Sunday, February 27, 2011

That’s the way the basketball bounces

The girls high school basketball game was turning into a blowout. My reader’s daughter’s team led by more than 30 points.

As the fourth quarter began, the team still had three starters in the game. On the bench, however, were six girls who had yet to hit the court at all. Finally, the coach substituted in five of the players who hadn’t seen court time yet.

Less than 10 seconds later, however, the coach quickly called a time out and put one of the starters back in. “This player was hot,” my reader writes, “and the coaching staff realized that she had a chance to tie or break a school record for three-point baskets.”

The coach wanted to make sure she hit the record. So he instructed the other four girls on the floor — the ones who had just gotten into the game — to get her the ball for a three-point shot.

“It took her four more team possessions to get her record-tying three-point basket,” my reader writes.

“There were kids on the bench who had played minimal minutes all season,” he writes. “Here was a game in which they could have gotten some quality playing time. A few may have even scored their first baskets of the year. Yet this coach found it more important to try to have one player break a record of another kid whose record was a good one against a good quality team.”

My reader’s faith in her daughter’s coach and his values has been challenged. “When did crushing another team become more important than playing your whole team?”

“Maybe a daily reminder of what his job is really supposed to be would be helpful,” my reader writes. He is contemplating getting the coach a plaque that reads, “Men do not embarrass young women.”

My reader wants to know if it is ethical or right as a high school varsity coach to put the needs or wants of one child ahead of her teammates.

Clearly, my reader is upset. But I’m not convinced that the coach can be condemned for wanting to “crush the other team” if he replaced his starters and then took four more team possessions to get the one girl her record-tying basket. If he really had been trying to crush the other team, he likely would have kept all of his starters in for the duration of the game.

That still brings up the question of whether it was right to want to feed the ball to this one girl to give her a shot at the record rather than giving the other girls on the team a chance to get game time and simply have a shot at the basket.

The game was already sewn up and the coach’s decision to give a star player a chance to achieve something extraordinary seems a reasonable decision. Does it send the message that every player should get an equal chance? No. Does it reinforce the importance of teamwork in winning a game? Probably not.

If the coach insisted in every game that this one player be given the ball to shoot, that might cross the line into unfairness and simply be bad coaching. But on this one occasion if the coach decided that the girls might work together to give a teammate the chance to accomplish something truly remarkable, that seems a perfectly ethical choice to make.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

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

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How sick is the new sick policy?

Most of us have had the odd occasion when we decided to go to work even though we felt slightly under the weather. Perhaps not with a full-blown case of the flu, but a nasty bout of hay fever or a dalliance with stomach upset that might not be enough to keep us from our appointed rounds.

But as irreplaceable as we might view ourselves, is it responsible to go to work when you are sick enough to spread whatever you have to co-workers?

A reader from Huntington Beach, Calif., believes her company may be unintentionally causing employees to come to work when it would be in their own interest and those of their colleagues to stay home and get healthy.

Her company recently changed its sick-leave policy because it wanted, she writes, to discourage the use of sick days for financial and staffing reasons. “They have reallocated the number of hours each employee is allotted for sickness each year and they do not allow accrual of sick hours.”

What’s worse, she argues, is that the company’s management is also incentivizing employees to not use their sick days by rewarding them with a day off for every six months they have perfect attendance. “So now colleagues come in sick and spread their sickness to others,” she writes.

Clearly, she believes this policy is not only shortsighted, but also pits coworkers against each other. “An individual may well want an extra day off rather than be home ill, but the rest of us don't deserve to risk exposure and sickness just for that person's pleasure.”

Is the company wrong to want to encourage its employees to take as few sick days as possible by rewarding them when they don’t?

There may be a variety of reasons why my reader’s company came up with its policy of rewarding employees when they take few sick days. Perhaps management believed that employees were misusing sick days to get time off when they weren’t actually ill. Short of requiring a sick note from a doctor, the company would have to take the employee’s word about their health status. Or perhaps, rather than allowing employees to accrue sick days from one year to the next that they could use for long stretches or be compensated for when they leave the company, it seemed a better idea to reward an extra personal day for every six months of perfect attendance.

If a company enacts a policy because it doesn’t trust its employees when they say they’re sick, then no change in sick-day policy will cure that lack of trust. If it’s a trust issue, a company would be wise to look deeper at the root of the problem.

But even if the company trusts its employees and enacted the new policy out of a desire to be more efficient, it still has the responsibility to make sure that the new setup doesn’t result in the unintended consequence of encouraging an office full of sick co-workers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with changing a sick- or personal-day policy. But the right thing to do is to make sure that in your effort to make things better, you haven’t unintentionally made things far worse for everyone involved.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sales that end with an ugh

I’m not what you would call a fashion plate. It’s rare that I’m up with whatever the latest fashion trend happens to be. The first time I heard of Ugg boots was when a writing student of mine wrote a column for a local alternative weekly about how overexposed and ugly the boots are. Uggs were apparently reaching saturation just as they first crossed my awareness.

