverer safely received the tip.

It might be annoying to wait for the check to be cashed, but a month doesn't seem to be a significant enough period of time to be overly concerned. Anne can cancel it if she wants to, but if she doesn't let the deliverer know she's doing so that might result in the deliverer running into a hassle if she ultimately decides to cash the check. If Anne does decide to cancel the check, the thoughtful thing would be to let the deliverer know she's done so. That, of course, would require a bit more work for Anne. She'd have to track down the deliverer's name and address. While those were on the envelope, Anne doesn't have them on file anywhere.

While I would lean toward simply waiting, the second option of canceling the check and letting the deliverer know is equally good. Next year, however, if Anne wants to avoid the worry, the right thing is to tip with cash. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2019 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Do not sign documents before reading them


At a neighborhood abutter's meeting called by the city to gather feedback about a neighbor's proposed construction project at her house, the city representative announced that he was sending around a clipboard with a signup sheet. The city representative indicated it was a way for him to get in touch with neighbors about future meetings if any should be held.

A reader we're calling Lee, who lived around the block from the neighbor wanting to do work on her house, attended the meeting. He indicates he wanted to get a sense of what the neighbor was proposing and to hear from fellow neighbors in closer proximity to the proposed construction site.

Lee discovered that the site owner needed some zoning variances from the city zoning board to expand the size of the building she planned. While the zoning board had final word on any variances, the city wanted to gather reader feedback to the proposal.

At that first meeting, many of the attendees had concerns about the size of the building the number of trees which might be removed to make way for the new building. A few neighbors made it clear they were against anything being built on the site whether it was in compliance with the zoning laws or not.

About a month later, another abutter's meeting was called by the city representative at which the site owner presented revised plans for a substantially smaller structure. She still needed some variances to erect the building she wanted, but in addition to the smaller size proposed, fewer trees would be removed.

Again, clipboards with signup sheets were passed around. Lee willingly signed one of the sheets including his email address, thinking it was the city representative's list.

And again, a handful of abutters made clear that they were against anything being built on the site. "We're all against it," Lee recalls one of these abutters saying, which he knew was not an accurate statement.

As it turns out, the list he had signed at the second meeting was shared by the anti-build abutters. He discovered this a few weeks later when he received an email announcing a meeting at one of the abutter's homes to discuss how to proceed to stop the project.

"I'm not trying to stop the project," Lee writes. "It's her property. I'd like her to build something in keeping with the neighborhood, but since she seemed responsive to the original concerns, I'm not against her building something."

Lee thinks the abutter who circulated the list was unethical in not making it clear that it wasn't a list from the city representative. He thinks he should say something to the list spreader.

Lee can say something if he wants, but as long as the abutter made it clear on the list itself what it was people were signing, she's in the clear. Sure, it would have been a nice gesture to remind each prospective signer to read the description of what he or she was signing.

But the right thing for any of us is to read the documents we sign even if we assume they might be something else. If there is any doubt, the responsible reaction is to ask for clarification or simply not to sign. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2019 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Should I cancel an uncashed check to my newspaper deliverer?

Late every November, a reader we're calling Anne receives a self-addressed envelope with a note from the person who delivers the dai...