Sunday, March 30, 2014
Am I my coworker's pizza keeper?
If a colleague interprets rules differently from you, does that make her unethical? A reader from the Midwest seems to think so.
The reader has a colleague who works as a counselor for her church's youth group. Until some members of the youth group are baptized, the coworker said she had chosen to abstain from eating bread.
"In her mind, this is some sort of meaningful religious sacrifice," the reader writes, suggesting he's doubtful that the meaningfulness extends beyond his coworker's mind.
When a group of people at the reader's office, including his bread-abstaining coworker, were discussing where to go for lunch, they decided they'd go to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.
Obviously, the reader believed this would cause some concern for his coworker. However, the woman readily agreed to the group's choice and said she'd just eat the cheese and toppings off of the pizza and leave the rest.
"I believe it is unethical for a person to do this," my reader writes.
He explains that he believes the all-you-can-eat deal works because "it assumes people will get full and stop eating." To go to an all-you-can-eat place with the intent of not eating half or more of the food, he writes, "is shady."
"In the same way that you can't share food with a non-paying tagalong at such a place, or take leftovers home, I don't think you can go to such a place with the intent of not consuming the food you are taking."
At the restaurant, the reader's colleague had the opportunity not to partake of the buffet and instead order her own pizza off the menu. If she had done that, my reader concludes, "she'd be free and clear to eat or not eat it in any way she saw fit." But the reader seems surprised that his coworker saw nothing wrong with ordering the buffet and then eating only the toppings from the pizza.
"Is her approach ethical?" he asks.
Years ago, my wife and I frequented a restaurant in Western Massachusetts that featured a salad buffet with printed signs that implored diners to: "Take as much as you want, but eat as much as you take."
The reader is likely right that restaurants would prefer buffet customers eat what they take from the buffet table. Clearly, he'd never go to a buffet and take food with the intent of not eating all that he took.
It is inappropriate for the reader to pass judgment on whether or not his coworker is making a religious sacrifice through her actions. That's between the coworker and her God.
Ideally, the coworker would eat what she takes from the buffet table to avoid being wasteful. But it's not convincing that the coworker's behavior would be any more shady than that of a customer who doesn't like pizza crusts and leaves them on her plate. It's unlikely the reader would pass similar judgment on the crust abstainer.
The right thing is for my reader not to let his judgment about whether his coworker's self-professed religious actions and decisions are legitimate to color his assessment of how she behaves at the buffet table. She'll be back to eating the whole slice soon enough.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin