"We don't have discretion..."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Imagine that you run a business, and that you are hiring. You run a background check on a promising candidate and find that he ran into trouble with the law as a teenager, but otherwise has a spotless record. You learn further that the run-in with the law was for something really minor. Would you hire or not?

My answer would be, "It depends." I would consider the totality of what I know about the candidate and, if I am still impressed with him, I might hire him anyway. Regardless, I would think that most people would agree that, as a business owner, it's my call. I should be able to hire, employ, and fire whomever I want, so long as doing so does not, in the process, somehow cause others harm.

My answer, and presumably yours, is not the same as that of the federal government. The Drudge Report links to a news story from the British press about a Wells Fargo employee of seven years losing his job over a prank he pulled at the age of nineteen that got him into trouble with the local sheriff.

Richard Eggers was fired because, when he was 19-years-old, he used a cardboard nickel to try and fleece a laundromat of ten cents.

Now, the 68-year-old is looking for a new job and is ready to take Wells Fargo to court over his dismissal.
Eggers's situation is hardly unique. The story goes on to describe another recently-fired bank employee who'd been caught shoplifting as a teen, but had since straightened up:
"I think there's more important things in life than something that I did 40 years ago," [Yolanda Quesda] told local ABC affiliate KLTV.

"I changed my life. I went to school. I went to college. I didn't graduate but I did go and try to be a good person," she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Lots of people do stupid, minor crimes when they are young. This fact in no way entitles them to expect an employer to ignore such mistakes when deciding whether to hire them or even to continue employing them. However, it struck me as odd that an employer, and a major bank at that, would apparently overlook a youthful indiscretion when hiring only to turn around and dismiss an employee for reasons having nothing to do with job performance.

Did the bank not bother to run a background check, and then make a call on anything that turned up? Irrelevant:
When it comes back to Mr Eggers, the company spokesman said that they have to comply with federal regulations, which were put into place in an effort to protect customers from possible fraud or identity theft.

"We don't have discretion to grant exceptions in situations like this," Angela Kaipust told ABC.

"Once we find out someone has a criminal history of dishonesty or breach of trust we can no longer employ them."
So we can thank Uncle Sam for this ludicrous turn of events.

The federal government -- the same one that pushes questionable lending practices and lets dangerous criminals out of jail -- is "protecting" us by having banks fire employees that they deemed trustworthy and who have shown no inclination to violate anyone's trust. This sad, absurd story is really just the tip of the iceberg regarding what's wrong with the intrusive way too many Americans expect government to act these days.

I, for one, would far rather my banker be free to decide whom to do business with, be it a loan applicant or a potential employee -- and free to prosper or go bust on the strength of his judgement. That would be far better protection than laws designed to take his mind out of the picture.

-- CAV

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