Dear Ms. Behavior:
An ex of mine rolled back into town recently. Terri always has been a handful in the past, but this time, she turned up looking good and clear-eyed. She told me that she needed a job, and asked me to help her.
I always get sucked into helping, which is why she asks me for assistance (instead of any one of her dozen other exes). Anyway, I manage a retail shop (souvenirs), so I recommended Terri to my boss. We needed someone to fill in a few nights a week, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
The problem is that right after Terri started working in the store, I found out (from the newspaper) she recently was arrested and convicted for shoplifting. It had no details about what she stole, or from whom.
I am baffled about what to do with the information. I never have known her to be a shoplifter, but I can’t say I’m totally surprised, either.
Anyway, should I confront Terri, and insist that she tell me what happened, or is it none of my business? If she promises that she never will shoplift again, should I believe her? Am I obligated to warn my boss or is that unfair? Am I supposed to be extra-loyal, just because we were once girlfriends (seven years ago)?
Dear Guilty Ex:
That Terri is your ex complicates things emotionally, but is otherwise irrelevant. Your direct action (hiring Terri) has put someone else (your boss) in jeopardy, so you need to mitigate the risk.
Most of the time, activities that happen outside of work are nobody’s business, as long as they are legal, and don’t harm the company’s reputation.
Teachers, politicians, and certain civic employees may not get away with posting photos of their bare butts on Facebook, but retail employees generally are up against fewer rules. They can blog with impunity about drunken dancing with strippers and thugs, and describe spitting nickels from various orifices every Friday night.
Shoplifting, however, does not fall into this category, because it means the employee is a thief, as opposed to just a psycho partier who is letting off a little steam. So, if you’re the one who brings a convicted thief to your boss’s store, you can’t claim it’s none of your business.
Because you don’t know exactly why Terri was arrested, it’s best to talk with her about it.
Did she steal things like pencils, money, or her coworkers’ bagged lunches from her previous job? Or, did she hang around the Prada outlet, shoving sunglasses and wallets into her underwear? Was this her first time or is she a chronic shoplifter?
Even if Terri swears she never will steal again, how could you trust her? If your souvenir store sells things like jewelry and cameras, or other small and easily concealed items, guarding these things would prove challenging.
How could you possibly detect all losses in a foolproof manner, without conducting a cavity search? Performing such a search on an ex could be awkward.
In any case, let Terri know that you can’t keep secrets about her shoplifting. Ultimately, you’ll need to talk to your boss. She’s the one who will need to decide whether to let the little magpie stay on.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
I read your column, and I wanted to respond to the recent letter from “Pained Mom.”
I as a gay man have been in that situation. Your remarks were right on the mark. I was engaged to a woman, broke it off, and finally decided to come out of the closet.
My mother thought it right still to have a relationship with the woman I was engaged to. How could I say no to that? My mother told me that she had a right, as their relationship was a “one-on-one,” and did not include me. I accepted that explanation.
So, I hope that “Pained Mom” still has that relationship with the “other half.” She has every right to have that. I hope her daughter realizes that. It is not easy for our parents to continue those relationships once ours is done, but they may, and they can! We as the “hurt” or “hurting” half need to realize that.
David S. Wicklander
© 2010 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to <email@example.com>. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.