A Challenge That Every Business Owner in the World Is Facing Right Now
JS has a dilemma.
“Right now,” she writes, “I strongly believe in self-isolation… which brings me to a question about the young woman who cleans my apartment. I want to tell her to stay home. And I want to tell her that I will pay her even if she doesn’t clean. But for how long? I don’t want her to think that this ‘offer’ (if I make it) is open-ended. What is the right thing to do? I don’t really know. What do you think?”
This is what I told her…
You are a caring employer. You have decided that she shouldn’t continue working for you because of the potential dangers. You are taking responsibility for that decision (which she may not agree with) by offering to continue to pay her salary – thus transferring the financial burden from her to you. But you cannot afford to gift her salary indefinitely.
Recognize this: Tens of millions of business owners, large and small, have to grapple with the same problem. Some have more in the treasury than others. Some can afford to hold out longer than others. But none can afford to do so forever.
The advantage you have is that this is not a business but a personal service. You aren’t risking ruining your business by giving away too much. If it were a business, it would likely be a much tougher question. You’d be faced with “firing” her, knowing that she can’t get another job. And knowing that any check she gets from the government isn’t going to help her for very long.
I’m in that same situation – both as a business owner, the principal donor of a charitable foundation, and as the employer of several dozen people that maintain my properties (that are not income-producing properties).
As a business owner, my partners and I are doing everything we can to keep our employees employed. How long we can do that depends on sales. If sales crash, we will be laying people off in a matter of months. If they continue at a reasonable pace, they will stay employed.
As a donor of a charitable foundation, I have a responsibility not only for the several dozen people that work for us, but for the thousand or so people we provide assistance to. I will continue to support that foundation as long as I possibly can. But that depends on the income I get from my businesses. If that dries up, all these people will be negatively affected.
The people that work on my non-income-producing properties are in the same situation that your house cleaner is in. My plan there is to keep paying them as long as I can.
In every case, I am willing to reduce my net worth to help these less fortunate people survive. But the limit to that is the responsibility I feel for my family and friends. So there is a limit there too.
For the moment, I don’t have to make the decision you have made, because I have the opinion (from everything I’ve read) that social distancing is more effective than isolation.
Were I in your shoes, I would continue to provide that assistance for as long as you can… but let your cleaning lady know that your largesse may end at any time in the future and that she should do whatever she can to prepare for it.
What everyone is discovering these days – I hope – is that there is a limit to how much charity all of us are willing to provide out of our own pockets. This is a very important realization. In accepting the truth of that, we must also recognize that this is true for everyone else.
All those who feel virtuous for taking the position that other (wealthier) people and the government should take care of wealth and income inequality will hopefully see the hypocrisy in that position. And perhaps (although it may be doubtful) that all wealth and therefore all financial charity comes not from the government but from the profitable efforts of private enterprise.