In this case, Shaw is torn between two candidates for a leadership position in her firm. One is Parsons, an outgoing male who is active in his community with non-profits and who has strong leadership skills. The other is Jones, who is a female and equally qualified for the job. Shaw is leaning towards Parsons because of his leadership qualities, but she searches the two candidates on Google, she discovers some unsettling photos of Parsons on Facebook — photos of him with his Fraternity friends, drinking and smoking “blunts.” Jones has no Facebook presence — and Google searches reveal only work-related information. In other words, Jones has a clean “Internet” presence, whereas Parsons’ social media activity has “sullied” his reputation to some extent by revealing him to be a “partier.” Now Shaw must decide whether Parsons’ “extracurricular” activities are enough to change her opinion of him and compel her to give the job to Jones, whose online profile is much more sober.
There are a number of principle moral frameworks that could be utilized in this position. One could adopt the John Stuart Mill “Utilitarian” approach (that which produces the “greatest good” — with a view towards direct and indirect consequences)footnoteRef:1, or one could adopt the more traditional Golden Rule framework (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). Or one could adopt the “legalistic” framework and suggest that because Parsons has engaged in a potentially illegal activity (smoking marijuana) he is no longer a trustworthy candidate. Then there is also the “Look-in-the-mirror” framework, which is essentially this: you should be able to look in the mirror and be able to respect yourself. Obviously Parsons has no problem with drinking and smoking while with his Fraternity friends, since he posts these images on Facebook; apparently he maintains his self-respect. The problem is whether others will respect him: moreover, is he trustworthy? How dedicated to his job would he be if he is also a “partier”? 1: Terry Halbert, Elaine Ingulli, “Making an Ethical Decision,” Law and Ethics in the Business Environment, 3rd Edition (1999), 15.
I choose to use the utilitarian framework as the principle moral framework for assessing this case. It applies to this case in the following manner: if I am Shaw, I am aware that I have risen to the position in which I am because I am dedicated to my job. I enjoy time with friends and family, but I am aware that my business is such that it takes priority number one in my life. I want to surround myself with like-minded individuals. Even though I was leaning towards Parsons because of his strong display of leadership skills, something was holding me back from making my final decision. I could not say what it was, so I turned to Facebook and discovered another side of Parsons that I may have intuited during our interviews but somehow not really identified. Here it was, however, on the Internet — not only for me to see but for all others to see as well. How many potential clients might see the same side of Parsons down the road and be turned away from doing business with us? What else is in Parsons’ background that could come to surface later on down the road and serve to give our company a bad reputation by association? These are questions worth asking, because they would be indirect consequences of hiring Parsons. Direct consequences would be measured by his impact on the business in terms of production, dedication, and leadership — all abilities which he demonstrated clearly in his volunteer work in the community as well as in his personal manner in the interview process.
Then there is Jones, who is also equally qualified, but comes with no red flags and offers no potential of online embarrassment should clients choose to research her background. Based on that utilitarian assessment alone, Jones is the preferred candidate.
Arguments for and against the utilitarian framework are that it does not absolutely indicate where the greatest weight in the decision should be placed. While it may be true that Parsons’ background turns off some investors or clients, the positive contribution that he brings could easily outweigh this risk — but in dealing with these hypothetical possibilities, it is difficult to see what the true risk/reward is and where the greater good actually lies. Thus the utilitarian framework may not be the best way to approach this case. On the other hand, the framework would allow Shaw to take an objective, disinterested and analytical approach to the case, divorce her own personal feelings from it, and simply view the situation as is while asking whether hiring Parsons or Jones would serve the interests of the business.
Thus, this framework has both strengths and weaknesses: it is strong in the sense that it is analytical and objective; it is weak in the sense that it deals with too many hypothetical situations, and does not give an indication of where the most weight should be placed — whether on Parsons’ background or on his abilities — or whether the fact that he is controversial at all should automatically disqualify him and give the job to Jones. The utilitarian principle is silent on these questions because it assumes that the analyst will not have any difficulty identifying the common good — but in this case it is somewhat difficult to ascertain it because drinking and smoking with friends does not necessarily carry as much weight in the public eye as it perhaps once did. In fact, the verdict is still out on whether marijuana is even harmful, though some studies still indicate that it is.footnoteRef:2 2: Sushrut Jangi, “Can we please stop pretending marijuana is harmless?” Boston Globe. 8 October 2015. Web.
Considering what Shaw has already done, she still has options available to her to help her make her final decision. She could call for one additional interview in order to address concerns that have now occurred to her. Or she could consult with other members of her team to get a second opinion. This might be the best option, because ultimately, these people are also going to have to work with whomever she hires. Considering that the business is a high-demand workplace, one could assume that they would prefer the “no-nonsense” type of personality demonstrated by Jones’ virtual lack of an online presence and/or social media life.
The argument could be made by adopting a “Golden Rule” approach that Parsons should be hired because one might say that we have all made mistakes before, or let our hair down and celebrated with friends; therefore, it is only fair to turn a blind eye to this activity of Parsons’. However, in the business world one must consider the “shareholder” and seek to “maximize share value”footnoteRef:3 — which means that while the “Golden Rule” is a good principle for societies to utilize, business is a different world completely: it is oftentimes unforgiving and very demanding; therefore, Shaw could personally hold nothing against Parsons and even recommend him elsewhere but for her shareholders and stakeholders she should recognize that they might not be comfortable with some of the things she has discovered. 3: Margaret Blair, “Maximizing shareholder value versus creating value through team production,” Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings (June 2015), 3.
One possible alternative, however, would be — if Shaw is still inclined to hire Parsons — to call him in, tell him directly of her concerns, and consider his reaction. She could give Parsons the opportunity to clean up his Facebook account before she hires him and to ensure that there is nothing else “out there” that could damage his reputation or the reputation of the firm. This would fall more in line with the “Golden Rule” framework because anyone would appreciate such a “second chance” as this and no doubt Parsons would comply with the request if he truly wants the position. Shaw could at the same time illustrate her high moral principles by bringing it straightaway to Parsons attention, which would likely win his respect even more so. This could serve as the basis of a strong relationship and serve to turn Parsons (if he is not already) into a real, devoted and true employee of the business.
Nonetheless, it is absolutely fair for Shaw to research the candidates without giving them advance notice. They should be ready for that at any time if they are seriously applying for a job. However, at the same time, it should be considered, if Shaw is going to use the “Golden Rule” principle, that Parsons may have overlooked his Facebook account or completely forgotten about those images — or failed to have even considered the projection they could convey about his personality and maturity. Even if he was not really “smoking blunts” as stated in the text of the images, they are still off-putting. So Shaw could bring this up…