Sunday, October 27, 2013

Readers: It's time to share

Last December, professional baseball player Shane Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million contract to play right field for the Boston Red Sox.

After the Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division series in early October, Victorino returned on the team's charter plane to Boston. But, according to Shira Springer, a sportswriter for The Boston Globe, Victorino left his wallet that contained his license, credit card and cash on the plane. Once the Red Sox departed in Boston, the charter plane continued on to Paris.

Victorino told Springer that it was clearly his own fault for leaving the wallet behind.

But fortunately, whoever found the wallet in Paris turned it in. The wallet was to be shipped back to Victorino, its rightful owner.

Springer reports that when Victorino, who would go on to hit a bases-loaded home run to help the Red Sox clinch the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, was asked if he was surprised that the wallet was turned in with all of its contents intact, he responded: "There's honest, trustworthy people in this world."

Victorino's response is heartening.

In an age when sports memorabilia can sell for sizeable figures, it might have been tempting for the person who found Victorino's wallet to turn it into cash, although it would be hard to imagine that such an act wouldn't raise suspicion that someone was trying to sell something that wasn't rightfully theirs. The wallet finder might also have decided to hold onto the wallet in hopes that it would make an attractive addition to, or start of, a sports memorabilia collection.

Instead, he or she did the right thing by turning in the ballplayer's wallet and seeing to it that it was returned.

Reading of Victorino's experience reminded me of the challenges each of us regularly face to do the right thing. Each of us made decisions about how to respond to a situation that in retrospect make us proud or a bit ashamed.

I regularly share such stories in my column, but now it's your turn to tell me your story. What defining moment in your life are you most proud of how you responded? Or, what response to an ethical choice have you made that you wish you could do over? If you've had an experience with someone like Victorino's wallet finder and returner, tell me that too.

Several years ago, when I asked readers to share their stories, I received dozens of moving stories about their personal experiences when faced with ethical choices. So I'm asking you to share your stories again. Provide as much detail about any struggle you might have faced in making your decision, but please limit your responses to no longer than 300 words. Include your name, city, state, and phone number and send me your story by Nov. 15 to

I will try to use the most compelling of your stories in an upcoming column. I'm hopeful that Victorino is right about there being "honest, trustworthy people in this world." I'm hopeful that some of your stories will showcase just how true his observation is. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Take filled job postings down

Job hunting is tough.

Networking with friends and colleagues to see if someone knows someone who might know something about an open position in your field takes time. Writing strong cover letters to prospective employers about your desire to fill a job they've got open can itself turn into what seems like a full-time job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate hovers around 7.3 percent in the United States. In North Dakota, thanks to a boon in jobs in the energy sector, the unemployment rate is much lower at 3 percent. But if you find yourself looking in Nevada, the percent of unemployed is more than triple that amount at 9.5 percent. In Canada, Statistics Canada, puts the unemployment rate at 6.9 percent. Regardless of where you're looking for a job, however, competition for open positions can be stiff.

A reader from Massachusetts (where the unemployment rate is around 7.2 percent) writes that she received an email from someone starting out in her field. The emailer asked the reader if she "knew anything about a supposedly open position" that appeared on a company's website.

The reader had heard that the job at this small company had been filled weeks earlier. "Yet the posting for it lingers on the company website," she writes. "It's not unheard of for positions to stay posted long after they're filled."

The reader wants to know why companies leave filled job positions posted on their websites with no indication that the job is no longer open.

"Is it sheer laziness or bait and switch?" she asks. "If nothing else, it's a waste of nearly everyone's time. I think it's unethical."

Unless the employer posting the position offers an applicant a less attractive position after they apply for the posted job, it does not seem to be a traditional "bait and switch" tactic. But the reader does point out a practice that can be a frustration at best and deliberately misleading at worst.

Why shouldn't companies be held responsible for taking down posted job ads once the job has been filled? Or at the very least to give a date after which no applications will be accepted, as some prospective employers already do?

When I recently sold an old sofa through, there was a mechanism for me to use to indicate when the merchandise has been sold. When items go up for sale on eBay or other auction sites, the seller indicates an end date for the sale or a notation is made if the item is sold.

Shouldn't we expect to deliver the same thoughtfulness to people looking for jobs as we do to prospective buyers of used sofas and Pez dispensers?

My reader is correct. It is misleading to keep a job listing that has no deadline for applications posted on a website long after the position is filled.

The right thing is for businesses that post jobs to make it a point to either include a deadline for applications or to take down the job listing once the job is filled. Such responsibility would be the least they'd expect in a prospective employee. They should start by exhibiting it themselves. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Whose post is this anyway?

