Ethical Behaviour at Work (or, is my friend a jerk?)

Honestly, I still wouldn't have gone. Or at least I would have walked into my current employer (maybe he did after all) and told them I was giving notice. If they pull me off the trip, they pull me off the trip.

Duoae wrote:
Mimble wrote:

Sorry, fellow Goodjers, for creating all this mayhem!

Not really, it was a good chat and chance to explore this area. :)

Thank goodness for that!

Next time he tells me anything, I will stick bamboo slivers under his nails to make sure I got the whole story upfront.

Keldar:

Most of what I have to say is more or less said at this point, but I'd like to offer a counterpoint to something you said.

Keldar wrote:

Technically, whether this was ethically wrong or not depends on the specific ethical code upheld by the company in question. In many companies what he did may very well be considered stealing and they could terminate him immediately for it despite him giving them two weeks.

I do not know of any companies in which this behavior would be considered stealing, particularly because it can't be justified so in the penal code of most countries. Consequently, most companies won't terminate the employee in question because termination requires that you give the employee separation pay, which most companies would rather not.

In fact, some companies don't fire employees they no longer like. They simply make office life as onerous as legally possible for that employee until he quits of his own accord.

LarryC wrote:

Keldar:

Most of what I have to say is more or less said at this point, but I'd like to offer a counterpoint to something you said.

Keldar wrote:

Technically, whether this was ethically wrong or not depends on the specific ethical code upheld by the company in question. In many companies what he did may very well be considered stealing and they could terminate him immediately for it despite him giving them two weeks.

I do not know of any companies in which this behavior would be considered stealing, particularly because it can't be justified so in the penal code of most countries. Consequently, most companies won't terminate the employee in question because termination requires that you give the employee separation pay, which most companies would rather not.

In fact, some companies don't fire employees they no longer like. They simply make office life as onerous as legally possible for that employee until he quits of his own accord.

The behavior wouldn't be considered stealing, I agree. Many companies would terminate the individual for it however. And your statement that terminating an employee requires the company to pay "separation pay" is simply incorrect. Absent a specific severance contract, an at-will employee can be - and often is - terminated with no additional pay beyond the last day worked.

If the employer is trying to be nice they'll often pay the employee for an additional two weeks, sort of the corollary to the two week notice they expect the employee to give before leaving. If the employee has substantial time in with the company, or is an executive, or has potential claims that the company is worried about, the employer may offer a severance package. That typically comes along with a "sign here to release all claims you might have had against the employer" agreement. Don't be confused though, these additional types of compensation are not required by law in most states.

I have just discovered two things:

1) This thread

and

2) A few posters don't know the difference between rules and ethics. Seriously, the amount of arguing that could be avoided by knowing what you are talking about drives a Fremen crazy.

Teneman:

I did not know that! Most people in contract employ in my locality typically have severance packages as part of the contract, usually given as a function of time served, but generally provided for in some manner.

Not having severance packages would, IMO, encourage employees having less loyalty to the company because they are aware that it doesn't cost the company anything to fire them at any time. In that kind of milieu, I have to question the wisdom of investing in an employee whose loyalty isn't assured. It just sounds colossally stupid, if you ask me; all the more so when the employee is quite vocal about his dissatisfaction with working at said company.

We don't give random strangers on the street money on the off-chance that they'll be ethically obligated to do what we ask of them. It's weird. A employee of such low motivation and with virtually no incentive to stay on - why would you invest in someone like that?

LarryC wrote:

A employee of such low motivation and with virtually no incentive to stay on - why would you invest in someone like that?

Often because you have to. Every single job in California is an "At Will" position, there's no way around it and no way to enforce a contract that says otherwise. You make due by giving incentives to stay on (health insurance, 401k, retirement benefits, stock, etc) and attempting to create a culture in the company that encourages airing of grievances and achieves solutions, or at least that's what the company I work for does. There are other companies that hire through temporary employment agencies and terminate an employee the moment they give any notice of moving to another job.

I can't speak to ethics as a field, so I'll just say as far as the OP is concerned: good on him so long as he didn't violate any contractual obligations. It's always good the further your education in any field, I seriously doubt anyone at the new job will give a damn, and loyalty to companies is losing proposition for employees as it's rarely returned.

bnpederson:

At the very least, the company could have instituted a contract specifically surrounding the trip. Training trip contract stipulates that the employee either has to stay on a minimum duration after, or reimburses the company for the cost of the trip, if he chooses to give his two weeks' notice. I believe that this is legally defensible and totally reasonable.

