Sunday, May 15, 2022

Has homeowner reached the last straw?

 If ethics is indeed how we decide to behave when we belong together, then are you really doing anything wrong if many of your neighbors break the same agreed-upon rules that you break?

 

A reader from North Carolina we’re calling Lil wrote that she lives “in a nice community of 50 homes that has a homeowners association (HOA) and a ‘No Soliciting’ sign at the attractive community entrance garden.” Lil later clarified that the words on the sign are actually more specific: “No solicitation or distribution of outside materials.”

 

In spite of the sign, Lil reports that every so often someone will drive in with a pickup truck hauling a trailer containing several bales of pine straw, a common ground cover used by her and many of her neighbors in their gardens and around their trees and shrubs.

 

“I have occasionally hailed one of these ‘entrepreneurs,’ whose product is much more conveniently available this way, not to mention cheaper than other sources,” Lil wrote. But Lil noted that her actions and those of her other neighbors who partake of the goods not only violate the “no distribution of outside materials” rule, but also encourage return cruises through the neighborhood. “They don’t normally come knocking on doors (although they have done so), which I presume is what the HOA board most wants to discourage.”

 

Lil wrote that so far she has not noticed anyone shooing away the pine straw haulers, nor has she nor any of her neighbors received a notice from the HOA about being in violation of a policy. She would like to know my “ethical perspective” about both the “money-grubbing beautifiers of our neighborhood” and “outlaws like me.”

 

Since no one has complained as Lil and a few of her neighbors openly violate a rule they agreed to when they purchased their homes in the neighborhood, the simplest solution might seem to just let things lie. But that hardly makes it the best ethical choice.

 

Most HOAs have agreements that lay out procedures for how changes can be made to bylaws or restrictions. Some require a certain percentage of neighbors to be in agreement for any changes to be made. The right thing would be for Lil to explore such an option.

 

There’s a risk in doing so, of course. She might find that more neighbors are against the idea than are for it. She also might find that opening the discussion leads to a bigger discussion about how to limit distribution of materials only to these pine straw haulers.

 

But she also might find there’s a way to continue to purchase the pine straw from the random visitors that doesn’t violate the HOA agreement at all. Perhaps simply asking the pine strawers to set up deliveries ahead of time will do the trick. Perhaps the HOA allows lawn care workers to use the pine straw when working on a yard and might categorize these occasional visitors as lawn care workers.

 

Lil can only find out if her neighbors agree with her or if there’s a way to comply with the HOA rules if she approaches the HOA members. Sure, she may open a can of worms by doing so, but she also might discover that there’s an honest and straightforward way to cover up those worms with the pine straw she’d like to use.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Must everyone contribute to a group effort?

What, if anything, should you do if some members of a group you belong to don’t contribute to an effort but never say why? It is a question that is facing a longtime reader from North Carolina we’re calling Bill.

 

Bill wrote me about what he describes as a “minor aggravation” that he doesn’t believe rises to the level of an ethical dilemma, but one that bothers him nonetheless. After joining a national support group for those living with a particular medical condition, the leader of the group drafted Bill to be one of his advisers.

 

As time went by, Bill appreciated “what a good and competent guy” the leader was. Bill believed that the other seven advisers from around the country might want to join him in showing some sort of appreciation to their leader.

 

“I emailed a suggestion for a custom-designed T-shirt, but said I was open to any other suggestions,” wrote Bill. All but two of the other advisers responded that they were supportive of the T-shirt idea and were willing to contribute just shy of $5 each for the shirt to be made. “I kept each of them informed and sought their input as the design developed.”

 

After the leader received the T-shirt, he was “enormously appreciative,” Bill writes, and he thanked all the advisers at the next Zoom session. “He wore the shirt and stood up so that all could see it.”

 

Bill was aggravated, however, that the two “quiet advisers” not only didn’t contribute to the T-shirt, but never even bothered to acknowledge or respond to his emails soliciting ideas for a gift.

 

“My ‘financial loss’ is of no consequence,” wrote Bill, “but I am tempted to ask them why they never weighed in at least.” Bill acknowledges that “it’s probably best to let sleeping dogs lie,” but he wrote to ask me what I believe is the right thing to do.

 

It may be aggravating, but if the emails that went around asked for voluntary contributions, then Bill is indeed right to let sleeping dogs lie. None of us ever know what another’s situation is, and while contributing $5 may seem like very little to one person, that might not be the case for everyone. If Bill wanted to avoid being left to wonder why the two didn’t respond in any way, he could have presented the idea for the T-shirt but indicated that he would only move forward if everyone supported the idea. If it was more important to the majority of the advisers to recognize their leader than to have unanimity, they did the right thing by moving ahead with the gift that they could afford from the contributions they did receive.

 

That doesn’t let the two silent advisers entirely off the hook. While they had no obligation to contribute to the gift, when asked about the idea for the gift, the right thing would have been for them to respond one way or another. If they had at least responded, Bill would have known it wasn’t the idea of the T-shirt itself that they had an issue with. Regardless, Bill’s goal of doing something to recognize their leader was accomplished, and that in itself should spark at least a small amount of joy for Bill.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Is it wrong to call in sick to extend a vacation?

