Sunday, July 13, 2008


Some ethical questions linger well past their freshness date.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from reader Louise Macaulay of Yorba Linda, Calif. The incident in question happened back in February, but she and her co-workers are still pondering whether the parties involved did the right thing.

On Valentine's Day a dozen roses were delivered to the office for one of Macaulay's co-workers. Within an hour, Macaulay writes, an identical bouquet was delivered. Her co-worker immediately called the florist to report the error and to make sure that her husband wouldn't be charged twice.

I suppose it never crossed her mind that her husband might deliberately have sent two stunning bouquets to emphasize his point. He hadn't.

The florist sent someone to pick up the flowers, and assured her that her husband would be charged only for the one bouquet.

Within an hour after the second bouquet was picked up, however, a third bouquet arrived, delivered by a different messenger from any of the earlier deliveries and pickup. The co-worker was out of the office when the third bouquet arrived, so another co-worker took it upon herself to call the florist to have the errant bouquet retrieved, even though she was not its intended recipient.

When the delivery person arrived to take back the third bouquet of flowers, the co-worker for whom they had been intended was upset.

"She had done the right thing the first time the florist made the error," Macaulay explains. "She felt justified keeping the third bouquet."

"It turned out to be a hilarious day for those of us watching the drama," she adds.

Once the laughter faded, however, she and her co-workers were left wondering two things: Was the co-worker who intercepted the third delivery out of line in notifying the florist about the error, given that the flowers weren't intended for her? And would the intended recipient have been justified in keeping the third bouquet, having already notified the florist of the first error and returned the second bouquet?

The third-party co-worker should have left it to the intended recipient to deal with the second errant delivery. While she may simply have wanted to save her co-worker a hassle, this wasn't her hassle to clean up. She shouldn't have called the florist, who in turn ought to have confirmed that it was the intended recipient who was reporting the error, not a third party. The florist might well have decided to let the woman keep the third bouquet as an apology for the time she'd wasted in sorting out three deliveries, two of them erroneous.

Unless the florist chose to do so, however -- and regardless of how much of a nuisance it undoubtedly was -- the intended recipient would not have been justified in keeping the third bouquet. Other people's ineptness is no license to help yourself to their property. The right thing was to call the florist and correct the error -- so the right thing was done, but by the wrong person. In any case, however, because the intended recipient knew that the extra flowers had not been purchased by her husband, the decision of whether or not she should keep them was the florist's to make, not hers.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And how do you know that her husband and her boyfriend don't use the same florist? ;-)