A businessman of my acquaintance has one unusual trait. He would rather be cheated than make a fuss.

Occasionally he does take a stand on principle. But I have often seen him clamp his jaw shut and suffer in silence. He just doesn't like to hurt anybody's feelings.

For the past two years my friend has endured substantial losses in attempting to introduce an excellent new product. Much of his problem has been that although potential customers phone and write to ask for information about the product, response to the inquiries is neither prompt nor effective. This is because some of the people who are being paid to respond to the queries make a conscious effort to do as little work as possible.

A few months ago, an inquiry arrived from a major company interested in buying a large quanity of the new product. My friend turned the inquiry over to one of his employees and said, "These people could be our biggest customer. Please get on this right away. If they raise any questions you can't answer, let me know."

Weeks later, my friend discovered that the major company had received no response from his office and had finally bought another product. My friend said to the employee who had been assigned to phone the prospect, "I really don't understand why you didn't even call up. I told you how important it was."

The employee scowled. "I was busy," he said.

My friend let that answer go unchallenged. But that evening he told me about the incident and added, "His excuse that he was 'busy' was hot air. I should have fired him long ago. He hasn't been busy, or of real use to me, for six months. But I just hate to fire people."

I said, "You're hopeless."

"No," he said, "my way may be better. After I talked to him at 11 o'clock this morning, he put on his hat and coat and walked out of the office and never came back. My guess is that he took the rest of the day off to think about how little he did for the $21,000 I paid him last year, and what a disgraceful waste of human resources it is for him to goof off as he does. I'd be willing to bet that he will come back a better employee tomorrow."

Alas, my friend was wrong. The employee did not return the next day. Or the next. Nor did he call up to explain why he had not come in, or to indicate whether he would ever come back. He didn't even let it be known he had quit, and he didn't return his key to the office. He just vanished. But a few weeks later, a notice arrived from the D.C. Department of Labor. It announced that the fellow had applied for unemployment compensation, and that my friend would have to pay about $7,000 toward the employee's benefit checks of $196 a week (which will probably be tax free).

It was later ascertained that the employee had told the compensation office that he had quit because of "harassment on the job."

If I had been the employer in this case, I would have been quite angry about that employee, the money he had already cost me, the money he was about to cost me, and the system that permits things of this kind to happen at public expense.

But my friend isn't angry. He's just sad.

He still thinks that when a person loses his job the community should help him find a new one and tide him over financially until he is back on somebody's payroll.

But does the community have the same obligation to pay compensation to a person who voluntarily walks away from a job without good cause? My friend thinks it does not, and I agree with him.

There has been a significant change in our work attitudes in recent years. People who were once grateful they had a job now make a point of doing as little as possible to earn their pay. People talk quite candidly about their plans to quit a job for no good reason, and about their determination to remain unemployed until they exhaust their benefits.

That's not the way to build a sound economy or to whip inflation.

But as Walter Cronkite used to say, that's the way it is. POSTSCRIPT

Under D.C. law, a claimant for compensation who quits a job or is fired for misconduct of some kind "may" lose (but will not necessarily lose) from seven to 13 weeks of compensation. But he cannot be barred from receiving the remainder.