LarryC wrote:

Not having severance packages would, IMO, encourage employees having less loyalty to the company because they are aware that it doesn't cost the company anything to fire them at any time. In that kind of milieu, I have to question the wisdom of investing in an employee whose loyalty isn't assured. It just sounds colossally stupid, if you ask me; all the more so when the employee is quite vocal about his dissatisfaction with working at said company.

We don't give random strangers on the street money on the off-chance that they'll be ethically obligated to do what we ask of them. It's weird. A employee of such low motivation and with virtually no incentive to stay on - why would you invest in someone like that?

In general, this is exactly why businesses don't engage in the 'screw them over' mentality towards their employees that you mentioned early on. You're absolutely right, in an at-will environment where the employee can leave just as easily as the employer can fire them, it is risky to invest in people. But as bnpederson says, you sort of have to. So what most employers do is try to treat the employees as fairly as possible and make a culture where they want to stay. That's the best way to safeguard their investment. They could prepare a contract for big investments like this trip, but that rapidly becomes unwieldy. In fact it could even cause the very issue it is trying to avoid, as it makes the employee think you don't trust them.

In this specific case, I agree with you. An employee who is specifically vocal about his dissatisfaction with the company isn't one in whom you'd want to make a major investment like this trip, unless it either wasn't avoidable or was intended to help solve that employee's dissatisfaction.

Teneman:

I have to say, it's a strange and alien cultural environment for me. A contract isn't something that indicates lack of trust. It's something that parties get down to agree on, and put in writing, so it builds trust based on mutual understanding. We want this, you want this, and we both have negotiated terms in writing we both agreed upon. Ergo, there is no chance of misunderstanding and everyone leaves with expectations fulfilled.

When you are investing as an employee with a company by dint of hard work and unrequired loyalty, there is a chance that the company will not recognize your efforts or otherwise undervalue your services, because it is not in writing. Until this is official, you always run the risk of being taken advantage of.

The converse from the company side is also true.

This is very far from the ideal way to conduct business.

Crafting special contracts for employees in which you are invested and who have shown loyalty to you has not, IMO, ever really become prohibitively unwieldy. Contracts ensure that your trust in your employees is well protected, and they, in turn, are ensured that you cannot simply fire them (the contract is two-way). Putting money where your mouth is is, IMO, the best way to create a environment where your employees will show loyalty and respect.

I do not see the sense in solving employee dissatisfaction by putting him on an expensive training trip. It's completely bonkers.

LarryC wrote:

I do not see the sense in solving employee dissatisfaction by putting him on an expensive training trip. It's completely bonkers.

First, this I agree with. That wouldn't be my preferred method of creating satisfaction in a dissatisfied employee. When I suggested that as a possibility I was grasping at straws as to potential reasons that the company in question might have wanted to send the guy on the trip even though he was apparently dissatisfied. I've seen other 'pay it forward' type incentives like that, though they rarely work.

As to the rest, it's all a matter of perspective. If you work in a primarily contract driven environment then having contracts to govern various aspects of your employment, such as the provision of a special trip, would seem completely normal. If you work in a primarily non-contractual environment, as most at-will employees do, it would seem very odd to put together a specific contract for something such as this.

Look at it this way. In an at will environment either side can end the relationship at any time. That being the case, and assuming that both sides want the relationship to continue, you have a situation where both parties are trying to do their best to keep things going. On the employee's side, that means putting forth their best work, being a team player, and doing the things that show they are loyal to the employer. On the employer's side that means creating a comfortable work environment, compensating the employee fairly, and recognizing their value to the company.

Drop a special trip in the middle of that, either as a reward to the employee, as further education for the employee, or as a special project on which the company needs the employee's experience. In a 'we contract everything' environment, drawing up a contract for this out of the ordinary trip makes perfect sense. In a 'we both show each other our best efforts and loyalty in an effort to continue this relationship' environment it would look odd for the employer to sit down and draw up a contract to cover the trip. "What?" the employee might say, "I'm loyal and have been for years, don't they trust me?"

It would be like dating your girlfriend for years, and then right before taking her to Cancun for the weekend asking her to sign a contract that she'll reimburse you for the cost of the trip if she breaks up with you in the next twelve months.

