Saturday, March 25, 2006

HELP (NOT REALLY) WANTED

Even when there is a strong in-house candidate for an open position, companies often expand their searches to include outside applicants. Sometimes the decision is driven by a genuine desire to find the strongest applicant for an open position, but often it's simply a matter of company policy.

I've never been a fan of company policies that force open searches even when it's already all but decided that the position will be offered to an in-house candidate. Under those conditions the search effort is merely a matter of going through the motions. Such posturing may adhere to the letter of the policy, but it's disingenuous to go through the process when, short of the in-house candidate's head exploding during the interview process, the hiring decision is a fait accompli. It's dishonest and wastes everybody's time.

Plus, the thought of spending time on a committee that serves little purpose makes me grumpy.

A reader from the Midwest knows what I'm talking about. She recently applied for a part-time job at a church, was called in for an interview that lasted nearly two hours and was asked for four references. Ultimately the church called back to tell her that, in spite of her "excellent resume" and "glowing references," she hadn't gotten the job.

It turns out that there had been an in-house applicant for the position who got the job. The position was advertised only to see how the in-house candidate "stacked up" against someone else. My reader was told that the church was going to hire the in-house person because she already knew the people there.

"In reality my time was wasted in applying for a job that was already filled," my reader writes. "I was perturbed that they wasted my resources and the time, energy and goodwill of my references."

Now, you may be thinking that the church wasn't disingenuous at all. Even with a strong internal candidate, it might have made good business sense to see if there were anyone stronger outside the organization who could do the job. You may even be right. But my reader's resentment over how the search was handled didn't stop there.

"The kicker came when I was told that I might have had a chance had Imade arrangements to be away from the job I currently hold and spent a Sunday morning at their church," she writes.

This wasn't feasible because her current employer, another church, specifies that she can miss only two Sundays a year.

"I was floored," she writes. "Is it ethical for them to require that I ditch an important part of my responsibilities for the week as part of the interview process? For a part-time job that pays less than $15 an hour? Am I way off base in thinking that this stinks to high heaven?"

If the new church made it a part of every candidate's interview process to attend one Sunday-morning service, and if it paid the candidates for their time, then it would have been a legitimate request. Even then, however, the right thing would have been to make clear to my reader that, if she didn't attend the Sunday service, she wouldn't be considered for the job.

If, on the other hand, that Sunday-morning requirement was simply an excuse for hiring the in-house candidate the church had planned to hire all along -- well, yes, it stinks.

TO TELL OR NOT TO TELL?

My readers saw both sides of the question of whether or not to tell an employee seeking advice on buying a house that he's on a list of employees to be laid off, assuming that the list is confidential.

"I find it unconscionable that a manager would add to the employee's stress levels by not advising the employee to forget about the down payment," writes Darren Morby of London, Ontario.

"I would definitely tell about the upcoming secret news," opines Sula Goldenberg of Garden Grove, Calif., "and ask him to keep it confidential."

Dan Steinhaur of London, Ontario, wouldn't tell the employee directly, but would still get the message across.

"Recommend that he seriously reconsider his decision to purchase a house just now," Steinhaur suggests, "in that the company in general is facing difficulties due to external circumstances and influences."

A. Jacques of Santa Ana, Calif., goes a step further.

"If they ask if they are on the list, tell them that all of the affected employees will be notified at the same time," Jacques writes. "Layoffs are like a death sentence. Treat it with compassion."

Brent Waechter of Cypress, Calif., feels that the answer is clear.

"The answer is `NO' -- you don't tell the person about to make a down payment about the list," he writes. "My response to the employee would be,`Whatever I may know or not know is not a relevant part of your decision. Purchasing a home is a big decision and it needs to be made by you and your family, not based on whatever you think about whatever it is I might say or not say".


Post your own opinion by clicking COMMENTS below.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

WHY OH WIRELESS?

A few weeks ago I wrote about readers who had tapped into wireless Internet connections that were not their own -- perhaps belonging to a neighbor or to an institution that didn't block out nonmembers.

I received a huge response from readers, and the column was the launching pad for discussions on many blogs -- including my own -- about the rights and wrongs of such tapping-in. My take was that it was the responsibility of wireless-connection owners to set up a secure connection if they didn't want others to tap in.

The response was so great and varied that I've decided to put the question directly to all my readers: Do you believe that it is wrong to tap into someone else's wireless connection if it's not password-protected or otherwise secured? And, whether you do or not, why?


Please post your thoughts here by clicking on "COMMENTS" or e-mail them to me at rightthing@nytimes.com. Please remember to include your name and location, in the body of your response.

