Sunday, April 26, 2015

A proclamation of faith has no place in a job interview

The owner of a small financial advisory firm has taken an interest in a young man after receiving his resume. He's asked the candidate to come in to for an interview with him and several key members of the staff.

The young man prepares for the meeting by reading up on the company and its key staff. The process starts off well. The owner of the company speaks with the candidate first, making clear that the young man will be his last interview of the day, over lunch, once the candidate has spoken with other staffers.

In one discussion after another, the young man feels like he's engaging well with the employees interviewing him. He gets excited about the prospects of working at the firm with these people. They seem to take a keen interest in him and how he might be a fit for the type of work they do.

Just before lunch, the candidate is scheduled to meet with the firm's chief financial officer. After he enters the room and sits down, however, the conversation quickly turns to personal matters. The young man is a bit surprised, but figures the line of questioning is all part of getting to know him better.

Then the CFO starts talking about his faith and the particular house of worship he attends. He never asks the young man about his own faith (such a question would likely violate all sorts of legalities), but it's clear that the CFO wants to share specifics of his faith.

The discussion makes the young man uncomfortable. He finds it inappropriate, but is unsure how to respond. He doesn't want to insult the CFO by telling him he finds the talk of faith irrelevant.

The candidate says nothing to the CFO, but over lunch, when the firm's owner asks him how the morning interviews went, the young man focuses almost entirely on discussions with staff members other than the CFO. Since it's clear he's left out any mention of his session with the CFO, the owner asks him about it.

"In all honesty, the discussion made me a bit uncomfortable," the young man says, recounting how the discussion turned to the CFO's faith.

"I've talked to him about that before," the owner responds. "I'm sorry that happened."

The young man is torn about whether he did the right thing by telling the owner about his discussion with the CFO.

The job candidate did indeed do the right thing. In doing so, he accomplished two things. He answered the owner's question forthrightly. He also gave the owner a chance to address the issue with the CFO. In doing so, the owner could potentially avoid a nasty legal situation if the CFO crossed a line in the interview process, as well as curtail such episodes during future interviews. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Am I my neighbor's dog keeper?

Almost every evening, weather permitting, a couple goes for a long walk in their neighborhood. They regularly stroll past several areas where neighbors walk their dogs -- a city park and a boardwalk along a harbor among them.

The city parks department has posted signs indicating that there are fines for not cleaning up after dogs. To assist with the latter, the city has provided free plastic bags that are attached to posts in both the park and along the boardwalk.

Increasingly, the couple has noticed that dog walkers are not always mindful of cleaning up. Most recently, the couple came upon a dog owner who standing by her pet along the boardwalk. They acknowledged one another by saying hello. Then the dog owner asked, "You wouldn't have any plastic bags on you, would you?"

The couple, who were not walking a dog and don't own a dog, were not in the habit of carrying plastic bags with them. They did point out to the dog owner that there were free plastic bags attached to a post about 100 yards down the boardwalk. They indicated exactly where the bags were located, then continued on their way, leaving the dog owner to retrieve her own bag.

When they circled back, they noticed that the dog owner was gone, but her pet's waste remained.

"What should we have done?" asks one member of the couple. "Should we have offered to go get her a bag?"

Knowing that the owner didn't clean up after her pet, they no wonder if they should report her to the city parks department at the address listed on the sign about fines for those who don't clean up. The challenge is they'd never seen the owner or her pet before, have no idea where the woman lives, and wouldn't know where to begin to find her in their densely-populated city neighborhood.

Some people living in apartment complexes have grown so tired of similar situations that they've begun to require that dog owners submit samples of their pets' DNA on file so culprits can be caught. But the strolling couple's neighborhood keeps no such records. As near as they can tell, no effort is made to enforce the city parks department's regulation about cleaning up pet waste. So what's the right thing to do?

It's certainly not the strolling couple's obligation to pick up after someone else's dog. They also should not be expected to carry a stash of plastic bags in their pockets to supply dog owners who forgot to bring their own.

The right thing is for dog owners to clean up after their own pets. The strollers were correct to point out where the city-supplied free bags were located. If they want to go a step further, they could notify the parks department and ask if it's possible to provide the bags at more locations.

Ultimately, though, the right thing is for the dog owners to be responsible and for the city to enforce its posted laws. Regardless of it not being their responsibility, from here on out, the couple plans to take a few plastic bags along on future walks, just in case! 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Being undercharged taught reader a lasting lesson

"I confess," a reader writes. "I am a miserable person."