And don't get me wrong, even in at-will environments contracts like this are in fact used. In my experience they're just reserved for especially unusual items. I've been sent on numerous trips, working and otherwise, by my employers throughout the years. Never once was I asked to sign a contract and I'd have been concerned if I was. When my employer many years ago offered to pay my tuition through law school however, we executed a contract, and that made perfect sense.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

2) A few posters don't know the difference between rules and ethics. Seriously, the amount of arguing that could be avoided by knowing what you are talking about drives a Fremen crazy.

I'm sure I'm belaboring the point here, but working under a contract makes the two the same thing. If an employer is bound only by the agreement they signed, and employee choosing to be bound by a more restrictive social agreement (that the employer is NOT bound by) is voluntarily agreeing to be taken advantage of. My point remains, the employee is required to show no more loyalty to the company than the company shows to the employee. If the employer agrees to at-will employment, then they voluntarily give up any right to complain when the employee uses that agreement in their own advantage.

The alternative is for the employee to be bound both by social and legal rules while the company is bound only by legal rules. The key thing to remember is that the company has set the ground rules for employer employee relationships. They had the option not to lawyer-up and get legalistic in the HR department, but chose not to. The employee, being less powerful than the employer, can't change the ground rules, but they absolutely have to be able to use them to their own advantage whenever possible.

Teneman:

I guess I find it strange because where I come from, presenting a contract to an employee represents an escalation of the relationship, not a show of distrust. If the company is interested enough in you to lay legal groundwork and to offer severance packages, then it is showing trust, not distrust; additional perks are usually not too far away.

From a relationship angle, this would be tantamount to a person asking for marriage before consenting to sex or the legal pooling of finances, which is totally understandable.

As long as the company is not escalating the relationship to the next level, I don't see how they can expect an ethical basis for loyalty and exclusivity, even if they did give you a nice diamond ring a while back.

The problem i have with contracts is that they are usually wielded in a way that is essentially unfair to the employee or 'little person' who has no legal understanding and very little bargaining power. The majority of jobs in the world do not require a high-skillset and as such any employee in that sort of position is easily replaceable.

My experience of contracts is not to enable closer relationships between employer and employee but to bind an employee in some fashion whilst leaving the employer a larger degree of freedom. It is the same in many other areas of business and the problem becomes that every company adheres to the same standards and so there is no choice and no alternative.

You can never be forced to sign an employment contract you do not like. If you do not like the terms, you can always work for an alternative profession, or go into business for yourself.

I've signed one legally binding employment contract in my life. The rest were illegal to one point or another, most commonly overtime compensation and non-competing clauses. I don't really care, because I know that if I had to actually go to court over one of these, the local law would be on my side. Hence no negotiation apart from salary and benefits. It pays to know your rights, especially when they're ones you cannot sign away. I don't know if you have anything comparable in the US, but I'd expect there to be some rules you just can't get around.

jlaakso wrote:

I've signed one legally binding employment contract in my life. The rest were illegal to one point or another, most commonly overtime compensation and non-competing clauses. I don't really care, because I know that if I had to actually go to court over one of these, the local law would be on my side. Hence no negotiation apart from salary and benefits. It pays to know your rights, especially when they're ones you cannot sign away. I don't know if you have anything comparable in the US, but I'd expect there to be some rules you just can't get around.

It's mostly a state-by-state issue as I recall but, in California at least, individual non-compete clauses aren't worth the ink they're written with. Some companies have found... interesting ways around that of course; there are many instances of larger corporations paying former employees to not work in order to stop them from taking a job with a competitor too soon. That said I don't really thing anyone objects too harshly to getting six months paid vacation.

LarryC, as Teneman pointed out trying to put together a contract for a work-related trip like that would have been a huge sign that the company doesn't trust their employees in an at-will environment. Trying to institute a policy like that would probably lose you more good potential employees than you'd make up in reimbursements, as people generally want to work places where they and their word is respected. You're proposing a radical change in company culture, which simply isn't going to happen and the price they pay is stuff like this.

Honestly though, I doubt it's a big deal to the OP's friend's company in any event; the company I work for gets worked over by clients and vendors for sums far above what any employee could possibly manage.

LarryC wrote:

You can never be forced to sign an employment contract you do not like. If you do not like the terms, you can always work for an alternative profession, or go into business for yourself.

Larry, you're missing what i said. Much like jlaakso pointed out, there are a lot of contracts out there that are flat out illegal in their nature but the problem is that (and i'll bold this so you don't miss it this time) every company does it to some extent so you, as a potential employee, have (again highlighted) have no choice. You can't always work for an alternative profession or go into businesss yourself. Frankly, your assertions and beliefs are pretty naieve.

