Sunday, September 11, 2011

Does the baby factor into the business deal?

"Guilt is supposed to guide us back to our moral compass I had always thought," writes D.C., a reader from the Midwest. She feels "inexplicably really guilty" and is concerned that she may have done something wrong in recent business dealings with the owner of a property she is leasing to run a lodge that will open later this year.

D.C. agreed to the lease back in February. She has paid half of the cost of the lease already (tens of thousands of dollars, she indicates) and is "wholeheartedly committed to setting up the lodge." She is committed to finding lodge guests by investing in marketing and advertising.

Sometime after they'd agreed on the details of the lease, but before all of the paperwork had been signed, D.C. found out she was pregnant. It was unplanned, she writes, a "miracle" that has her over the moon about what will be her first child after a long wait.

"I chose not to tell the property owner about my pregnancy for two reasons," she writes. "First, it was my private health information, and second, pregnant women and mothers have the right to work and I did not want her to give her a chance to discriminate against me."

With just a few months to go before the hotel is to open and the final paperwork still not complete, the owner of the property somehow found out about the pregnancy and is outraged.

"I don't know how she found out," writes D.C. "It is possible she may even try to negate our agreement."

When she found out she was pregnant, D.C. hired an au pair and two extra staff members because she intended to keep on working and thought it prudent to hire the child care assistance she knows she'll need.

"I intend to work just as hard and do just as great a job now that I am going to have a child," writes D.C. "It is my reputation and my dream. I have standards and take them seriously. I hope to be able to tell my daughter I still followed my dreams even though she was coming and that even though it was hard, I provided for her and did it doing what I loved."

She wouldn't have told an employer about the pregnancy, but she reminds me that this woman is the owner of the property she is leasing, not an employer. Still, D.C. has an outstanding financial obligation to her since one half of the lease payment is still due during the term of the lease and doesn't want anything to sour her relationship.

"Did I do something wrong?" asks D.C.

Absolutely not.

D.C. did the right thing by taking steps to ensure that she could honor her business agreement once she learned of her pregnancy. The pregnancy itself should not be of any concern to the property owner as long as D.C. meets her obligations.

Any guilt D.C. might feel is likely the result of the property owner's outraged response that caught D.C. off guard. It's normal to question your own actions when someone feels something so viscerally in response.

But D.C.'s moral compass led her to be responsible and do everything she could to meet her obligations. Someday, her daughter can respond with pride about how her mother acted.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing:Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

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

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

8 comments:

Lynette Haggard said...

Great post. Does indicate something about the property owner that is a little off?

Anonymous said...

The property owner should be upset. If a tenant is not honest when she starts, why will she ever be trusted? Maybe she is up to something more than establishing a business? The landlord is now probably stuck with someone he or she does not trust or want and has all the money invested with someone who probably will fail. The landlord is the one who should be pitied. Not the dishonest tenant.

Anonymous said...

How, in this day and age of women's rights, could anyone, even the owner selling the property, feel the prospective buyer's pregnancy (which the seller had no business knowing about!) had any effect on the prospective buyer's ability to consumate the purchase of the property? I would even propose that the seller, in her misplaced outrage and I'm sure illegal proposed legal action (as well as her dishonesty), is herself, probably much more likely to be legally liable and clearly shows herself to be anti-woman in her business outlook. I thought we were way past such shennagins. The seller must be part of the Obama outlook towards discouraging successful businesses.
And, to the previous post, what is there about the proposed purchaser's dealngs that has anything to do with dishonesty? Are we now so far gone towards being politically correct that we have to tell a prospective seller our intimate health history?

Charlie Seng

Grandma Bee said...

If the property owner had her head on straight, she would have asked some reasonable questions before having a conniption fit. The property owner does have the right to ask, politely, "How will this pregnancy affect your business plan?" "Will you be able to uphold our agreement?" The fact that DC has taken steps to provide for her child's care and still maintain the business would have reassured a reasonable person.

ECS said...

1. This was not a sale-- it was/is a LEASE.

2. The pregnancy is IRRELEVENT

3. It is illegal to discriminate against a pregnant employee. If you think that makes this a "nanny state" then so be it. But this was no way any business of the lessor, PERIOD. If this were a medical diagnosis by a man of, say prostate cancer would the lessor have a right to pitch a fit? NOOOOOO.

Lynette Haggard said...

ECS and Grandma Bee, I'm with ya!

Bill Jacobson said...

Jeffrey,

The only valid concerns for the leasor are that the leasee will continue to meet her obligations.

If the leasor has reason to believe that the leasee's pregnancy will impact her ability to meet her legal obligations under the lease, then he can request assurance that the leasee will continue to meet her obligations despite the pregnancy, but having gotten that assurance, the leasor must continue to meet his obligations or risk breach.

The leasee should now seek assurances from the leasor that he intends to continue to meet his obligations. Barring that she has a potential cause for breach herself.

Regardless, this may become an issue on renewal of the lease... its best to maintain good relations at all costs.

Bill Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

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