Entitlement v. Integrity

I, along with many other Americans, am fascinated by this whole college admission scandal that has occurred.  Of course, everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  As a Human Resources professional, I find it interesting that Lori Laughlin has already been fired by Hallmark.  She has not been proven guilty.  Apparently, her contract must have a clause that if there is any scandal caused by her, they could terminate her contract.

In my career, I did have one occurrence of an employee who was arrested for a felony.  There was an employee who didn’t show up to work for three days.  Before we fired him for “no call/no show,” I said we should investigate why he wasn’t at work.  Maybe he had been in an accident, and was in a hospital unconscious and could not call in.  I wanted to be fair as possible, that maybe extenuating circumstances beyond his control contributed to his absence.  The administrative assistant of his department, who called me about his absence, proceeded to call his emergency contact.  This employee’s family member also said they had not heard from him or his family in a few days, and would check on them.  Later that evening, this administrative assistant called me at home and asked if I was watching the news.  Our employee had just been arrested for killing his wife and children.  When the family member arrived at the employee’s home, one car was in the driveway, and the cat was outside (they apparently never let the cat out).  The family member called the police to break into the home, and that is when they discovered the family had been murdered.  The employee was put on an unpaid leave of absence status until he was convicted of the murder.  Then he was terminated.

Had this employee be out on bail, hard decisions would have to be made.  If innocent until proven guilty, do we allow the employee to return to work?  What if the employee is innocent?  Do we violate his/her rights by putting them on an unpaid leave?  Do we want an employee who has possibly committed a crime to continue working as he/she awaits their court date?  Have organizations even thought how they may handle this scenario?  It is good to have the employment attorney’s number on speed dial.

My first human resources management position was for a small credit union.  What do we do with an employee who we are investigating for theft or fraud?  If this employee is actually stealing from the company, do we keep them there while we are investigating?  In my the case of where I worked, if we felt we had enough evidence, we would put the employee on an unpaid leave of absence for a specified period of time.  As we dug into the records, security camera data, and any other source for the answer, we did not have the employee working as we were doing this.  If we did not find proof of the theft, we would allow the employee to return to work and they would be made whole in their pay.  That never happened.  We usually found the answer swiftly.  

I walked out an employee who had stolen over $3,000 in a very short period of time.  I will not explain their method of fraud to get this money, but looking at employee transactions, actual signed documents, and of course, photos taken at teller lines and ATM’s, we had enough proof to even prosecute.  It was the first time I had personally walked out an employee for this kind of theft, and as his manager and I walked him to his car, Albert (name changed to protect the guilty and for confidentiality purposes) turned to me and asked, “When will I receive my bonus check for accounts that I opened?”  Really?  Did he really have the guts to ask me that?  I distinctly remembered my answer to this person.  I very calmly and cooly stated to him, “According to your union contract, all bonuses are at the discretion of management, and I am management.  You will not receive a bonus check.  Now get in your car and leave our premises.”  

This employee didn’t get off scot-free.  I always filed a police report after we had evidence of a felony theft.  Now there would also be prosecution.  The day this employee was apprehended, my boss (the president) and I met with the police chief.  The chief said that the employee has volunteered to pay the money back.  The chief stated that if we took back the money, the charges would be dropped.  I saw my boss’s eyes light up.  I asked the chief if I could talk to my boss alone.  We stepped out into the hallway, and I emphatically said, “No way will we do that.  If we take this money from him at this point, the message that will go out to all employees (and believe me, the word would get out) is that if you steal, you basically get an interest free loan, if you can pay it back with no consequences other than losing your job.”  I thought that was a message I did not want to give employees.  I wanted them to realize it is a dangerous thing to try any type of theft.  George (name changed) reluctantly agreed, and we continued as we were before.  I proceeded to report the theft to our bonding company, to make sure that Albert, could never be bonded working at any credit union in the country.

A few months later George called me into his office.  He stated that Albert’s family called, and asked again if they could pay the money back, so that George would not be prosecuted because he was working on his graduate degree, and they didn’t want this to affect his future employment.  (Don’t you think that Albert should have thought about this before he pilfered the money)?  Anyway, George told me that he accepted the money, and the charges would be dropped.  I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe he did that.  I looked at him directly in the eyes, and stated, “If this ever gets out, and employees find out we did not prosecute, I will immediately resign.  I cannot work where employees will feel free to steal.”

I don’t know if the employees ever found out, but I did know that I needed to leave.  If my boss, the president of the credit union, would allow this what else would he allow?  I did not want to be a manager at a company that did not have the highest standards, especially in a regulated industry.  My gut feeling was correct.  About six months after I left my employment for a great new opportunity, George was fired due to an audit, and he was walked out, and he lost his ability to be bonded at a credit union.  Wow!  Don’t get me wrong.  George was a really nice guy, who was way over his head as the president.  How he even made it to that level makes me shake my head.  He had no leadership skills, didn’t know banking, and as I sat in some of the board meetings, he would give glowing reports rather than really telling what was going on.  What comes around, goes around.

One would not think they should have to deal with such large theft in organizations.  What does it say about those who do so?  When I was an ethics officer at my last place of employment, I heard a speaker who talked about the slippery slope of unethical behavior.  It usually started with a feeling of entitlement.  That is the “I deserve (fill in the blank).”  In the college admission scandal, it is the “I or my children deserve to go to the best colleges because I can afford it.”  Those who steal money from their companies usually are thinking, “I deserve a better paying job—this company doesn’t compensate me the way I believe I deserve—therefore, I will take from them what I think I deserve.”

Entitlement is a slippery slope no matter the subject.  When someone feels entitled, they will use any means to get what they think they “deserve.”  Be very careful.  In 12-step groups, there is a lot of talk about gratitude.  When we are grateful for what we have, even if it is not a lot, we become good citizens.  We work for what we want.  We do not expect to get a free ride.

We are shocked when we see the headlines like the college admissions scandal.  Or, we are shocked when we hear a coworker has been fired for theft.  Entitlement is dangerous.  Be aware when you start to feel entitled—that you “deserve” something that you currently don’t have.  It can lead to faulty thinking, and on to unethical behavior if not checked.  Be grateful for what you do have—work hard for what you want—be grateful for where it gets you.

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