MOTHER'S BIG HELPERS

Cyndi Zak of Milwaukee was waiting in line at the supermarket. In front of her was a couple who appeared to be the grandparents of the little girl with them, who looked to be about 6 or 7. As the grandfather bagged items and the grandmother dealt with the cashier, the little girl stood behind her grandmother and in front of Zak's cart.

Zak noticed her carefully eyeing the candy, gum and other goods that were displayed by the checkout counter.

"She chose a lip gloss, looked back at me, then proceeded to put it in her pocket," Zak writes. "She waited a moment, took a candy bar, then some gum, and something else I couldn't distinguish."

Each time she took an item, she looked back at Zak, who was glancing at her while loading her own items onto the conveyer belt.

"Each time I gave her a stern glare and even shook my head," Zak reports, "hoping she would 'fess up and put the articles back."

She didn't.

"The store was busy, my items were being checked out and there was a line forming," writes Zak, who couldn't quickly decide how to handle the matter. "Should I quietly say something to the girl? Do I approach the adults? Do I tell the clerk or manager?"

Before she could decide what to do, the grandparents decided it for her.

"They all scurried out of the store," Zak writes. "Now it bothers me that I did nothing, as if I was an accomplice to it all."

It's a common conundrum: What should we do when we see someone else's child do something wrong? Our instinctive urge is to intervene, but we also know that we wouldn't want other people interfering in our own childrearing. Either way we feel awkward and unsure.

If I'm at a family gathering, for example, and I see the young sons of a distant relative physically attacking one another while their parents are nowhere in sight, should I break up the scuffle? Or should I conclude that it's none of my business how another person's kids behave?

For me, this isn't a tough call: I break up the fight.

Zak's case also should have been a simple call. Since the grandparents were right in front of her, she should have alerted them to their granddaughter's sticky-fingered ways.

But there's a difference between simple and easy. Most people want to do right when faced with situations such as the one in which Zak found herself, but often we get a nagging sense that others don't want us butting into their business, particularly when it comes to how they raise, control or reprimand their children.

In the case of the fighting brothers, their parents might argue that their approach is to let the brothers work out their differences by themselves. I'd counter that there's a line between working things out and physically hurting one another, but I'll concede that some people would think I was wrong.

But with the little girl with the big pockets, there's no question that her behavior was inappropriate. It was both bad and illegal, and also affected Zak personally, if only indirectly: Such pilferage drives up merchants' costs, which undoubtedly are passed on to Zak and other shoppers in the form of higher prices.

Her attempt to make meaningful eye contact with the little girl was a good first step. When it didn't work, however, the right thing would have been to tell the grandmother that the little girl had pocketed some items. It might not have been an easy thing to do, but often the simplest and best responses aren't.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A TAXING QUESTION

Last weekend I sat down to organize my tax documents. My full-time job is at Emerson College, but a handful of other organizations also pay me to speak or to write during the course of any given year. Each one that pays me more than $600 is supposed to send me a 1099 form, indicating how much they paid me during the preceding year, by Jan. 31. Most do, but some don't.

If they don't send me the form, there's a chance that they haven't reported the payment to the Internal Revenue Service and that I could get away without paying tax on that income. Even so, I still report the payment. It has never crossed my mind not to.

I made the money. I owe taxes on it.

If doing the right thing weren't enough to motivate me, would I really want to gamble that the IRS hadn't heard about the payment? Would I want to risk having agents swoop down to audit me? I loathe the two hours that it takes me to get my tax materials organized -- imagine my distress should I be, gasp, audited and then, yikes, fined.

A freelance graphic designer from Dedham, Mass., writes that she finds herself asking the same question every tax season: "Do I claim all the money I made from companies who don't supply a 1099?"

For her that's a sizable amount, totaling roughly $10,000. She always answers yes, she says, but other self-employed people tell her that they don't claim all of their earnings.

"The general consensus of people I ask is `don't,"' she writes.

She knows that the IRS offers anyone who reports a tax evader a reward of as much as 15 percent of the amount recovered, a bit less if the reported evader is already under audit. It's no urban legend -- check Section 7623 of the Internal Revenue Code.

"I'm not going to tattle on my colleagues," she hastens to add, "but it raises the ethical question of whether I should."

Unless my reader has more to go on than the braggadocio of some peers at tax time, the right thing to do is to continue to be honest about her own income and to let the other matter lie. Her colleagues' comments could be true, but then again they could be an odd form of showing off how powerfully they are "sticking it to the man" -- "the man" in this case being those IRS agents who strike fear in the hearts of many at tax time. She doesn't know, and there is no ethical merit in turning in every braggart who suggests that he or she has outwitted the law.

