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Hi, all.

BLUF :  Do you think that it is professional ethical behavior to take another job and not return to a job that granted a leave of absence for professional development ? 

This is just an informal poll because I am conflicted about how I feel about this and a colleague that is doing this.

The situation :

We have a professional university staff member who was granted a 1 year (unpaid) leave of absence so that they could take a one (1) year paid fellowship at a professional organization in another state.

We have been holding the position open (unfilled) and other members of our staff have been sharing the burden of the extra workload in her absence.  It hasn't been easy.

Now 9 months into the fellowship she has been offered a position in that other organization to be full time at a much greater salary than we can offer her back here.

I am happy for her that she has had the chance for the professional development and that she can now move onto a greater opportunity.

On one hand I can't fault her for wanting to take a great job opportunity;

And yet I somehow feel that she owed us at least one year back here before she started looking for another job.

What are some of your other thoughts ?

Thanks

UncleA

mrreliable's picture

Unless the one-year commitment was clearly identified in the agreement to grant the leave of absence and was specifically agreed to by the employee at the time, you don't have a legitimate reason to question this person's professionalism or feel you're owed something.

In years of being involved with boards of youth sports organizations, I saw this exact phenomenon play out many times. A coach recruits a player for his team. She's a good player, works hard, and the coach helps her build her skills and become a better player. Then after a year or two, the player has an opportunity to join a different program. The coach suddenly discovers some kind of vague "loyalty clause" stating the player has some vague kind of obligation to stay with the coach's team since he "spent so much time and effort coaching her." I reacted to these situations in the same manner every time.

It was unpaid leave. The employee worked hard before the leave of absence and was paid accordingly. At exactly what point in the employer/employee relationship did this person take on this additional obligation?

uncleauberon's picture

Technically, of course, you are correct.

>> "At exactly what point in the employer/employee relationship did this person take on this additional obligation?"

I would say at the point that she asked us to hold the job position open for her for a year so that she can easily step back into it.

And at the point where she (indirectly) asked her colleagues to take on her responsibilities for a year without additional compensation.  BTW Our Organization was able to advertise for a 1 year temp worker - but we didn't' get any qualified candidates for 3 months and gave up the search - figuring that we could hobble along for 9 months longer.

I'll give her plenty of credit that she told us right way, and not waited until December.  

Now maybe we can hire somebody by January.  And only making for a complete 1 year with the empty position.

I'm just not sure that I would do this. - And yet - the job she has been offered is very good.  It's not an easy call.

I guess we will just have to trust that goodwill and good-karma will follow back upon us.

UncleA

wittensworld's picture

I must admit I can feel your pain with this situation. It's always a let down when you realise that someone is more focused on their own situation than yours but if the job offer is really much better then you've got to understand that they've taken the best decision for them and their family right?

It's happened to me a few times with people not returning after maternity leave etc but it's just a fact of life. I always encourage people to do what's best for them. 

I wouldn't class this as unproffesional. As long as the person was up front about the sutuation as soon as she knew what was going on then that's all fair and above board. 

Good luck in filling the vacancy.

Simon

donm's picture

The question was "Is it professional ethical behavior?" The situation is that the person had a tacit understanding to leave for one year and then return, asking the company to keep the position open for them.

A deal is a deal, and in this deal, the "return afterwards" was the employee's part of the deal. The "keep the position open" was the employer's part of the deal. The deal was broken from the employee's side, and therefore it is unprofessional and unethical, in my opinion.

Whether the employee had a good personal reason to abrogate the agreement is not germane to this discussion. "Leave of Absence" by definition means one is returning thereafter, and by asking for a leave of absence, the person has entered into a verbal contract once the employer acquiesced.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot. Would it have been professional for the company to have filled the position, and waited until the last moment to tell the employee that the leave of absence had been transformed into a termination?

In any case, I would mark the employee's file as "not eligible for rehire," and then sincerely congratulate her on her new position, giving her well wishes that things work out just as she hopes they will.

mrreliable's picture

My term was "vague." uncleauberon used the term "indirectly" to describe this supposed obligation agreed to by the employee. donm used the term "tacit."

To be blunt, I'm sure than none of the above would tolerate another party expecting them to be locked into a position with their company at the expense of their own ability to advance their own careers with some vague, indirect, or tacit unstated obligation.

"What do you mean I 'indirectly' made an agreement to work for you for some vague amount of time?"

Especially if you're messing with someone's career, you need to be specific. Exactly, exactly how long is this person's supposed obligation to come back and work for your company? One year? Two years? Life? In my opinion, the loyalty clause is not legitimate if the length of the indentured servitude was not specified and communicated before the agreement was made.

"What do you mean I "tacitly" agreed to some undefined period of servitude when you granted a leave of absence?"

These are obligations that were not in place when the contract (agreement) was entered into.

This seems to fall clearly into an "after the fact" attempt to modify the original agreement, which nobody would stand for.

In my opinion, absent a specific loyalty clause in the original agreement, the company assumes the risk the employee might find something better. The company was completely free to make the agreement or not. This is an attempt to change (or add) the terms after the duration of the agreement ran out. If the company failed to add these important provisions when the agreement was made, it was their fault, not the employee's.

uncleauberon's picture

I only used the term "indirectly" when referring to this person indirectly asking co-workers to shoulder her workload for a year while she was absent.

The request for the LOA was for a clearly one year paid fellowship, for professional development, was not vague at all.

Her request that this LOA was clearly a request that the organization hold the position open for one year, with her name still on the company roster as the person in that position was not vague.  Email still worked etc...

Had we hired a temp, we would have clearly released that temp after the 1 year and this person would easily walk right back into the position.

There was clearly an agreement to return after the one year fellowship.
As far as I know there was no written agreement.  It was a verbal one. No we did not have an agreement about how long after her return she was obligated to remain.  I suppose she could have come back for one (1) day and then quit. That would have been worse. And even more unprofessional.

I believe that the lack of a clear obligation to return for a specified time, is the lesson to be learned here.  And still that is just a management detail that was missed.

The question is about ethical & professional behavior.

scm2423's picture

My question is why are you asking if this is unethical or now?  The employee was given a leave of absense and has decided not to return.  It may not feel right, it may be unethical but does attaching a label to this situation help.  My advice would be to move on and learn from this.  Maybe the next time a leave of absense is given there should be a written agreement that states that the employee must return for a period of six months or they have to pay a percentage of their benefit costs for the time they were gone.  You would have to check with a lawyer on what you can do.  In this case it sounds like the employment is "At-Will" the employee should be able to leave at anytime. Was this a good time for the company, no but are you going to change their mind and have a dedicated employee, propably not.

s

scm2423's picture

My question is why are you asking if this is unethical or now?  The employee was given a leave of absense and has decided not to return.  It may not feel right, it may be unethical but does attaching a label to this situation help.  My advice would be to move on and learn from this.  Maybe the next time a leave of absense is given there should be a written agreement that states that the employee must return for a period of six months or they have to pay a percentage of their benefit costs for the time they were gone.  You would have to check with a lawyer on what you can do.  In this case it sounds like the employment is "At-Will" the employee should be able to leave at anytime. Was this a good time for the company, no but are you going to change their mind and have a dedicated employee, propably not.

s

uncleauberon's picture

Why ? ... just looking for some viewpoints so as to form a better personal ethic for myself and anyone that I mentor.

I recognize that I cannot always trust my initial gut feelings and may often be swayed and educated by others to form a more nuanced, mature, and comprehensive opinion on such matters.

My initial post :

"This is just an informal poll because I am conflicted about how I feel about this and a colleague that is doing this."

This conversation has already helped.

Thanks

UncleA