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Business and morality may be seen as exclusive, but a smart business understands that to truly divorce the two will ruin a business in many ways.  If not through eroded employee morale, then ultimately through destroyed public relations.  A recent Associated Press news story provides a firm example of the latter.

This story involves an employee of the Tennessee Apparel company based in Tullahoma, Tennessee.  This employee asked for an unpaid leave of absence to donate one of her kidneys to a relative -- not an immediate family member it turns out, which to this corporation makes all the difference.

You see the company refused the leave of absence, saying the employee was free to resign, and possibly be hired back after the four to six weeks of recuperation, but even if re-hired, would lose all seniority and benefits and be a new hire!

Pardon, but did we read that correctly?  Yes, apparently we did.  The company's vice-president of manufacturing, Dave Roberts, even agreed to confirm the decision to the AP writer who prepared the story.  Foot, say hello to mouth!

As vital an issue of life and death as organ transplant surgery is, and as critically short as donor organs remain, a corporation must be particularly tone deaf on modern issues to put profit so far ahead of basic morality.

The company claims that the issue is the prior history of absenteeism of this employee, citing that she has missed significant time off work before this request.  The employee, Pam Melson, has worked for the company for four years.  If she is that poor an employee, why retain her?  Moreover, Melson claims that the absence was a little over a month this year and was required to care for three sick children.  Vice-President Roberts declined to specify to the AP reporter the details of Melson's absences.  One must assume Melson is accurate.

And herein lies the real issue -- law versus morality.  The law in Tennessee says that a company must give a parent a leave of absence to care for a child.  However, this law does not require that a company give such time off for medical care of a non-immediate family member.  One wonders if Tennessee legislators ever thought it necessary to pass a law requiring basic human compassion!

Doctors at the Vanderbilt Medical Center say the patient has about five years to live without the transplant.  Further, Melson isn't claiming any right to pay nor company medical coverage.  It turns out that the patient's Medicaid will pay for the transplant and post-operative care.

Ultimately, this comes down to a company deciding that an inconvenience to them outweighs a life-saving surgery for another human being.  One must ask the question, would Roberts and his corporate leadership care more if the patient was related to one of them!

Business is a foundation of society.  It's important and it should be encouraged as a free state of enterprise.  But, it is not more important than life itself, nor should laws be passed to enforce that central moral code.  Society has a right to assume a conscience exists in humanity, and in cases where it does not, then society must extract the price! 

What must happen here is for this press coverage to cause a firestorm of protests against Tennessee Apparel.  If the leaders of this company cannot come to a moral decision on their own, then perhaps they need a pointed reminder of the business implications. 

In other words, if not morality, then perhaps money.  Sadly, to some people, it seems the money matters more than life!

-- Ken Stallings

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