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Taking Care of Business: Putting Yourself in Harm's Way

September 15, 2008
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John R. Hall

A recent posting on an Internet Website sparked a flurry of replies from HVACR contractors, opening up a can of worms for many business owners who believe in turning a blind eye to a customer’s “potential” problem versus the business owners who believe in full disclosure. Let me explain.

The contractor posted this item: “My tech called me and asked me to come and look at something. We were running wire through a finished basement with a drop ceiling. On top of the ceiling we found pot, multiple empty pot bags, beer bottles, condoms, Playboys, and videos. Her boys [include] a senior in high school and a college-age kid.

“Do I say anything to her? Oh I forgot to mention that she is my neighbor. I am not real close with her, as we have only lived there for four years. The other thing is she is a teacher at my kid’s school and she will have my son next year. Oh what do I do?”

That post sparked a lot of pro and con replies to the dilemma. I suspect that my reply will set off some pro and con responses but remember, I have an opinion and a very thick skin.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE

I can relate to his story because I had a very similar experience - albeit the problem was out in the open and the homeowner was fully aware of it.

Back in my days as a delivery/set-up man for a furniture store, I was out on a run to a home in the inner city. My partner and I were scheduled to deliver a very expensive baby crib and set it up for the customer. As we carried the box through the house we went through the living room. On top of the television set was a bowl of crack cocaine rocks. These were small rocks and we guessed they sold for $5 each, providing one “high” for the buyer.

After we finished the set-up, the customer paid us for the $500 C.O.D. in all $5 bills. It didn’t take a brain surgeon - or someone of my limited gray matter - to figure out that this was “dirty” money, coming from the sale of the crack cocaine rocks. We had a dilemma.

Did we feel it was the right thing to call the police because, after all, this was a crack house with a newborn in it? Or did we leave it to our employer to let him decide?

We left it to our employer who decided to take no action at all. Maybe we would have been thanked had we called the police but knowing that our boss felt it was the right decision to remain silent, we would have probably been chastised for getting a customer in trouble.

Was it right not to call the police? I think so. I took the burden off of my shoulders and put it squarely on my boss. So, was he right not to call the police - or at least to call the customer? After all, maybe the real homeowner wasn’t home at the time and wasn’t aware of the drug dealing.

I think he made the right decision, as painful as that may sound. It was our job to deliver and set up furniture and not to police our customer, even if there was evidence of criminal activity.

OK, TAKE YOUR SHOT

So now you know my side of the story. What would you do if your tech called you with a similar scenario? The respondents to this Website posting took both sides and some camped out in the middle.

Maybe it is the responsibility of the techs to have informed the homeowner of their discovery. But at least they did the right thing and called their boss. I agreed with that call. They could have put their own jobs at risk had they taken their own action.

Ultimately it should be the owner’s call - whether to make it or not. His or her employees may represent the company in the field, but accountability eventually rests with the owner. I don’t believe employees should be empowered to make the decision to inform the homeowner in a case like this.

Some respondents brought in the argument about finding a safety hazard in the home and whether they should report it. That is a totally different subject. No one’s life was at risk here. Maybe their well-being was at risk, but who is the judge of that? Certainly not an HVACR contractor.

Unless you have a clearly stated policy, this can be a very tricky subject. So, what would you do?

Publication date: 09/15/2008
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