I'm not a fan of anonymous website postings, though it's a topic I've written about before. Recently, the issue of anonymous postings hit the news again, this time following action taken in late September by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Under a sting labeled "Operation Clean Turf," the Office of the Attorney General caught 19 companies soliciting fake reviews on websites, a practice known as "astroturfing." The OAG also noted that many sites post regular solicitations offering to pay people to write such fake reviews.

The companies were fined $350,000 for what amounted to false advertising and engaging in illegal and deceptive business practices.

In a press release, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said: "This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution." He also put businesses on alert that astroturfing was the "21st century's version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it."

The Office of the Attorney General did the right thing by trying to put a stop to companies that deliberately try to mislead customers with fake reviews.

It's one thing if a website is set up for whistleblowers to help shine a light on wrongdoing, allowing them anonymity to shield them from retribution. It's quite another when posters use the cloak of anonymity to trash a person or business simply for sport.

In his book, Integrity (Basic Books, 1996), Stephen Carter writes about the three steps that are needed to act with integrity. The first is discerning the issue. The second is to act on what you discern. And the third is to state openly what you have done and why you have done it.

If you have something to write, then have the conviction to own your passions.

A former student recently published a book review that deemed one of the books reviewed to be less than stellar. Within a day, more than 200 anonymous posters took him to task with an assortment of names and attacks. The anonymous posters may have been right to challenge the review. The difference? He put his name on the review. Their bashing of everything from his character to his marriage remained anonymous. No integrity there.

What about positive anonymous posts? The same holds true. If posters want to praise, let them do so with their name attached.

It turns out that it's just as simple to show a lack of integrity by making positive posts as it does anonymous negative ones. In fact, such anonymous positive posts can result in legal action.

Though Schneiderman's actions target businesses who post fraudulently, that still leaves thousands of anonymous posters out there who post on their own. It's impossible for readers of these posts to know if the poster has some sort of stake in what he is writing for or against. The right thing here would be for readers to take anonymous posts with a grain of salt, for websites to reconsider their practice of allowing anonymous comments and reviews and for anyone who posts to have the integrity to attach their name to their words. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, October 06, 2013

We got your cell phone right here

My cell phone died and I was overdue for a new one on my service contract.

A salesperson in my service provider's store in Cambridge, Mass., where I work, kindly told me that he saw the phone I was looking at in his store at Best Buy for $100 less than the service provider was asking.

When I got to the screen on Best Buy's website to see where I could pick up the phone, it read "unavailable." I tried other ZIP codes in Massachusetts and got the same result. I tried my sister's ZIP code in Minnesota. Same. Best friend in Burbank? Zip. No availability anywhere I tried.

I called Best Buy's customer service number. A pleasant-enough customer care representative also checked online and got the same disappointing results. He promised to notify "corporate" of the mistake so they could take the offering down.

It turns out, however, Best Buy wasn't out of the phone.

"We do have one phone in our Cambridge store," Jeff Shelman, a senior manager in Best Buy's corporate public relations office said. But Best Buy's policy, he said, is that if only one item is left in stock at the store, it doesn't show up on the company's website. "We want to guard against the customer getting to the store and being disappointed."

Had I typed in the ZIP code for New York City, Shelman said, I would have found that a store just north of Houston Street had two phones in stock.

In an effort to potentially avoid disappointing a customer, Best Buy ended up not only disappointing a customer, but also losing a sale.

If Best Buy truly wanted to act in the best interest of its customers, it would indicate somewhere that even if its website shows no products in stock the customer might want to also check the store in person. Certainly Best Buy should empower its customer care reps to be able to check inventory and make this reasonable suggestion.

"When a product is nearing the end of its life," Shelman said explaining the attractive sales price, "we try to eliminate inventory. There's not an infinite number of these products."

In fact, he said, the product I wanted had been put on sale 57 days before I tried to order it. Had I tried to buy it then, I wouldn't likely have faced the same shortages. I pointed out that I didn't need a phone back then.

Shelman said that a new ship-from-store pilot program that Best Buy is rolling out in 50 of its 1,000 big box stores might prevent such encounters as mine in the future. Under the program, I would have been alerted that the store in New York City had phones in stock and one could be shipped to me from there. In other words, I wouldn't have had to guess what ZIP code to plug in. Presumably, this would also better equip the customer care people to better assist customers.

The program seems a good start. Better still would be to let customers know when you have a policy designed to try to quell their potential disappointment so they can decide for themselves how to act. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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