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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

boss threatening to contact prospective employer

A reader writes:

I have been working at the job from hell (people always burp, cuss, yell at each other, etc.) since mid-November. Even though the job is outside of my educational training, I took it because of the poor economy and it's the only job I could get. Since I knew I wouldn't be there long-term and that other employers would laugh and question my sanity for taking a job at this company, I decided to leave it off my resume.

One day I read my personal e-mail from work and discovered that an employer that I applied to was interested in me coming for an interview, so I set up the appointment using my work computer. Well, my employer discovered that and I overheard her saying that she is going to contact this employer to let them know that they discovered me applying for jobs at work. I overheard this clear as day.

My conversations with the new employer were going well up to this point and I believe that my current employer did contact my potential employer. My current employer has no idea about labor law or illegal actions or anything. I haven't heard anything from the new employer, and it has been a week since our last positive contact with each other. How do I handle this ? I have already decided to leave my current job, but what can I do to make sure that the potential employer is still considering my application favorably?

You may not be able to. The fact is, you were probably in the wrong to be using work time and your employer's computer to set up an interview for another job. Is this pretty common? Sure. Does that make it okay if you get caught? Not really. If you want to job search, you should do it on your own time.

Now, is your boss in the wrong for contacting the other employer? Yes, if she really did. (It doesn't sound like you know that she really did; she could been have been blowing off steam when she said that.) But if she actually did contact the other employer about this, she'll look a little crazy to them. It's overkill. If she has a problem with what you were doing, she should deal with you directly. Hell, she can fire you for it if she wants. But trying to sabotage your chances with the other job crosses a line (and a lawyer might even tell you that it's potentially risky legally, but I'm not a lawyer).

But here's another side of this: You took a job because it was all you could get, you don't plan to stay there long, you believe it's beneath you, your email makes it sound virtually impossible that your feelings aren't coming out in your attitude at work, and you're spending your work time looking for other jobs. You're not really acting in good faith.

You may think it doesn't matter because you plan to leave this job off your resume and you're just there for the paycheck-- but the world just isn't as large as we sometimes think. What if you're applying for your dream job and the hiring manager turns out to be friends with your current manager? What do you think she's going to say about you?

It sounds trite, but while you're stuck there, do the best you can do with it. You just don't know where that might lead you (or what obstacles you might be creating for yourself otherwise).


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the addendum about doing the best s/he can while s/he's there.

I had to actually have the "you accepted the job and the responsibility that goes with it" conversation with one employee. Three times (don't ask).

Anonymous said...

If you're in California, and if your current boss did proactively contact the prospective employer, then your current boss likely violated Sec. 1050-1054 of the California Labor Code.

Employers can respond truthfully about a current or former employee if contacted for a reference. An employer cannot take proactive steps to interfere with your ability to earn a living or seek subsequent employment. This is, legally, considered a restraint on trade, and in many states is unlawful. Check with your state's labor department or an attorney to see what the law is where you are.

In California, your current employer would be subject to a fine, and would have to repay you for any damages, including the cost fo the lost opportunity.

None of which isn't to say that your employer can't fire or discipline you for job hunting on company time. She can. But, that's unrelated to her efforts to prohibit you from getting a different job.