Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hammerman on Ethics: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - at a Coffee Shop

See my latest ethics quandary at the Jewish Week website: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - At a Coffee Shop. And save the date of Dec. 7 for my "Ask the Ethicists" panel with NY Times Ethicist Randy Cohen. The topic will be "Relationships: What Should I Do?" Send in questions about your work, love and social relationships to The most interesting entries will be presented to the experts (anonymously) for discussion at the event, which will take place at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. Here's todays:

Q - Last spring I lent $200 to a woman who works at a midtown coffee shop near my office. I've gone in there every day for years and have gotten friendly with her - in fact, I know her whole life story and we are on a first name basis. When I lent her the money to pay for an emergency medical procedure, she promised to pay me back, although I had my doubts that she would be able to.

I went away over the summer and when I came back to the coffee shop I decided not to mention the loan and see what would happen. But when I went to pay for my coffee she smiled and waved me by and said, "It's on the house." This has now happened for a couple of weeks and I suspect she is giving me the freebies to pay off the loan. The problem is, she doesn't own the shop. What do I do?

A - Many eating establishments allow employees to grab a cup of coffee for themselves from time to time.

Even a behemoth like McDonalds allows a free drink and half-price meals to those behind the counter. If the coffee comes from her perk rather than her boss's pocket, everyone's a winner. She is reimbursing you, one cup at a time. If she is repaying you by stealing from her boss, however, not only is that a crime, but you are an accessory, and if it's discovered, she could lose her job. It's classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. (click here for the rest of the response)

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