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Dealing With a Broken Promise

DILEMMA

Until last December I had worked as a programmer for a health care company for more that seven years.

I received a call one day from a consulting company asking if I would be interested in working on a one-year contract to support users using a particular reporting tool at a city government office. I accepted the position because the technology had much more future employment prospects than the software I was using at the place where I had been working. The new position required me to take a 40 percent reduction in salary, and there were no paid benefits, but I was willing to take the position because it could open up new opportunities for me.

After working there for two months, the manager at the city decided that there was not enough work to keep me busy, so he gave me a month to find other employment, and was not willing to find something else for me to do.

I don’t think ending a year assignment after a couple of months shows much commitment.

Disillusioned

RESPONSE

Dear Disillusioned,

Sorry to hear about your situation. If, in fact, the manager at the city planned poorly, got you to detrimentally rely on his word to leave another employment situation to accept a one-year contract and then simply ended the deal early, this would certainly violate many ethical principles (as well as possible legal/contractual standards). Not only does this show a lack of commitment, but this is also unethical treatment of an employee, period.

However, the facts you provide are incomplete, so it’s hard to know what really happened. In particular, you mention that it was a consulting company that initially contacted you. By this, do you mean an I.T. consulting/contracting type of organization? If so, it would seem that this organization would bear the responsibility for what happened, since it is acting in an intermediary role and is your true “employer” in this case, not the city. Moreover, if a one-year deal was offered and accepted, it is the consulting company that should place you into another assignment for the remainder of the term of the contract.

Kenman Wong
Professor of Ethics, School of Business and Economics
Seattle Pacific University

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