The reader takes great pride in trying to do what's right. Quite frequently, he's found himself being undercharged at a store or restaurant.

"Mostly, I tell the people and they correct the bill," he writes. But, "before I get too high and mighty," he confesses that he hasn't always made the effort to set things straight. About 41 years ago, when he was "young and poor" and living in Denver, the reader spent quite a bit of time hiking and camping. Living on a shoestring budget, he tried to stretch every dollar.

He'd saved enough money to buy a propane backpacking stove that sold for $19.90, the kind you can still pick up for about $25 at most sporting goods stores or discount retailers. At the checkout counter, the cashier placed the decimal point in the wrong place and erroneously charged him only $1.99.

Eying the receipt, the reader, who was unemployed at the time, contemplated whether to tell the cashier he'd made a mistake. He decided not to. "I was dishonest," he writes.

Granted, there are stores that might sell you an item at a lower price if it's mislabeled or scans wrong. But my reader's experience was in the days before scanners were in wide use. (The first item scanned at a checkout is reported to have been a pack of chewing gum at a grocery store in Ohio in 1974, the same year as the reader's propane stove purchase.)

That he didn't pay the correct amount has always nagged at the reader.

Last fall, he found himself with four friends at a restaurant in New York City. When the bill arrived, he discovered they hadn't been charged for a round of drinks. Without hesitation, he told his friends they needed to let the waiter know, and they did.

It wasn't the experience 41 years ago that taught the reader that correcting someone who undercharges you is the right thing to do, although it might have heightened his determination to set things right in similar situations. He knew as soon as he saw the receipt for the propane stove that he should have drawn attention to the error. The fact that he was nearly broke shouldn't have made a difference. He did, after all, go into the store expecting to pay $19.90.

Does this make the reader a miserable person? No.

We all make errors of judgment, and the reader recognizes that he made one 31 years ago. Ever since then, he's tried his best to do the right thing when faced with similar situations, as well as predicaments that could have had far more dire results.

I've written before that what should really drive us is to understand that in making choices, our actions define us. Only then can we consistently strive to do the right thing. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Spilled soup offers a lesson in effective human relations

Should you expect others to treat you well when you treat them well?

That's not something you can count on. Expecting something in return for civil behavior can be a frustrating game. The motivation for behaving well toward others should fall more in line with the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.

But sometimes a good deed done can yield a good deed in response -- and even a healthy dose of mutual respect.

G.L., a reader from Boston, writes that he often buys his lunch at a burrito cart parked in the lobby of a nearby government building downtown. About a year-and-a-half ago, G.L. bought a bowl of chicken vegetable soup at the stand. Granted, this was an unorthodox choice at a burrito stand, but he had a hankering for a nice cup of soup.

G.L. paid for the soup, then walked back to his own office building. Unfortunately, when he got into the elevator, he dropped the soup and watched it spill all over the floor. He took care of getting the mess cleaned up, but was still hungry so headed back to the burrito stand. The owners expressed surprise at his quick return, wondering if something had been wrong with the first bowl of soup.

G.L. admitted what had happened and was surprised by their response. They handed him another bowl "for no charge," he writes.

Ever since then, G.L. makes a point of leaving a small tip -- anywhere from a quarter to $1 -- when he buys something at the burrito stand.

"I like the people who run the stand," he writes.

Last week, G.L. bought a chicken burrito for $6.75. Feeling particularly generous, he handed the cashier what he thought was a $10 bill and told her to keep the change.

As he started to walk away, he heard the cashier shout, "No!"

"You gave me $20," she said. She handed him his change, of which he took $10 and gave her the rest as a tip, thanking her profusely.

"I was touched by her doing this," he writes, "especially since I'd explicitly said, 'Keep the change,'"

G.L. writes that he believes the cashier's actions prove that "good deeds spur other good deeds and build relationships." Sometimes they do. And the cashier went above and beyond to do the right thing even when, given G.L.'s instructions to keep the change, she didn't have to.

Would G.L. have felt so generous had the elevator soup mishap not happened? Would the cashier have done the same thing for a customer who hadn't been such a good tipper and loyal customer? Perhaps not.

But the right thing is for both burrito stand buyers and sellers to treat each other well, regardless of whether they receive anything in return. The same goes for each of us. Do unto others and sometimes what others do unto you will warm your heart. Enjoy the soup. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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