Fair vs Fair: Ethics and the “No-Tip” Restaurant

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters...or as bankers, for that matter.

You know, this looks like a place that would believe that dishwashers deserve as much pay as waiters…or as bankers, for that matter.

William Street Common is a new restaurant in Philadelphia, and is getting publicity for, we are told, experimenting with a different and (maybe?) fairer compensation model. Owner Avram Hornik  pays all of its employees, from the servers to the dishwashers, at least $15 an hour plus paid sick leave and health insurance benefits. There is a 20 percent service charge for drinks, and that goes into a common fund that makes that  $15 an hour wage affordable. Money left over at the end of a pay period is divided up among employees based on a point system related to various factors.

Hornik came up with this structure, he says, to deal with the well-debated problems of tipping. “Some people just tip the same amount, but some people base it on how quickly the food was there, whether we were out of something, whether the server was there when they wanted them to be,” he says. “So much of that is out of the control of the individual server… So why would it be fair for the service employee to be responsible for the poor decisions of management?”

Hornik argues that his model “essentially creates a guaranteed floor. But we’re also capping the ceiling,” he points out, because the tipping gets shared equally with all employees. “We didn’t think it was fair [that] in some places you have dishwashers earning 10 dollars an hour and the bartender earning 30 dollars an hour.” He also is convinced that the customers will benefit.  “That atmosphere among the employees, a sense of community and empowerment and happiness with the job, is going to translate into a better environment for customers,” he said. “By having happy staff customers are going to be happier too.”

Is this system really fairer than the current one? Progressives are cheering it, because it represents a “living wage,” or at least something close to it. OK, but it would be nice not to feel hyped: ThinkProgress, for example, had headlines that the William Street Common “got rid of tipping” and writes “tips aren’t mandatory.”

Inept reporting or lies, take your pick. A 20% “service charge” is a mandatory tip, so tips ARE mandatory. The reports don’t explain how voluntary tipping has been eliminated, or whether a server would be prohibited from keeping a ten-dollar bill that a diner hands him, saying, “You know, the food was lousy, but you were so gracious and accommodating that you single-handedly made the evening bearable. Thank you. If I ever come back, it will be because of you.” If so, is that fair?  I don’t think so. In fact, it’s exactly as unfair as a diner not rewarding excellent service, and tipping a dime. Continue reading

Good News On Business Ethics? Maybe: The Ethics Research Center’s 2014 National Business Ethics Survey

ERC surveyThe Ethics Resource Center, a distinguished Washington, D.C. based ethics research and consulting firm, performs a survey of business employees every two years to measure trends in workplace ethics. It’s 2013 survey and report was released last week, and appears to bear good tidings. Workplace misconduct is on the decline, the data says.  41 percent of employees observed misconduct in 2013, way down from 55 percent in 2007. Moreover, ERC’s “National Business Ethics Survey,” which polled 6,400 U.S. employees, found that only 9 percent of employees polled felt pressure to compromise their standards in 2013, down from 13 percent in the previous survey in 2011.

ERC Chairman Michael G. Oxley  (of Sarbanes-Oxley fame) said in a release,“The results of the survey are encouraging and show that companies are doing a better job of holding workers accountable, imposing discipline for misconduct, and letting it be known publicly that bad behavior will be punished.”

Among the survey’s intriguing findings:

  • “Over the last two years, observed misconduct fell in every one of the 26 specific categories we asked about in both NBES 2011 and NBES 2013.
  • “Pressure to compromise standards, often a leading indicator of future misconduct, also was down – falling from 13 percent in 2011 to nine percent in the latest survey.”

Less encouraging are these: Continue reading

Annie Dookhan, The Nightmare Employee

Funny---she doesn't LOOK evil.

Funny—she doesn’t LOOK evil.

Every organization dreads the falsely competent employee who is secretly cutting corners and covering their tracks. Sometimes, they are embezzlers. Sometimes they are plagiarists, or journalists who fabricate quotes and only pretend to check sources.  Sometimes they are managers, CEOs, generals and leaders who are faking it, not providing oversight and diligently making sure that others are doing their jobs. These people are thieves, essentially: they are stealing their salaries under the false pretense that they know what they are doing and can be trusted. Often they are worse than thieves, because they sap their organizations of efficiency and momentum, secretly, stealthily. Needless to say, government bureaucracies are crawling with them, and they cost all of us money, security, hope and happiness.