 When, if ever, should you report a co-worker for violating company policy?

 

A reader we’re calling Andy wrote that recently a co-worker told him she planned to use a sick day as part of an upcoming vacation so she could use fewer vacation days.

 

“It didn’t feel right,” wrote Andy. “But I said nothing.” Andy added that their employer is not a private company but a public agency.

 

While on her vacation, Andy’s co-worker told him she was having such a good time that she decided to call in sick again to extend the vacation. “And she did it again the next day, so she ended up taking three sick days to pad her vacation," he wrote.

 

Andy knows this because his co-worker texted him as it was happening. She “admitted to feeling a bit guilty but tried to rationalize it by saying how often she covered for others who called in sick,” adding: “Don’t tell on me.”

 

Andy didn’t tell on her. But after she returned, he told her he was surprised and upset by her actions since he had always “seen her as very ethical.” He told her he believed everyone is entitled to take a “mental health day” from time to time but that using sick days to extend a vacation felt wrong.

 

After Andy asked her not to tell him if she decided to do something like this again, she agreed, but seemed taken aback and asked: “Isn’t it all my time anyway?”

 

Now Andy’s co-worker is angry with him. She “feels I was implying she doesn’t work hard (something I never said),” he wrote.

 

“My concern is that as a public employee, she is accountable to me and other taxpayers for using her time ethically,” he wrote. Her “attempts to justify her actions by saying how hard she works or how she has to cover for others … are not valid arguments, in my opinion.”

 

As a public employee and taxpayer, Andy wrote he felt it was appropriate to share his opinion with her on her actions. “Should I have said anything?” Andy asks. “Or would it have been better to let it go?”

 

If a public agency or private company wanted to avoid putting employees in the position of having to decide whether to lie about using sick days, perhaps they could give them a number of personal days to use any way they want. But that’s not the case here, and Andy’s co-worker was wrong to lie about being sick to extend her vacation.

 

Andy was not wrong to say something to his co-worker and to ask she not involve him in any future decisions she made about fudging the truth to her agency. Rather than being angry with Andy for questioning her actions, his co-worker might have been appreciative that he didn’t “tell on her.”

 

If Andy’s co-worker believes she is being taken advantage of by having to cover for others in her workplace who call in sick, the right thing is for her to tell her supervisor. But if she doesn’t really mind covering for others who are truly sick and was simply using that to justify her decision to lie to her company about being sick, then perhaps she should save her vacation days for vacations and sick days for when she is really sick.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Stop unpaid college internships now

A few weeks ago, several other alumni of Bethany College and I were interviewed about our college experience. I loved my time at Bethany in West Virginia. I had transferred there after having attended a few other colleges, and from the first day on campus onward it felt like home. I made good friends, took challenging courses, and formed relationships with a few professors that remain strong.

 

When the interviewer asked me about my internship experience while in school, my response was short. I didn’t have any. There were plenty of internships available, but most all of them were unpaid, and even if I wanted to consider them, I couldn’t afford to work for free.

 

Twenty-some years after graduating, I was in my first job as a college professor at a small liberal arts college in Boston. Internships were a big deal for students at the college, and many of them were still unpaid. What complicated things further was that many of the internship sites would only hire interns who were doing the internships through the college. At the college where I taught, for many students this meant working for free and paying tuition for an internship course as well.

 

While internships can be a great way to get a foot in the door, to make connections, and to be exposed to the inner workings of a job, asking anyone to work for free is wrong. Asking them to pay tuition for the privilege of working for free is equally wrong.

 

The most obvious reason why unpaid internships are wrong is that the unpaid-ness of them makes it unlikely for those students who might not be able to afford to work for free to even consider one. As a result, those students lose out on potential training or job opportunities. In other words, the students who are least likely to have the advantage of getting a foot in the door are having that door shut on them because they can’t even consider walking through it.

 

Granted, internships are supposed to be learning experiences and not a cynical method of allowing employers to not have to pay for positions that are essential to keep the business running. But there is something unseemly about colleges making money by charging tuition to students solely so they can gain the privilege of working for free.

 

If unpaid internships are to continue, one solution is for colleges to offer free credits for students who were required to take an accompanying course. But this doesn’t address the fairness issue of accessibility to all qualified students and not just those who can work for free.

 

Some colleges do offer modest stipends to students working in unpaid internships. But the right thing is for businesses to pay for interns. Even if the pay is modest, that’s a start. And colleges should not charge students for internship courses that are essentially catch-all courses where all those completing internships are required to check in. If a business requires that a college sign off on student internship, the college can do that without seeing it as low-cost revenue stream. If a company can’t afford to pay for an intern, but insists it needs them to run the business, it’s time for them to rethink whether they are simply and, perhaps illegally, trying to find short-term employees to work for free.

 

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.
 
Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.