Tuesday, March 08, 2005


I was recently in a discussion with a friend regarding the value of privacy in the workplace. Here is his quandary that he wanted my advice on: His brother-in-law was recently hired in the finance industry. The company that hired his brother-in-law was one in which my friend had a hand in founding, and is friends with the owner. His brother-in-law is a drug user, and my friend suspects that he is dealing as well. What should he do? Should he warn his friend? My thoughts are as follows, as I've had to look at this before in an ethics class. While it seems like the natural thing to do, perhaps even the right thing to do, is to inform his friend of his knowledge, there are a few prolems with this action. First, there is no guarantee that his information is correct. Perhaps his brother-in-law is currently sober, is an occasional user, or is a functional user. There is no concrete evidence that his brother-in-law is a dealer. There is plenty of room for error, and ruining someone's professional career in light of my friend's hearsay evidence is not wise. Second, my friend is bound to run into issues with his family. While my friend insists that "everyone" thinks this family member is a loser, he is someone's child, brother, grandchild, etc. While we may not mind dirty laundry being aired at the family Christmas table, we rarely enjoy it being bandied about in public. Third, the company hired his brother-in-law, presumably because he possessed the skills they were looking for. At some point, it is their responsibility, if they want a "drug-free" environment, to put drug testing practices into use. Perhaps this environment is not of high value to them - if not, then his brother-in-law's drug usage is of little concern. Fourth, and this is where the bone of contention is presented, is that I do not feel it is the employer's right to have personal information on this employee's private life. As long as he is not doing drugs on the employer's dime or risking their business due to reckless behavior while on the clock, his brother-in-law is entitled to do as he will in his personal life. If he is caught using illegal drugs, whether it be by another family member, or by a tip off to the police, or even by his illegal drug use in the workplace, so be it. Of course, my friend thought I was absolutely out to lunch. He feels that an employer has the absolute right to know if you are doing illegal behaviors in your personal life. Who you are in your personal life defines who you are in your public life. I would agree that we are who we are, personal and public. However, what we choose to show to the public, and how much of our personal life we choose to reveal, should be up to us. I don't care who Pres. Clinton was boinking, as long as he did it in the privacy of his own home and not under the public eye. It was when it became public that it gave me the right to examine it and come to conclusions about the man and his abilities (no pun intended). Also, regardless of how logical it may seem to inform this employer about his new employee's alleged drug use, suppose it was turned the other way. Suppose an employer decided not to allow smoking among its employees. Not only did this employer determine whether or not its employees could smoke at work, it also decided that they could not do it at home, on their own personal time. (Does this sound familiar?) Smoking is still legal, despite the current attempts to make it illegal. Do you really want employers to have the right to delve into your personal life? I have personally run into the problem of my personal life and thoughts, and my employer's right to determine how and where they are expressed. You have to decide for yourself where you stand. Before you point the finger at others, point the finger at yourself - then decide if that is appropriate treatment. I bet you'll feel differently when it is your bedroom they're putting the camera in.