Moral Dilemma for the Day

popcorn_0Today’s moral dilemma is brought to you by Carmike Theaters. Carmike Theaters: We’re a Movie Theater.

The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at a movie theater called the Carmike in Midlothian, Virginia. I was really looking forward to working there because (a) I love movies and (b) I love popcorn. Both are available in unlimited quantities if you work at a movie theater.

Working at the theater was a summer job for me. It wasn’t pocket cash (I was earning money to pay for room and board at college), but I wasn’t dependent upon my income there. However, for several employees, this was how they made their living.

One such employee–we’ll call him “Michael”–discovered a loophole one day that is the crux of this moral dilemma. I was working concession with Michael during a promotional period where patrons could add on a box of candy for $0.05 to their order if they also purchased a large popcorn and a large drink. Usually a box of candy was $3.50.

The loophole that Michael exposed to me is as follows: He would get a customer who wanted a large popcorn and large drink, and he wouldn’t tell them about the promotion. He would tell them the cost without entering anything in the cash register, and then when they were finished, he would quickly enter the order with the promotional code. He would then add a nickle to the drawer from his pocket and take a box of candy for himself.

I didn’t want to stir up any trouble, but I told Michael I didn’t think that was the intent of the promotion. But he said that technically he was doing nothing wrong–he was spending his nickle to upgrade an order, and he was getting the upgrade (the box of candy). I didn’t want to push the point, so I left it at that.

Obviously it’s not a huge deal. This isn’t grand larceny by any means. But I’m curious what you think–was it my responsibility to tell our boss about Michael? Would you have said anything?

3 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma for the Day”

  1. Michael’s behavior was clearly unethical, and he knew it. That’s why he went to such lengths to hide the transaction from the customers — he knew he was swindling them out of that candy. Since he wasn’t the one purchasing the soda and popcorn, he was not eligible to take advantage of the discounted candy. I like that he tried to justify his actions by claiming he wasn’t “technically doing anything wrong.” Technically, he was doing several things wrong, like intentionally deceiving the customers. That obviously puts you in a tough spot, because although it’s a low reward behavior, he’s still stealing from the customer essentially.

    You don’t want to get someone fired over candy, especially if that job is their livelihood. But the Michael’s of the world will keep on finding ways to do things like this if they are allowed to get away with it. They’ll continue to push the boundaries of unethical behavior because people will often look the other way as long as they aren’t being too blatant, like stealing cash from the register. I’ve seen employees push break times to excessive amounts because they never got in trouble for it. I’ve known people who would show up to work later and later until something was finally said.

    However, at that age, I’m not sure if I’d have had the guts to turn him in. I’d probably try to reason with him using the points in my first paragraph and warn him that he could lose his job over a few boxes of candy if the wrong person sees it. If he disregarded me, I’d ask a few close coworkers if they knew about it. If so, I’d feel more at ease reporting him with someone else to back me up.

    I think the fact that you still remember it all these years later and wonder if you should have done something says that you might still feel a little guilty that you didn’t. At 18, I might not have either though. But don’t mess with me now! Years of dealing with that kind of behavior has left me little patience for it.

    • Katie–Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. You make a great point about how the candy may not be a big deal, but the type of person who would abuse a loophole like that might continue to do so in the future, perhaps for things much bigger than movie theater candy.


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