Annie Doohkan is one of the worst of this breed I have ever encountered.  She was a state chemist in Massachusetts who intentionally mishandled evidence in drug cases, rushing results, falsifying them, certifying that she did tests when she really didn’t. Finally the lies became too much to hide, and she was exposed, but not before her perfidy forced the release of hundreds of convicts, raised new questions about thousands of other cases, and forced the state to spend millions of dollars. Apparently she had no greater motive for inflicting this carnage than her desire to give police and prosecutors what they wanted, and to appear to be fast, efficient and reliable. Continue reading

Workplace Ethics: 62 Things That Are Legal, But 22 Of Them Are Unethical

"Oh, sure, he's hell to work for, but he never breaks any laws, so you'll be fine."

“Oh, sure, he’s hell to work for, but he never breaks any laws, so you’ll be fine.”

I have been remiss in not adding the terrific blog Evil HR Lady to the Ethics Alarms links, and will finally do so as soon as I post this entry. No profession deal s with ethical nuances and dilemmas more frequently than human resources professionals, and they can be very difficult, even gut-wrenching. In a recent post, EHRL searched through the archives of questions she has answered over the past years, and compiled an eye-opening list, especially for non-lawyers, of the conduct employers could engage in legally, which is to say, get away with and not be successfully sued, to employees, together with some questionable kinds of conduct that are legal for employees to do to each other.

She listed 62 of them, many of which are reasonable ( it’s okay to fire an employee for “being a jerk”) and some are obvious, or should be;  it is legal to quote the Bible in the office, for example. What is legal is not always good, fair, or right, however, and I perused the list with an eye out for legal workplace conduct that was legal but still unethical. About a third of the types of conduct on the Evil HR Lady’s list made mine. What follows is the sub-list of the 62 things it is legal to do at work, the 22 things it may be legal to do at work, but which are still unethical. The reasons for my unethical verdict follow Evil HR Lady’s items.

Here’s the list of the unethical 22 workplace practices: Continue reading

Are Universities Ethically Obligated To Tolerate Professors Who Embarrass Them By Saying Idiotic And Offensive Things?

Apparently the answer to the above is “Yes.”



If the university is a state school, then for it to fire a professor who makes ridiculous, foolish or hateful statements that make people wonder why they should ever entrust the minds of their tender charges into an institution that would knowingly hire cretins and jackasses to pollute student RNA, then this is probably a First Amendment violation, since it amounts to the government punishing speech and chilling free expression. If, on the other hand, the university involved is not a state school, then to send a professor packing because he or she has rammed his or her foot down his or her throat up to the knee is a violation of the crucial principle of academic freedom, which is, in brief, that to encourage the free discussion of ideas on a college campus, education being the purpose of the institution, literally no idea, point of view or position should be blocked or chilled by substantive negative action.

Three cases of recent vintage illustrate the university’s plight: Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: A Taco Bell Employee



—-The Taco Bell employee who allegedly took the photo above of a colleague licking a stack of taco shells. The image was, naturally, posted by one of them on Facebook, and re-posted, with appropriate alarm, by Consumerist.

The runners-up for this quote of the day were several jaw-dropping comments on Facebook, such as…

  • Wes Abdi, who says: 1. I know the person in the photo, not just from work, but from school as well; and I know that he is not dumb enough to lick a stack of taco shells and then serve them to the public. 2. There is a 99% chance that stack of Tacos was getting thrown out, as in: getting thrown away, so it’s not as if they were going to be served to anyone. 3. This was obviously done out of humor. I know most of you don’t see it as this, but this is friggin hilarious, sit back and just laugh at it.

Uh, Wes….1. He was dumb enough to post the picture, causing a business crisis for his employer, causing Taco Bell to lose untold sales and presumably putting his job at risk. He’s pretty dumb. 2. You know, a 1% chance that I’m going to be buying and eating a taco that has been ore-licked by an idiot is still too high for me, and, I bet, the FDA. 3. Yeah, food adulteration and tampering is hilarious. Now we know why you and The Mad Licker are friends, you idiot. (By the way, over a hundred readers “liked” this fatuous comment. What does that tell us?)

