Ethical Question - Did I Do the Right Thing?

I work in a group home for developmentally disabled adults. Today I was at the Illinois State Fair with three of our residents. At one point during our day they needed a break, so I found a nice picnic table in the shade and sat them down while I went to a nearby stand to buy sodas for them. As I was digging through three envelopes, trying to dig out each guy’s money to pay for their sodas, a fairgoer pulled up next to me on his motorized wheelchair. He stuffed a $20 bill into my hand and told me to pay for the guys’ sodas and to keep the change.

Before I could respond the guy had already motored off.

Per the guy’s wishes, I bought the three sodas, which came to $9. I told the residents what had happened (that a nice man had bought their sodas for them), and that since they didn’t have to pay for their sodas they had more money for popcorn or souvenirs (which, FTR, nobody would wind up buying). There was much rejoicing. I pocketed the remaining $11.

The angel on my shoulder says I should have given the change to my boss back at the group home to put into the generalized fund from which we pay for the residents’ activities.

The devil on my other shoulder says that the extra $11 is essentially a tip, given to me by a random stranger (who specifically told me to keep the change) who was impressed by the job I was doing (though the job didn’t directly involve him).

What say the Teeming Millions?

He told you to keep it. You kept it.

Nothing wrong with that.

It’s good to help others, but you gotta help yourself as well- I see no problem.

You did as the benefactor requested; rest easy my friend. There should be some small benefit for those who do what others will not. I know you are not paid what you deserve for the job you do, and yet you do the job because for whatever reason, you know you are doing the right thing. I, and everyone on this board, should be grateful for what you do!


I agree, and in fact I’d go so far as to say that putting it in the general fund would have been mildly unethical. When you accepted that money, you implicitly accepted the conditions under which it was offered. The conditions were that it would be split four ways: three people would get a soda, and one person would get the change. If you didn’t want to accept that deal, you shouldn’t have taken the money.

(Yeah, of course you could take ownership of the change and decide to donate it, but if that’s what you decide to do, be clear that you’re making a donation to your employer, not turning over money that rightfully belongs to them).


It’s yours, to treat yourself to something. It’s a lovely gesture of appreciation from some random person, who may or may not know what it’s like to care for developmentally disabled people. If he wanted to donate to the organization, he could, and possibly already does. Treat yourself; caregivers deserve it.

If there’s no specific policy, it’s yours. Where I work, in retail, there is a specific- “no tipping” policy, so if a stranger gave me excess money for another customer’s purchase & told me to keep the change, and left before I could tell him that I couldn’t accept tips, I’d have to put the excess change in the drawer- maybe to help other customers who were short.

Man, you work in such a helpful and caring job, you get a break such as this, and you feel guilty about it? Dude, if morality was on a point system, you’d have earned up enough to go on a binge in Bangkok, so dont sweat the small stuff.

The only relevant issue, I think, is that the stranger specifically gave the change to you. If there were other factors, such as a rule or agreement saying you’re not to accept anything while you are on duty, that could change things, but you don’t mention that. This means it’s yours. But I do think it was good of you to wonder and ask!

A stranger decided to give you a gift, and he told you how to distribute the money. By accepting the money you agree to his terms of donation. Enjoy it, it was the guys wishes.

I don’t see it as wrong that you kept it. Had you given it away, that would have been nice too, but keeping it wasn’t wrong.

I could read the stranger’s statement as meaning “keep the change (for whatever else you need in taking care of these people)” so that putting it in the general fund would be more in keeping with the intent. That said, I don’t think it’s clear from the actual statement if the intent was a tip for you personally or an extra donation to the fund so you have to decide that for yourself. From what little I’ve seen here you’ve already racked up more than $11 worth of guilt over it and can keep it with a clear conscience.

I think it would be better going into that general fund, so more people get benefit out of that man’s kind gesture. Not really a matter of ethics, though. Just what feels right in the situation.

My first thought is that the change is meant for the residents somehow–maybe for popcorn to go with their soda, or maybe for a different treat at some point in the future. Telling a bartender or barber (etc.) to “keep the change” means one thing, but I don’t know if it means the same thing when it’s addressed to a guy at a carnival stand who is buying three sodas for developmentally disabled adults. But that’s just me.

If it bothers you, you can tell yourself that at an event on some future date, you’ll buy the residents’ sodas or treats out of your own pocket. That event and date, of course, is entirely up to you.

If he literally said “keep the change” I think he meant for you to have it personally.

It seems unlikely to be a cooincidence that the guy who did this was in a wheelchair. My guess is that he has had some direct experience with caregivers, and realizes that (whether the clients are developmentally or physically disabled) the work can be demanding and does not offer great financial rewards. Perhaps he just wanted to brighten your day, and since he couldn’t exactly say “hi, I bet you could use a few extra bucks, take this” he found a respectful way to offer you something. It’s just a hypothesis, but I bet he was thinking of skilled, compassionate care that someone like you offered to someone like him when he did it.

Hijack: It chaps my hiney when people substitute the word “motored” (or “wheeled” or “rolled”) for the word “walked” when dealing with individuals in wheelchairs. You might think you’re being sensitive by not mentioning the act of walking, but believe me, when you ask a person in a wheelchair to “roll this way” it sounds just as silly to us as it does to you. Similarly, you’d never tell a person on crutches to “limp this way.”

It is unethical for a healthcare provider to take gratuities of any kind. Patients/clients shouldn’t ever be in a position to feel their care is predicated on tips or presents.
That said, the situation is a bit different. The tipper wasn’t in your care. Keep the tip. Call it found money.

Originally posted by Carnick:

Is this a whoosh?

Or am I being offensive by suggesting it is a whoosh?

Sorry about continuing the hijack.

I personally think that the change should have been applied to residents outside of you buying yourself drink. I don’t fault you for taking the gesture differently; you were there.

Awfully nice fellow on the wheelchair/scooter.