The choice that the majority of people in the world face is "work or do not work and starve".

As i said above, a lot of jobs do not require any high-level skillset and so the employees have no bargaining power. Also, as i pointed out above, most people are not legal experts, do not know their rights and do not understand the means that they have at their disposal to find out - or cannot afford those means. In most jobs in the world you cannot take the time to go and see a lawyer about a contract before signing it, the employer will just take your contract and give it to the next person.

I suppose I must be a little more direct.

There are many contracts that designed to be abusive and contrary to employee interests. I am not saying that such contracts do not exist. In some localities, company abuse through contracts could very well be a problem. This is less a problem with contracts and more a general labor problem of companies abusing the labor force. It's merely being expressed through contract abuse. It is not necessary for companies to actually use contracts to abuse employees.

bnpederson wrote:

LarryC, as Teneman pointed out trying to put together a contract for a work-related trip like that would have been a huge sign that the company doesn't trust their employees in an at-will environment. Trying to institute a policy like that would probably lose you more good potential employees than you'd make up in reimbursements, as people generally want to work places where they and their word is respected. You're proposing a radical change in company culture, which simply isn't going to happen and the price they pay is stuff like this.

I do not subscribe to the fatalistic notion that change is impossible or simply cannot happen. One man can change the entire world. A subculture is much easier to change, and is even more possible and plausible.

Putting together an abusive contract, crafted for the express purpose of enforcement and thought of distrust for the employee will naturally lead to a contract that sounds like you don't trust the employee. This can be avoided, but it will be difficult. That said, it is not impossible for a company to craft a contract that both protects their interests and yet also conveys confidence in the employee and a hope for a closer relationship. If you craft it from the perspective of wanting a closer relationship with the employee, then certain clauses and provisos come naturally.

What you are saying is, "This is the status quo right now." What I am saying is "It doesn't have to be that way."

Wow, your friend may have just committed career suicide. I'm currently working as a web editor/developer in online gaming, and from what I've seen the game industry is relatively small. Much smaller than the film industry, which is also a realm where you don't want to burn lots of bridges. I've seen plenty of my former co-workers move on to bigger and better things - Xbox team, Nintendo, ArenaNet, even Blizzard.

If your friend had simply quit a few weeks before or after the trip, he'd probably be ok. The fact that he essentially gave his old team and company a giant middle finger will make people remember him. The only way I can think he can survive this untouched is if he's the next Sid Meier or Ken Levine.

Oso wrote:
Fedaykin98 wrote:

2) A few posters don't know the difference between rules and ethics. Seriously, the amount of arguing that could be avoided by knowing what you are talking about drives a Fremen crazy.

I'm sure I'm belaboring the point here, but working under a contract makes the two the same thing. If an employer is bound only by the agreement they signed, and employee choosing to be bound by a more restrictive social agreement (that the employer is NOT bound by) is voluntarily agreeing to be taken advantage of. My point remains, the employee is required to show no more loyalty to the company than the company shows to the employee. If the employer agrees to at-will employment, then they voluntarily give up any right to complain when the employee uses that agreement in their own advantage.

The alternative is for the employee to be bound both by social and legal rules while the company is bound only by legal rules. The key thing to remember is that the company has set the ground rules for employer employee relationships. They had the option not to lawyer-up and get legalistic in the HR department, but chose not to. The employee, being less powerful than the employer, can't change the ground rules, but they absolutely have to be able to use them to their own advantage whenever possible.

We will have to agree to disagree then. I will continue to say that rules and ethics are not the same thing. I believe this may be observed in that there is a concept of ethics, which would be a totally superfluous area of discussion if they were identical to rules.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

We will have to agree to disagree then. I will continue to say that rules and ethics are not the same thing. I believe this may be observed in that there is a concept of ethics, which would be a totally superfluous area of discussion if they were identical to rules.

Sure, that just means that you aren't a deontologist (The ethical theory that prioritizes following the rules). I'm not one either. Semantically, I'd agree with what you are saying if we switched the word "ethics" for "manners". There are different kinds of rules, different codes of behavior, and different ways of deciding which have precedence over the others. Where we differ, I think, is that I don't find any one particular code universally binding. These things are either worked out socially or contractually. What I don't care for is having the boss & HR bound only by contract while the employee is bound by both the contract and an unfair double standard. If both parties agree to be bound by the same rules or ethics, then your system could work, but not if it is only the employee who has to obey two separate codes.

