If Ray Rice worked for me, I'm not so sure I'd fire him. And I'm not so sure you would either.

The NFL star has been in deep water since the release of a video that shows him punching his fiancé in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. He really punched her. Hard. This was domestic abuse at its worst. When the video became public, his team, the Baltimore Ravens, immediately reacted by cutting him and the league indefinitely suspended him.

They both did the right thing.

Many are arguing that other players, like San Francisco's Ray McDonald and Carolina's Greg Hardy, should receive similar punishments, if not more, for their awful domestic abuse. And they should too. It makes no difference that Rice is remorseful or that his fiancé ultimately put the incident behind her and married him. It makes no difference that she's standing by her man, publicly complaining that "to make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing." Abuse is abuse. The law is the law. NFL players are celebrities and role models and are supposed to be setting an example for kids and fans. The players are being paid millions and sign contracts that limit what they can do on and off the field. Their personal behavior is as important as their professional statistics. Domestic abuse cannot be tolerated. There's just too much at stake for the NFL's brand and reputation.

But what about your business? Your little, unknown, quiet, small business? Suppose a guy like Ray Rice worked for you? And he's a good, productive employee. He shows up to work on time. He gets along with his co-workers. He's a nice guy. And then you find out he was involved in a domestic abuse incident like Ray Rice? Would you fire him?

Justin (not his real name, but a real person) is the IT manager for a client of mine, a 70-person manufacturing shop outside of Philadelphia. Justin is a heroin addict. And he was caught stealing from a convenience store to pay for his habit. His boss, my client, had to bail him out of jail. Like Ray Rice, Justin was breaking the law and hurting others. Did my client fire him? No. He actually paid for a four-week rehab program and is, along with a few other employees at the company, working with Justin as he tries to turn his life around. This is not the only story I hear. I know dozens of business owners whose employees find themselves in trouble with the law. But they don't get fired.

So if Ray Rice worked at this manufacturing shop, and was arrested for domestic abuse, would my client fire him as the Ravens did? A small business doesn't have the public exposure that an NFL team does. We don't have to deal with the press, the fans, the Internet, the huge sponsors. We don't have the same kind of worldwide brands that need to be protected. And we don't have the budget to just lose a good employee and simply replace him. So many of us have to be more open, more flexible. This is what it's like to be a business owner.

Of course, there's an obvious line. If an employee was arrested for murder or rape or armed robbery, it would be very difficult to keep someone like that on the payroll (even though we live in a country where you're innocent until proven guilty!). If an employee's arrest brings to light behavior that could be a danger to other employees, then that's a no-go too. But domestic abuse, like drug abuse, is a serious psychological issue. Ray Rice has serious psychological problems. They may not impact how he does his job. But he needs major counseling. Firing him from your small business may not be the best answer. In fact, it may make things worse for him, his spouse, and your company. Many business owners I know, particularly because we become so close to our employees, look for other ways to solve problems like this before cutting the cord.

So no, I don't think I'd fire Ray Rice. I'd try to help him first. Not just because it would be good for him. But because it would be good for my business. And I know that I'm not alone.

Published on: Sep 10, 2014