It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…
1. Did my boss pass off someone else’s work as his own?
I have been in my position for a little under a year, as a science researcher in a small high tech start up. In a recent meeting, my boss asked if I was familiar with a specific technique, and I said I wasn’t. He said he would send me the details of the technique after the meeting was over, no big deal.
After the call, I did a quick google search and came across a write up in PDF form that was put together from a university (first hit on google). I thought that was perfect because I just needed a summary to familiarize myself. A couple hours later I get an email from my boss sending the specifics of the technique to me, and a couple other colleagues. It was the same document – again, that is no big deal (we weren’t citing it in a patent/paper, etc). But what I found bizarre was the fact that it was stripped of the university affiliations at the top, and also a brief acknowledgement at the bottom. I did a quick search to see if one of the higher search hits were the same document without the affiliations, but I can’t find it (not saying it doesn’t exist because Google creeps all of us like crazy, making different things pop up in different orders).
So, do I mention it? It appears he stripped the authors so that it looked like he spent the hours between the meeting and the email typing it up. I know not to assume malicious intent if it can be explained otherwise, but if it was actually intentional, that makes me feel very questionable about my bosses ethics. I don’t care that we sent the information to summarize the technique, but I do care if he was modifying the document to make it look like his work.
I am not really in a position to change positions at the moment, so I don’t really want to ruffle feathers. I just feel so uneasy about it. It was such a small thing to try to claim as his own that it makes me wonder where else this might be done. Thoughts?
I would let it go. You don’t actually know if your boss did what you suspect him of; it’s entirely possible that he had the same document already stored on his computer and it originally came to him that way, or that he found his version using different search words than you did, or something else also perfectly innocent. Given that the facts here are in no way conclusive about wrongdoing, this isn’t something it makes sense to bring up. (I’d go even further and say that you should stop worrying about it in your own head too, since that could end up being toxic to your relationship. If you see other signs of integrity problems, look into those — but I wouldn’t put this one on the list.)
2. My employer is handling my resignation terribly
I recently submitted my resignation notice to a job I’ve been at for 3 years. I’m currently the only person trained in my department and I know it’s a key job in the company. Along with my 2 weeks notice, I also added that I’d be happy training a new person in the evenings and weekends until the transition was complete.
The response was terrible. First, I was told no, that I couldn’t leave for at least two months. And then, when I told them two weeks was all I could offer, my boss said, “You can go, I’ll decide what to do with you later.” Then a few hours later, they told me I would have one week remaining to work with the company and to have 4 months worth of work done by the end of this week. Followed quickly by, “stay off your damn phone and get this work done for me” while she was walking away.
Do I stay and do it? I love this company and I loved working here, but I really expected better when I told them what a great opportunity I had been offered. I would also like to add that I was NOT looking for work. The new employer pursued me based on reputation.
Do you stay and do four months of work in less than a week? No, that doesn’t sound possible. You do what you’re able to do and you leave your work in as good of shape as you can with the amount of time you have left. You don’t do anything beyond that, because (a) it doesn’t sound like they’re paying you to do anything beyond that, and (b) they’re being horrid to you and so you don’t owe them special treatment beyond the normal things that are expected when you’re leaving (which is to work out your remaining time without slacking off and leave your area in good order).
3. Writing a grant to fund a job that I want
I’m looking at working for a new nonprofit. At an interview for a different position (which we agreed was not a good mutual fit), they shared that they desperately want to hire someone to do other work (which we agreed WAS a good fit), but they don’t currently have funding to create the position. I offered to help them write applications to secure grant funding, on the condition that they hire me – that is, I proposed to secure funding for myself. I have an emailed “of course” but no signed guarantees or anything. I also didn’t ask (and they didn’t offer) for them to pay me upfront for any of the time I’m spending writing the grant.
When I tell people about the situation, some are impressed that I may have found an “in,” and others are concerned that I’m currently working for free as a grant writer with no guarantee of being hired under the grants I might secure. And your recent answer about an interviewee performing 30 hours of work for free gave me pause. So I could use some additional perspective: are they taking advantage me unfairly? Should I take some additional steps to prevent them from taking advantage, e.g. ask for a signed guarantee that I’m the one they’d hire in the event of securing funding, ask them to pay me as an intern while working on grant applications?
I don’t think they’re taking advantage of you — you offered to do it, it was your idea, and they seem to have agreed to your condition.
Frankly, they’d be unwise to give you an ironclad guarantee that they’ll hire you if the grant money comes through; after all, what if they learn more about you during this work and realize that you’d be a bad fit? That probably won’t happen, but it could and so they’re wise not to lock themselves in with a contract. If you want to pursue this, you pretty much just need to accept that you have an informal agreement on this but not a binding one.
I also wouldn’t ask to be paid for this — they’re a nonprofit, they made it clear that they don’t have a ton of available funding, and you’re the one who proposed doing the work. Going back now and asking to be paid for it (essentially changing the earlier terms) is likely to result in them simply deciding not to pursue the project with you.
4. My boss violated a non-disclosure agreement with a client
I work for a small company where I’ve been managing a large digital services project for about a year. My client has been mostly happy with our work, and has shown off some of the content at trade shows and to a few pilot users. However, we’re still bound by an NDA since the client hasn’t made the product publically available. I conformed the project’s confidential status with the client last week on behalf of some of my freelance team members, who would like to include this project in their portfolios, and was told in no uncertain terms to maintain confidentiality for the time being.
We’ve been pursuing some bigger clients over the past few months, including some direct competitors to the client I’m working with. Yesterday, my boss presented some of my project’s work to one of the client’s competitors, as part of a broader presentation of projects we’ve worked on this year. I found out what he’d shown after the presentation, and I’m fairly certain he violated the non-disclosure agreement in our contract. I alerted him to the problem this morning, since he left the office right after the presentation yesterday.
As far as I’m concerned, we’re both contractually and ethically bound to alert the client about what happened. My boss, as you might guess, thinks I’m overreacting. He believes that since the content has been shown to pilot users and at trade shows, it was fine for us to use in a presentation of our work, especially since we’re not making the product widely accessible to our potential clients (or anyone else). He firmly insisted I should not tell my client, to avoid causing any “undue concern.” Since my boss is one of the company’s owners, I can’t escalate my concerns about this to a higher level of management.
This whole situation makes me deeply uncomfortable. If my client finds out my company violated the NDA and covered it up, I’m worried my professional reputation will be damaged–but I also can’t alert them to the problem without defying my boss and hurting my company’s reputation. What are my ethical obligations here, to both my own company and my client?
I think this one is your company’s call. You did the right thing by bringing it to your boss’s attention, but from there it’s really up to him.
If you disagree and decide to tell the client, I’d think you’d need to be prepared to part ways with your company for directly ignoring your boss’s decision on this.
5. When teachers are required to pay to chaperone
I am a school teacher, and my school will be taking students on a field trip to a movie theater. Teachers are required to go to chaperone (as it is during school hours). I was informed today that teachers are also required to pay the $6 ticket price to attend the movie.
I have done some research on this, but have been unable to find any information regarding what employers can and cannot require. Is it legal for my employer to require me to pay to perform my duties?
I can’t think of any law this would violate, but that doesn’t mean it’s not horrible practice — it is. It’s pretty common for teachers to have to buy their own classroom supplies (which is also a huge problem), but this seems like a new level of wrongness. Any teachers out there have advice on this one?