The Risk Tolerance Test: Can You Forgive or Forget Employee Bad Deeds?

Everyone deserves a second chance, unless your company is the one who has to give it, right?

I love hearing stories about recovery and redemption. What makes these stories so powerful (and relatively rare) are the odds against legitimate second chances are so incredibly high.

When I heard about Ted Williams and his story, it was a feel good story for sure. A man who, against all odds, found fame for simply being good at something. He was living on the streets of Columbus, Ohio and nobody knew that he had this incredible voice.

Of course, what happened next wasn’t a surprise to anyone who has taken an employment risk before

Guess what? Employees make mistakes

USA Today reported that Ted Williams, the man who rose to fame just a week ago, is heading to rehab:

During a taping of the Dr. Phil Show today in Los Angeles, Ted Williams — with his family’s support — said he has decided to enter a private rehabilitation treatment facility for his alcohol and drug dependency, a show spokeswoman says. Williams came to the conclusion following a lengthy one-on-one conversation with Dr. Phil, which will air tomorrow.

According to the show, the decision was made due in part to Williams’ strange behavior over the past several days, which culminated in a physical altercation with one of his daughters at a Hollywood hotel. He was briefly detained by police and later released.


If you know anything about substance abuse, you know that the road to recovery is full of all sorts of issues (including, unfortunately, relapses). While the story about Williams initially said he was sober for several years, it is obvious that this wasn’t the case.

Will those who have offered him a job continue to honor that commitment or will they withdraw their offer and take the safer bet of separating themselves from the situation?

Separating talent from conduct outside of work

When talent is undeniable, it is hard to not reach out and take that risk.

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Certainly Williams has it, and Michael Vick is another prime example of talent trumping the risks that poor personal choices can have on an organization. Vick recently led the Philadelphia Eagles to a playoff berth but before he was slinging passes for the team, he was doing hard time for his involvement in a dog fighting and gambling scandal.

For an organization like the Eagles, or a public figure like Vick, there may be some different rules. Fans reactions have been divided. I know several (now former) Eagles fans who aren’t supporting the team at all. Still others are putting their personal feelings aside and giving him a second chance.

While most would acknowledge that people like Vick and Williams probably deserve second (or third) chances, are they willing to put their money where their mouth is?

Employment decisions run counter to talk

Late last month, President Obama called the Philadelphia Eagles owner to congratulate him for giving Vick a second chance. I was sort of bemused about that since there is little doubt in my mind that Vick wouldn’t have been given a second chance by the federal government itself. Nick Fishman of EmployeeScreenIQ agrees saying:

Does anyone actually believe Michael Vick could have gotten a job at the White House or any other government agency for that matter?  We would have never passed a background check. Now, I’m not suggesting that the government should abandon its employment screening policies. What I am suggesting is that it is hypocritical to commend an employer for hiring those with a criminal past, when you, yourself would not. I am also suggesting that the government’s drive to curb the use of background checks or the information they are allowed to use in a hiring decision runs counter to their own hiring policies.

The question in my mind continues to be this: which companies are willing to walk the talk when it comes to giving employees second chances? It is incredibly easy to say someone deserves another chance, but when it comes to your company’s money and risk, are you recommending an action you would not take yourself?

It’s not an easy decision to make, but what choice are you willing to make when it comes to overlooking personal conduct for talent? Are you passing over candidates like Ted Williams or Michael Vick, and are you cognizant of the conflicting risks of both taking or leaving surefire talent to someone else because of a bad past?


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