If the reader finds hard evidence that someone is cheating on his or her taxes, then she has every reason to turn in the cheater. Tax evasion is not only illegal but also unfair to the rest of us who pitch in our fair share year after year. It's not "tattling" to report someone who's illegally trying to get a free ride at the expense of the rest of the citizenry.

If doing the right thing is not enough, there's that reward. Sure, the IRS caps it at $10 million -- but show me a freelance graphic designer who's making that kind of money, and I'll show you someone who's up to something much shadier than simply under-reporting income.

KISS AND TELL

When I asked readers if they thought that Jack, the surgeon played byMatthew Fox on the television series "Lost," should tell his wife that he had been kissed by the daughter of a patient, even though he had told the kisser that a relationship between them would be wrong and couldn't happen, readers of both genders replied that he should spill the beans.

"To tell his wife would build trust in their marriage," writes David Douey of Windsor, Ontario. "If not, their marriage was not up to much in the first place."

Anna Purnell of Madison, Wis., agrees.

"In the kind of relationship I think many of us seek to cultivate,"Purnell writes, "the person would and should reveal the interchange, regardless of the level of hormonal surge it induced. To speak, to share, is to demystify. To hide, to hoard, is to seek experience alone when a far more desirable alternative is to seek it together."

Cliff Tao of Orange County, Calif., sees deeper issues involved. "There is no doubt that this is a temptation of the majority of married men," he writes, "and not admitting to it is just lying."

Post your own opinin by clicking on "COMMENTS" below. Please include your name and hometown in the text of your post.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A LAWYERLY E-MAIL EXCHANGE

An e-mail exchange between a lawyer and a prospective hire has been circulating on the Internet. It starts off with prospect Dianna Abdala e-mailing William Korman to let him know that she is turning down a job offer because the pay offered wasn't sufficient for the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. Korman responds by e-mailing her that her not telling him this in person is immature and unprofessional.

She retorts by telling him that a "real lawyer" would have made the original offer clearer. Then he asks her if she really wants to "start pissing off" established lawyers as she starts out in her career. Her response: "bla bla bla."

Korman proceeds to circulate the e-mail exchange to a few lawyer acquaintances who share it with a few more, and so the story goes. The entire e-mail exchange can be found at http://kirixchi.livejournal.com/255295.html
.

How would you parse the rights and wrongs here? Was Abdala wrong inusing e-mail to turn down the job offer? Was Korman wrong to circulate the e-mail exchange? Was either justified in his/her actions? Were both of them? Or is there enough blame to go around?

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS?

Glomming on: We know it when we see it, and most of us from time to time have taken advantage of the opportunity to piggyback onto someone else's good fortune.

But are there instances when taking advantage of such an opportunity crosses the ethical line?

L.M. from Ohio has a daughter who works for a large national company. L.M. runs a small consulting practice. Both women have clients in the same distant city. L.M.'s daughter's company has negotiated a discount rate at an upscale hotel, based on the promise that it will use a minimum number of room nights each year.

Having no such buying clout, L.M. usually stays at a budget motel chain.

"My daughter has offered to make reservations for me at the upscale hotel," L.M. writes, adding that her daughter's employer knows about the offer and doesn't object, because it will help the company reach its required minimum.

"The thought of a bit of luxury is appealing," L.M. admits, "and I'd never be able to stay at the hotel otherwise."

All the same, she hears a nagging voice in the back of her head questioning whether it's appropriate to glom onto the bigger company's discount rate.

"Should I listen to it," she asks, "or just get a good night's sleep for a change?"

If you ask me -- and she did -- there's nothing wrong with getting a good night's sleep, as long as her daughter's employer and the hotel chain don't object.

It's wrong, of course, to pose as a member of an organization to which you don't belong in order to get a discount. If, for example, I were to use my ID card from Emerson College to try to pass myself off as a student to get a lower admission fee to a museum, that would cross a line.

But if I were invited to give a lecture at a conference that happened to be at a resort in, say, Maui, and if I wanted to bring along my wife so that she could take advantage of the resort's amenities, I'd be on safe ethical ground -- as long as my wife and I footed the bill for her expenses. My wife might be glomming onto my business trip, but she wouldn't be trying to pass herself off as someone she's not.

As long as L.M. is not trying to pass herself off as an employee of an organization she does not actually work for, she's on safe ground. It's also reasonable to believe that the hotel would rather have a room filled at a discount rate than have the same room sit idle, generating no income at all.

The ground gets shakier if the hotel chain insists that anyone taking advantage of the discount be an employee of L.M.'s daughter's company. If that were the case, then the right thing would be to go back to less cushy nights at the budget motel. Her bed might not be as soft, but at least she'd be able to rest with a clear conscience.

Talking Politics Over Turkey

For those wrestling with how to have a civil discussion over a holiday meal, a discussion with HKS PolicyCast