Sunday, April 08, 2012

There's no need to be your neighbor's keeper

If you suspect a friend is skirting the law, should you drop a dime or keep your mouth shut and go your merry way? That's what a reader in the Midwest would like to know after a friend of 30-some years confided in him that he receives checks from Social Security.

The friend's wife has also received Social Security checks for about 30 years now, the reader writes, but "I wholeheartedly believe she deserves them." The reader has doubts, however, about her husband's "reported health problems."

Apparently, the friend is capable of working around his home - "on ladders painting, spreading gravel down his driveway, repairing plumbing, electrical and a multitude of other physical chores, but he insists that what he gets from the government is his due."

The reader admits that he is "not a doctor, nor do I profess to be." But to him, "common sense dictates" that his friend is not disabled.

"If I have a feeling the he is milking the system, is it my responsibility to report a friend to the appropriate authorities?" the reader asks. "Or should I leave well enough alone and expect his doctors to determine his limitations with regards to being on the dole?"

It irks the reader if, friend or no friend, someone has the ability to work as hard as this friend of his has done at home, but then is not expected to work at a job.

He has confronted his friend directly. "Because I have argued my point with him, we have gone our separate ways," he says. "I can't abide by this sort of dishonest behavior!"

The reader acknowledges his definition of what disabled is may be quite different than the medical or legal profession's definition Still, he has decided that the best thing to do is pass his opinion on anonymously to the proper authority and "let them determine what's right in regard to this person's abilities."

If the reader is looking for affirmation from me for his anonymous "turning in" of his friend to the authorities, he won't get it.

It may irk him that his friend collects Social Security payments while he is still capable of doing chores around his house, but as the reader points out, he has no knowledge of what this fellow's disability is. All he knows is that his doctors continue to validate his status.

By his own admission, the reader acknowledges that he has no real sense of how a disabled status is determined and yet he has decided that his friend is faking it while his friend's wife has a legitimate case.

In other words, the reader has absolutely no idea of whether this friend is defrauding the system. Yet he has taken it upon himself to alert the authorities with little proof aside from his observation that the guy can climb a ladder.

If he had more substantive proof of fraud, that would be one thing. But without that proof and an acknowledgement that he doesn't know what he's talking about, the right thing is for the reader to back off and leave the fellow alone. Just because something irks us doesn't always mean it rises to the level of unethical, or in this case, illegal behavior.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

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