Sunday, November 25, 2018

Advertisers taking joy in someone else's tears should rethink their ads


Several years ago, I wrote a column about a highway billboard ad on Route 1 in Boston from an area car dealer which featured the tagline: "We give everyone great service. Unless you're a Yankees fan." The newspaper version of the ad followed that tagline with the words "Just kidding." And closes with the claim that it gives great service to everyone, "Yes, even Yankees fans."

I took issue with the ad, asking whether it took a healthy, longstanding rivalry between Boston and New York a bit too far by insulting potential customers based on their allegiance. Ultimately, the right thing, I argued was for anyone choosing to use such an ad was to decide whether the risk of alienating a healthy portion of its customer base was worth a joke, which likely would insult them. I mean, c'mon, if you tell us you don't want our business, why would we choose to do business with you?

But that was four years ago. Over the intervening years, the coarsening of our discourse has seemed to carry over into public advertising.

Dunkin' Donuts (which I guess now wants to be referred to as simply, "Dunkin'") now runs an ad on the streets of Boston that skips the specifics about sports teams and strikes firmly at New Yorkers of any stripe. It reads:

"Boston runs on Dunkin', hard work, the sweat from 37 championships #titletown! and the tears of New Yorkers."

OK. I get it. Boston fans and New York fans, particularly of the Red Sox and Yankees variety, like to go at one another. But the Dunkin' advertisement goes further. It jokes at the notion of taking joy in the tears of all New Yorkers, not just those of fans of a specific team.

Granted, it's intended as a joke. But the diehard lifelong Red Sox fan who drew my attention to the Dunkin' ad pointed out that the first thought that came to her mind when reading "the tears of New Yorkers" wasn't fans whose team lost a playoff series, but instead of those New Yorkers who responded with grief to the World Trade Center towers being attacked in September 2001. She couldn't remember one visual of any Yankees fans shedding a tear over a playoff loss to a team which had won 108 of its 162 games that season.

"I can't shake how awful seeing this ad made me feel," she said.

Dunkin' can't control what any of its ads conjure up in the minds of its customers. But does it and other advertisers have some responsibility for gratuitous negative swipes at non-Bostonians, regardless of their sports allegiance? Of course, they do.

Rather than simply lighten up and recognize a joke fallen flat, the right thing would be for advertisers and each of us to ask ourselves if we really want to contribute to an increasingly hostile environment where joy seems drawn at the expense of others and we can only win if someone else not only loses, but also if we can gleefully tell them how much we enjoy any pain they might be experiencing from their loss.

Dunkin' can do better. And so can the rest of us. 

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) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Does employer owe sick time to part-time employee?


For almost a decade, a reader, "Gretchen," has worked part-time for a community center. She's paid hourly and receives no healthcare insurance or vacation time.

"I don't get paid when I take time off," she writes. "But I do have great flexibility to schedule time off when I need it."

It's a perfect position for Gretchen, she writes, because, after a full-time career where she was on salary and put in long weeks, she had saved enough to be able to decide how much she wants to work in any given week. Rather than retiring, Gretchen continues to work because she finds the work to be engaging and challenging. Plus, she likes the people with whom she works.

One thing Gretchen discovered she does get from her work at the community center is paid sick time. Every several months she accrues an hour of sick time. She's able to carry over up to 40 hours of accrued sick time every year.

"I rarely get sick," Gretchen writes. As a result, her accrued sick time hours pile up.

Now that it's November, Gretchen has realized that if she doesn't use some of the sick time she's accumulated, she's going to lose it once the new year arrives.

"Is it wrong to put in for sick time if I'm not really sick?" she asks, pointing out that her employer doesn't require a physician's note to verify sickness.

It's not unheard of for employees to call in sick to the job to get a day off to tend to other business or simply to take a day off. But lying to an employer about a sickness to get a day off is wrong.

The accrued sick day policy for part-time workers seems like a good benefit for workers at Gretchen's community center. It might seem understandable that employees believe that would be leaving money on the table if they don't take those paid hours off. But the intention of the benefit is to cover when employees are actually sick. It does not seem intended as a pool of money to which employees are entitled for any reason.

If Gretchen wants to broach the subject with her supervisor and ask if she can be reimbursed for a personal day rather than a sick day, that seems a reasonable action. She might also ask if doctor's visits might be considered sick days. But I suspect she knows the answer will be that the policy only applies to those days on which an employee is actually sick.

The right thing is for Gretchen to continue working at her part-time job for as long as she enjoys the work. If she's sick and needs to take time off, she should take advantage of the paid sick time she accrues.

If she calls in sick when she's not, Gretchen not only risks not having the time to use if she truly does get sick, she also risks betraying a trust with her supervisor and the community center. Plus, it's wrong to lie simply because you want something. 

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) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


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