2 Managing Legal Risks in Early Childhood Programs
ARE YOUR DECISIONS “FAIR ENOUGH” OR “NO FAIR!”?
Leaders are judged on the fairness of their decisions. Unpopular
decisions, if fair, garner respect, albeit grudgingly. Decisions seen as un-
fair land you in a bog of discontent. Disgruntled employees or families,
like a dog with a sock in its mouth, will shake their heads ferociously
all the way to court.
We all know what’s fair. Or do we? Is it fair to withhold the truth
from preschooler Anna’s ailing grandmother, while telling Reginald’s
thicker-skinned father the blunt reality? Is it fair to discipline teacher
Ted for being late while excusing Mei Lin for lateness because her rela-
tives are visiting?
If your answer is: “It depends on the situation and individual
circumstances,” you are in the majority of early childhood decision
makers (Bruno, 2012). If your answer is: “Treat everyone the same way.
What’s fair for one is fair for all,” you are in line with the majority of
executives and (56%) of men (Myers et al., 1998). However, in our car-
ing profession, you may be seen as “having ice in your veins” and out
of touch with people’s feelings. If so, you can expect resistance to your
decisions. Definitions of fairness differ. To gain a sense of what courts have
held to be “fair,” let’s look into legal history.
Definitions of Fairness from a Legal History Perspective
To understand what’s fair, we need to time-travel to 12th-century
England. Imagine you are a judge presiding over the Law Court in the
sheep-grazing countryside of feudal England. William, who rents his
farmland from a local lord, appears before you, asking that he and his
family be permitted to stay on the property.
Everyone knows the law: Tenants must pay their rent to the land-
lord on time. Failure to pay on time will result in forfeiture of the land.
Although William’s rent was due on April 15, he paid his rent on April 20.
Should he forfeit his property because he knowingly broke the law? What
seems fair to you?
The judge decided: “Forfeit the property. Quit the land.” William
had failed to obey the law. Breaking the law led to a clearly stated con-
sequence: forfeiture. The judge did not take into account William’s
personal circumstances. The judge used a logical, “letter-of-the-law”
approach consistent with his other decisions: Lawbreakers suffer con-
sequences. Everyone could expect the same treatment: “What’s fair for
one is fair for all.”