Sunday, November 06, 2011

Freeloader or working stiff?

Several weeks ago, I tried to tackle the question a reader posed about whether those who lack the resources to pay for medical services or who haven't taken the time to donate blood or fill out organ-donor cards should be denied services.

I responded, "No, they should not be turned away."

My reasoning was, I believed, straightforward.

If we've determined, as a society, that it's inappropriate to turn away people who need medical or emergency services that could save their lives, even if they can't afford such services, we should not withhold such services. Such a position reflects an ethical choice we've made about how we're going to live together.

The goal might be for everyone to take responsibility for his or her own heath and to contribute toward paying for such care. But the goal doesn't remove our responsibility of caring for those who might not have been as capable of making the same decisions.

After reading the column, a reader writes to tell me that it really got under her skin.

"What about all of those people who choose to work part time?" she asks. "Those who barely get by, live hand to mouth, and expect the rest of us to pick up the pieces when they get injured or sick?"

The reader reports that she works four jobs to pay her bills, but that "the lazy freeloaders get taken care of with the same care."

What's more, she writes, "we all know people on disability who work under the table and collect money that should be going to people really injured."

"Where," she asks, "is the incentive to turn these frauds in?"

Where to begin.

First, my reader has no idea what the plight might be of the part-time workers who work just enough to qualify for benefits. Although she might be working four jobs, they might have all they can do to work part time and meet their other obligations. Labeling others as "lazy" or "freeloaders" because they don't happen to clock as many hours as we do is to presume we know their entire life story or how hard they work to put food on their table. Often as not, we don't.

My reader's assumption that we all know people who fraudulently take money when they're on disability is false. I don't know anyone who is doing this. Aside from occasional stories you read about such misdeeds, how many do you know?

But if my reader's main question is about reporting fraudulent workers compensation cases, the right thing is for her to report them. Such fraud is not only illegal, it can drive up the costs for the rest of us. So, if she knows "these frauds" and can prove her claims, she should turn them in. If the illegality of the action or the potential expense or her general outrage are not enough incentive for her to turn them in, then she should do it because it's the right thing to do.

But before she does, she should make sure that her assessment is accurate. One person's "lazy freeloader" may be another's hard-working stiff simply trying to get by.

Jeffrey L. Seglin is the author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business.

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

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Anonymous said...

I guess the first thing a worker should learn on the job is to "be happy in your work" and leave the runnning of the company to the boss. And, this includes such things as compensation for illness, etc. As we go through life, especially our work life, we will see many situations we do not agree with but we should (and do) learn quickly that we will make more progress (and be thought of more highly by our co-workers and the boss) if we tend to our knitting and leave the various factors with which we do not agree entirely, up to the boss! One more thing - by the judging of the running of the company by the disgruntled employee, the said imployee is thus criticizing the boss (management) of unfairly favoring certain employees. Jeffrey, you were right to find fault with the complainer as probably not knowing all the facts.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Anonymous said...

I agreed with Charlie. The company has a policy and whatever it is, it applies as it is stated. There are people who work "real" jobs just to get benefits of which health insurance is a big one. And if the company wanted to change it, it could. Benefits are one reason people work where they do and not under the table.

Alan Owseichik
The complaining person is all "wet" is one regard. Benefits are considered by a company in the same light as heat and lights. A person who does not take insurance (because his spouse has it) is treated no differently than one who does. Otherwise it would be too complicated. Do you give a person favoritism because she takes a bus to work and does not need a parking space??? It can get stupidly complex.
As a former company official, I can say that benefits do not play any part in hiring, evaluating or anything else about an employee. It is part of the over all wage package and is treated as such.