For years, H.F. has helped out his childhood friend's stepson by hiring him for odd jobs around his house, mostly yard work. Even as he grew into adulthood, the friend's stepson had trouble holding down a full-time job, instead relying on his stepfather for support him. H.F. regularly employed him for the occasional odd job.
After H.F.'s friend died, he kept hiring his friend's stepson for the occasional job as a way of helping him stay on his feet. When the friend's stepson worked, he worked hard and did a good job.
But H.F. says that the stepson began to start asking to be paid before each job was complete. H.F. never agreed to do this, but he says he suspected something was going on in the stepson's life that made him a bit more desperate for money.
One weekend, H.F. got a call from the stepson's mother letting him know that H.F. had been arrested for trying to break into a store after it had closed and steal the cash register. Before he could leave the store, the stepson was caught by the police and arrested for burglary. He was convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to several months in jail.
Now that the stepson has served his time and is out of jail, he's been living with his mother and has been in touch with H.F. to see if he might have a few odd jobs he could do for him.
H.F. says that he always hired the stepson for the occasional job around his house out of loyalty to his old friend, and because he would have hired someone else anyway to do the same work. But now he is wondering whether he should continue to hire the stepson given his recent arrest and conviction for attempted burglary. All of the jobs H.F. hires him to do are around his house, and, if he's being totally honest, he wonders whether it's wise to risk having the stepson steal anything from him.
"In all the years I hired him to do work, he never stole anything from me that I know of," H.F. says. He says he has no reason to believe that that will change now that the stepson is out of jail.
H.F. says he's inclined to hire the stepson for the occasional job he needs done around his house. But he wants to know if it's wrong to trust the stepson given his criminal record.
While it was good of H.F. to give the work to his friend's stepson when he needed a job done, he was under no obligation to do so when his friend was still alive and before the stepson went to jail. He's also under no obligation to do so now.
But he's also not wrong to give the stepson the work and a chance to make some money now that he's served his time. The right thing is to decide if he's comfortable with the stepson doing work around the house, set up clear parameters about how much and when he will get paid, and to monitor the work the stepson does. In other words, to do business with the stepson exactly as he had in the past.
If H.F. needs the work done and feels comfortable having his old friend's stepson do the job, he should do it.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hello!! This is one of those situations when sympathy and other emotions simply don't enter in. Use your brain and rest easy, you're not required to sacrifice good sense and do what you know you just can't do!
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