  • Aj Hackett, one of the hundred plus who think Wes is brilliant, wrote: One reason why I dislike this post so much is that you don’t know any side of this story. You only have a picture and you’re reading too much into it. What happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? You talk of freedom of speech and differences of opinion, yet you ignore one of the nation’s founding creeds. I do believe that Wes Abdi is correct in saying that you…should be the one to prove that this employee was ignoring his duty in properly handling food items. Once again, “innocent until proven guilty.” So prove it.
What? There is a posted photo of a Taco Bell employee licking food! There aren’t two sides; there is only one that matters: the side of the tacos being licked. No one’s reading too much into the photo at all, A.J., and may I add, what the hell’s the matter with you? The picture is what the law calls res ipsa loquitur. It speaks for itself. The existence of such a photo is proof that an employee licked the food, thought it was funny, and posted it so everyone could see the care and professionalism of those entrusted with handling the meals of Taco Bell customers. It is also proof that Taco Bell has at least one irresponsible idiot handling food. Nobody is “reading too much into it.” Meanwhile, your reference to “one of the nation’s founding creeds” is ignorant, misplaced, and mistaken, and your high school needs to be torn down and its teachers sent off to work at Taco Bell. “Innocent until proven guilty” is not a founding creed in any way; it is a convention of the justice system, and simply establishes who has the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions by the government. It has absolutely no application to private or public conclusions about an individual’s guilt when evidence is overwhelming. Nor does criticism of the photo or subsequent negative consequences being inflicted on the Mad Licker and his accomplices in any way relate to free speech. He’s free to post the photo: it’s still up, in fact. Free speech means the government isn’t allowed to stop anyone from posting photos that prove they are mentally deficient and that Taco Bell’s food might have god-knows-what done to it before we eat it.

There is no reason to expound further on what is unethical about posting a photo of yourself licking food that may or may not have ended up in a customer’s lunch, to the detriment of your employer and horror of its customers. If that isn’t immediately apparent, you’re either beyond hope, like Rebekah, Wes, A.J., and the unidentified photographer, or you work at Taco Bell.______________Pointer: tgtFacts and Graphic: Consumerist



Unethical Quote of the Day: Jo-Ann Youngblood

“There is nothing wrong with being an average (mediocre) employee. Not everyone aspires to be in management. If the person meets the requirements of their current job, and they like the job and want to stay in the job, so be it. Stop trying to force people to get to the next level. The reality is that work is not the most important thing in everyone’s lives. People have more important things in their life than work. Work is simply a means to get the money we need to pay the mortgage and our other bills. Work is a low-priority event for most people. I’m only willing to do the bare minimum that it takes to get a paycheck every two weeks. As long as I am meeting the requirements of my job, than that is good enough. Don’t expect any more of me because I will not be a slave to any company.”

—-Commenter Jo-Ann Youngblood (of Tulsa, Oklahoma) in response to New York Times small business blogger Jay Golz’s 2011 post, “The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Companies,” in which he concluded that what dragged companies down were what he called “the sixes”—mediocre employees who just weren’t very good at their jobs.

George Costanza, hard at work.

Golz reprinted the comment today in a Times feature selecting highlights from the blog. I like Golz’s answer, which read in part:

“…As the owner of a business, I have the right to avoid hiring someone who only wants to do the bare minimum to get a paycheck. In fact, if I hire too many people with that attitude, I will be out of business. This is Capitalism 101, survival of the fittest. I operate in a very competitive market. I don’t have any patents, any special marketing magic, or any secret recipes. My companies can only exist and grow if they do a much-better-than-average job. Continue reading

Unethical Employer of the Week: William Ernst

There has been an increase, it seems, in news reports about outrageously abusive, sadistic, unfeeling or generally unethical conduct by employers, either because the nation’s economic problems are bringing out the worst in people, or because I’m getting better at finding them. This story settles it: I’m establishing a new regular category, “Unethical Employer of the Week.” And there couldn’t be a more deserving initial awardee than William Ernst, the owner of a chain of QC Marts in Iowa and Illinois. Continue reading

Ethics Double Dunces in Ohio: McDonald’s Owner Paul Siegfried and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R, OH.)

The great state of Ohio gave us two Ethics Dunces last week, both related to the upcoming election, both Republicans, both outrageous. Your call as to who was worse; it’s awfully close:

1. Paul Siegfried, Ohio Ethics Dunce #1: The owner of several McDonald’s in northeastern Ohio  distributed Republican campaign material to his employees and added a threatening note to their paycheck envelope “suggesting” that three G.O.P. candidates receive their support. Continue reading