Sunday, April 14, 2019

Why should I pay for services not received?

A reader we're calling Clint has been a home delivery subscriber of his daily newspaper for the past four decades. When he first starting getting the newspaper delivered to his front doorstep, it was delivered by a high school kid who would come in person to collect once a month. Like clockwork, the newspaper always awaited Clint when he went to his front door around 6 a.m.

Over the years, the newspaper stopped using high school kids as deliverers and shifted to professional delivery companies. As the years progressed, all of the transactions occurred online. No one came to the door to collect and rarely did Clint see his deliverer unless he happened to catch him as he was tossing the newspaper onto his front stoop.

In the past, whenever Clint planned to go on vacation, he would alert the newspaper and he would be credited for the days he wouldn't be getting his newspaper delivered. About a year ago, Clint says the newspaper stopped crediting accounts for these vacation day stops. He was frustrated, he writes, but nevertheless he persisted in having the hard copy of his newspaper delivered every morning.

Over the past several weeks, Clint reports, he has experienced inconsistent delivery service. "On a couple of days the newspaper was delivered to my neighbor's steps or to the shared driveway behind my house," he reports. "On other days, I simply didn't get the newspaper and couldn't find it anywhere near the house."

After Clint reported the days the newspaper was not delivered or incorrectly delivered, he received an email from the newspaper company that they would credit his account for the days it wasn't delivered but that the policy is not to give credit for incorrectly delivered newspapers.

Clint finds this to be a ridiculous policy. He wants to know what is to keep him from reporting a newspaper undelivered instead of reporting that he had to retrieve it from a few houses down. "The incentive seems to be for me to lie to them to get the credit I deserve," he writes. 

"Would it be wrong to lie to the newspaper company because it has a stupid policy?" he asks. 

Yes, it would be wrong to lie. Lying about finding his newspaper on someone else's porch to counter-act a policy he doesn't agree with would be dishonest. 

Telling the truth is the right thing to do here. But Clint has no obligation to go looking for his missing newspaper if it was incorrectly delivered. If he didn't get the newspaper, it's the newspaper's responsibility to make sure he does or to not charge him for it. 

The right thing for the newspaper company is to re-examine its policy to see if it is fair to readers. It's already getting paid for newspapers during Clint's vacation days even though he receives no newspaper then. Charging him for a newspaper that doesn't get delivered when he does want it is wrong. Ultimately, Clint may have to decide to simply stop subscribing to the newspaper if he wants to be treated with a bit more respect. 

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, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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