LarryC wrote:

What you are saying is, "This is the status quo right now." What I am saying is "It doesn't have to be that way."

You're also telling people to go change the status quo. That's an easy thing to say, but when 99.99% of the world doesn't think that way and thus your bargaining power lies solidly on luck and a ton of work, even if you're in the 0.01% that doesn't mean you can change the world.

DSGamer:

Clearly, the power to present contracts lies not with employees - it lies with the employer. I have been a sometime-employer and as an employer, you are free to create whatever contract you think is beneficial for your company, within the limitations of the law. I am not telling employees to craft company contracts. Clearly, that's not within their power.

As employees, you have limited power, so you do the best you can to look out for yourself. In that sense, what Dave did wasn't simply ethically acceptable, it was also eminently sensible. Even if he knew about future employment from Company B, he is not under obligation to reveal that information to Company A, even with something as cryptic as refusing a trip that would benefit him greatly.

It would be greatly within the interests of Company A to have crafted a contract asking Dave to stay on for a minimum number of years following the training trip if he chooses to take it. Such a contract need not be abusive in the slightest, either in deed or on impression, and it was completely within the power of Company A to have drafted and presented such a contract to Dave as a condition of taking the trip.

Such a thing might or might not change the status quo.

You are getting the impression that I'm telling people to change the world. Not so. I'm merely telling people that this is possible, not that they ought to do it. Having something be status quo is not reason enough for you (or me) to abide by it, in other words.

In this case, having contracts be viewed negatively is not enough reason for Company A to not safeguard its interests through contract. It is within their power to craft a contract that would be viewed positively.

LarryC wrote:

In this case, having contracts be viewed negatively is not enough reason for Company A to not safeguard its interests through contract. It is within their power to craft a contract that would be viewed positively.

So the company has a choice. They can pay a team of lawyers a not-insignificant sum of money to come up with fair, legally sound contracts to use in every instance where an employee or employees might end up screwing them over. They'll also have to change the culture of the company enough that the current employees will accept the sudden increase in contracts isn't a statement on the company's lack of trust in them and convince future employees that there aren't any traps written into the multiple contracts they'll have to sign if they join up. And should someone breach that contract they'll have to go about enforcing it in a court of law, or otherwise have mandatory arbitration clauses which, I should note, are known to go in favor of the corporation nine out of ten times and would be seen by any employees as a net negative.

Or they can take the hit on the occasional person skipping out after a trip to Europe or moving on after company-paid classes.

bnpederson:

It is cost-effective for a large company to pay said team of lawyers to come up with a fair contract that will not scare off employees and yet protect their investments. This is because their relatively large pool of employees means that they will get to use the format of the contract over and over, for many employees, over many years. Typically, such companies have teams of lawyers on retainer anyway.

For small companies, you do not need a team of lawyers. Generally, one will do, especially for a very specialized application like a contract sign-on in exchange for a training trip. It's relatively simple. My friend is a corporate lawyer. She can draw one up like that relatively easily provided that both parties are on hand and friendly. Just check all the boxes.

There won't be a sudden increase in contracts unless the company intends on putting contracts on every little thing, which is patently stupid. There will be, at best, a new contract deal every few months or so, and that's pretty often as these things go.

They don't have to change corporate culture. Whether or not that changes is a byproduct of how well their contracts work out. For their particular instance, all they have to do is to make sure their contract is reasonable and to make sure the employees see it as fair. In the case of Dave, I'm sure a contract requiring him to stay on would have been seen as fair by all.

You're arguing against this with what essentially boils down to, "It can't be done," which is just an alternate flavor of "That's not how it is now."

I am telling you that it doesn't have to be that way. It's not that hard, the obstacles are surmountable, and there are possible benefits. The main obstacle here, really, is that there are people who don't want change because they believe it impossible or impractical, even though they don't know how it might turn out.

If the companies are willing to take hits like thousands of dollars on intercontinental training trips, then that is their business; but it is always a risk and they oughtn't be offended if the employee in question chooses to exercise employment options that they themselves gave him. They really only have themselves to blame.

I'm skimming here but I'll just say this:

If the majority of companies cared about ethics when it came to their employees the world, and especially the US, would be a much different place.

Business ethics amount to making more money by any means possible. When a company is concerned only with their own interests we call it good business. When a person looks out for their self interest they are thieves or unethical or mercenaries.

Granted, this guy sounds a bit jerkish in his attitude towards the whole thing but whatever. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.