I’ve been tapped to choose an important service provider for our small business. In taking bids, I’ve discovered that one of the bidders may have run afoul of the law in another state, but likely settled without any criminal charges (a white collar crime). I learned this from a competing bidder, but believe it to be true. I know this person, and have worked with them before in another business (the incident was a few years before that, evidently). Their work was always of an excellent quality. The person does NOT know that I’m aware of the incident, and the bid is in line with the others.
First, should I notify my boss of this, even if I believe it will not affect the providing of this critical service?
Next, should I use this person in the first place if the offense may be interpreted as having to do with a lack of character? I know frighteningly little about the facts of the case, I’m afraid.
Lastly, if we reject the bid for this reason, do I have an ethical responsibility to tell this person why, and how I found out?
I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask an ethical question to. Why? Because I spent a good part of Saturday trying to figure out how to cheat at Candyland. Not because I wanted to win, mind you. But because I wanted the game to end. As soon as one of us would get in striking distance of the blessed end of the game, that person would draw Mr. Mint or Grandma Nutt or some other blasted character that would send you backwards. Aaargh! Could somebody just win the darn thing?
But, for the record, I didn’t cheat and fortunately, the offspring won, so there was no tears and (horrors) demand for a re-match. So, I guess I am an ethical sort.
So, you heard a rumor that someone who you have worked with in the past did something extra bad in their past–not that you are very clear on what–and you wonder what to do with that information. This is a horrible gut-wrenching situation to be in. You want to do what is right. You don’t want to embarrass somebody needlessly. What if you tell your boss, the guy doesn’t get the contract and it turns out that his competitor is lying? Aaargh!
Here is what I suggest: Talk to the vendor directly. Tell him you heard a rumor and you are very sorry, but you need to talk to him about it. This stops the gossip altogether and gets to the heart of things. If he says yes, that was him, then he gets an opportunity to explain and you take all the information to your boss and decide if you wish to continue working with him.
If he says no, that’s not true, well then you’ve got a more difficult situation. You’ve got one vendor saying his direct competitor is a criminal and that vendor denying it. Oy. I still say your boss needs to know. I’m not a fan of gossip, but this situation speaks to the character of one of them, it’s just hard to tell which one.
Since you don’t believe this “problem” will affect his performance, you could just let it all go. But, the problem I see with that is that any criminal behavior reflects on the integrity of the person. (Incidentally, the rules around criminal CONVICTIONS and hiring don’t apply–to the best of my knowledge–when you are seeking a vendor, rather than an employee. Since he wasn’t convicted, this is moot anyway, but I thought I’d bring it up.) And telling you this information reflects on the integrity of the competitor. (Not saying he’s a bad person, mind you, just saying “why is he telling me this? Is it to give himself an advantage? Or does he really think it’s important.)
So, now that I’ve given a long winded answer, I’ll summarize your three questions.
1. Yes, you should notify your boss. But, first speak to the vendor directly.
2. Depending on what you find out, it speaks to someone’s character, and I think that’s important to know. Keep in mind that lots of people have made mistakes in life and if it’s been a while and he’s done good work for you in the past, you probably don’t care.
3. Yes, I believe if you are going to take this information into consideration, you need to talk to the person. I’m into being open and honest. If he did this, it’s lurking in the back of his mind anyway and you bringing it up won’t devastate him (I hope!). It will allow you to clear the air.
4. And no matter what, investigate this yourself. This means more than google.
I’m feeling a bit uneasy about my answer now. Someone else chime in and give a better one. I hate situations like this!