It was fortunate, though, that I learned of them when I did since it prepared me for an e-mail from A.C., a reader from Ohio. She had bought a pair of Ugg boots for her daughter from a website. The retail price, she reports, would have been $160, but she paid $85,which included shipping.

“The boots came and, unfortunately, they were two sizes too big,” she writes. Since there wasn’t any method to return the boots indicated on the packaging, my reader decided to cut her losses and sell them to a resale store. “If not for the size, we would have been happy to have kept them.”

The store’s buyer paid her $40 for the boots and marked them for resale at $80.

That night on her local news broadcast, my reader saw a clip warning consumers about purchasing counterfeit Ugg boots off of the Internet. She went online to get some tips on how to recognize a knockoff. Since she didn’t have the boots with her, it was difficult for her to remember the fine points of the boots. But she did recall that the box her boots came in did not mirror the description of what a genuine Ugg boots box should look like. “My box’s lid was simply a lid,” she writes, “whereas the genuine Ugg boots box is hinged.”

My reader called the resale store the next day to explain how she had purchased her boots and that she was no longer confident they were genuine. She didn’t explain why she believed this, but she did offer to buy them back so that someone else wouldn’t purchase them believing them to be “the real deal.”

The sales clerk she spoke with assured her that the staff at the resale store is trained to spot fakes, and then thanked my reader for caring.

“She never really gave me a chance to speak about why I thought they might be fakes,” my reader writes. She decided that if they passed the store’s staff trained eyes, then perhaps they were made in the same manufacturing plant as the genuine Uggs.

Still bothered by all of this, my reader returned to the store two days later and found that the boots had already been sold. Now she’s left wondering whether she did the right thing. “Should I have called them back and explained about the difference in the box?”

Once my reader grew concerned that she might have purchased a knockoff pair of boots, she did the right thing by calling the store to let it know of her concern. She’s right that it would be unfortunate if someone bought them thinking they had a genuine pair, but my reader had no obligation beyond telling the store that they might have fake goods on their hands. It might have been good for the clerk she spoke with to have taken her concerns a bit more seriously, but once my reader alerted the store of the possible issue, it was its responsibility to investigate and make sure it wasn’t mislabeling products for sale.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business,” is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Praise the Lord and pass the application

The second short essay question on the admissions application for a master’s degree in education reads: “What do you see in your life that might indicate that you are walking with the Lord?” This is preceded by a question asking you to explain how you came to know Jesus as your savior as well as the scriptural basis for your salvation.

The private college based in the Pacific Northwest makes it clear on its application that it expects its students to adhere to a “lifestyle commitment” which holds, among other things, that “learning and the Christian faith are inseparable.” On the online application, students are asked to check off a box that indicates their agreement to abide by the “lifestyle commitment.”

As applications go, this one is pretty clear in its expectations of applicants.

A reader from Portland, Ore., believes that this college “offers what seems to be the perfect program” for her. She already has a master’s degree in English, but believes that more career opportunities will open up for her if she adds a graduate degree in education. She especially likes this program because it offers a specialty in curriculum design.

The problem is that she finds the religious questions posed on the application “rather intrusive.”

“Even if I were not an atheist,” she writes, “I would feel uncomfortable talking about my relationship with God.” She does write that she would gladly take any religion courses that might be required if she is admitted. What’s more, the program is offered completely online so she won’t have to move or even commute to classes.

There are two other graduate programs in my reader’s area, neither of which requires answers to such questions on the application. But neither is as convenient an option as the school that asks the religious questions.

“Is it unethical to lie on these essays?” she asks. “I certainly know enough about religion to create these responses, but the thought of that much lying is off-putting,” she writes, telling me that she grew up in the South surrounded by Baptists, the religion with which this college is affiliated.

The fact that the thought of “that much lying” is off-putting should give my reader the clue that something is wrong for even contemplating faking a story about her strong relationship with God to get into a convenient master’s program.

Even if there were no other options available in her area, lying on the application in an effort to gain admission would not be justified. Little good comes from any relationship that begins with a lie. A relationship to a graduate school is no exception.

If she’s honest on the application about her atheism, it’s very likely she will not be admitted. But such knowledge still doesn’t justify lying.

The right thing is for my reader to find a graduate program that matches her needs whose culture does not prohibit her from telling the truth about herself. She should not lie about her beliefs to get into a program that’s more convenient for her.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

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

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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