Can you fire a chronic gambler?

Ed Bonney, a young engineer in the plant engineering department, was rated above average from a performance standpoint, but viewed as a security risk by his boss, Engineering Supervisor Bob Griffin.
By Raymond Dreyfack April 1, 1998

Ed Bonney, a young engineer in the plant engineering department, was rated above average from a performance standpoint, but viewed as a security risk by his boss, Engineering Supervisor Bob Griffin. It was common knowledge in the department that Bonney, a chronic gambler, was deeply in debt and that, because of his habit, his wife already had left him once, and was threatening to do so again.

Bonney already had finagled loans from friends and coworkers. Having all but exhausted this source of funds, he applied for a company loan. When Griffin turned him down, he wanted to know why a well-rated professional couldn’t qualify for this privilege when it had been readily granted to others, including lower-ranked employees.

“You don’t want to know,” the supervisor replied tartly.

Griffen’s refusal was based on his low opinion of Bonney’s character and the fact that he considered him a security risk. Also, in his work, Bonney was exposed to privileged material that was conceivably salable to a competitor. In fact, Griffen wasn’t satisfied to merely refuse Bonney the loan; he thought the man should be fired.

Question: Do you think Griffen would be justified in dismissing Bonney?

Gilmore’s verdict: When the supervisor expressed his desire to Plant Engineer Frank Gilmore, his boss replied that he appreciated his concern. “Nonetheless,” he added, “since Bonney’s performance is unaffected by his habit and the company isn’t being hurt by it, it isn’t management’s place to pass judgment on his lifestyle or dictate the way he spends his money. You can’t fire him for something you think he might do in the future.

“If you’re worried about him from a security standpoint, I’d suggest that you assign him duties where he won’t come into contact with privileged materials. From both a human and humane standpoint, if possible, you might set up an appointment for Bonney with the Health Department which could arrange for him to get the psychological guidance he needs.”