what to do when you have moral qualms about your employer’s line of business

A reader writes:

I have a job that I mostly love. This is the first job I’ve had where I feel fully competent and even excellent at what I do. My manager is amazing, the office culture is everything I could ever hope for, the money and benefits are good, and the work I do is engaging and fulfilling. The industry, however, is not. You see, I work for a tobacco wholesaler.

Since day one I’ve been uneasy about the product. Obviously tobacco products carry a well-known health risk and stigma. We’re not “Big Tobacco” by any means, but we do profit off the sale and use of a product that is addictive at best and deadly at worst. But it was the first job offered to me after five months of unemployment, and everything else about it is great. I was mostly able to ignore my misgivings for about a year. But in February, my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. I almost didn’t go into work the next day and spent pretty much the whole week crying in the bathroom. I told my manager and the owner of the company, and they’ve both been incredibly supportive, encouraging me to take as much time off as needed and not to worry about PTO limits.

I nearly quit on the spot, but fear of unemployment and my dad’s encouragement convinced me to stick it out and see if I was able to see it a little different after a few weeks or months. Well, it’s been 4 months, and despite my best efforts, I’m still resentful of the industry, and it’s been showing at the office. Too many things remind me of my dad and his illness. At the very least I’m pretty good about going to my boss and saying, “Hey, I’m having one of those days,” and she keeps everyone off my tail as much as possible. But as accommodating as everyone has been, I’ve decided to search for a new job.

I let my manager know, as we have a good relationship and she had initially broached the subject when I first told her about my dad. When the owner found out, he offered me a raise, better hours, and even the option to start a fund for lung cancer research and support with company money to convince me to stay. He understood that it wasn’t about the money but said he still had to try because they would hate to see me go. I assured him that when I go I will provide at least four weeks of notice and I absolutely will not be leaving until the right job comes along.

So, I guess my questions are these: First, do you have any suggestions for how to deal with my resentment at the office? I’m usually really good at policing my emotions when I’m on the clock, but I’m past my limit here. I don’t want to be the Sally Sad Sack that brings the entire office down. Second, how do I tell interviewers and online applications why I’m leaving my job? I just don’t want to come across as a martyr trying to gain sympathy points (or start crying in the middle of the interview!). For that matter, how do I approach the potential time off issue? I don’t expect to get PTO right off the bat, and that’s fine, but whether it’s paid or not, I may need to take time off suddenly and don’t want to be seen as unreliable or demanding.

Thank you for any insight you might have. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being completely irrational about the whole situation, but it’s really difficult to remain objective while in the middle of something like this.

I’m so sorry you and your family are dealing with this.

Now, I say this as someone whose father died of esophageal cancer caused by smoking so I’m pretty damn sympathetic, but: You can’t walk around simmering with resentment at work. They’re paying you to work there, whatever you think of their product, you accepted the job of your own free will, and you owe it to them to perform at a reasonably high level — or, if you can’t, to acknowledge that and leave. Otherwise, you’re acting in bad faith toward them by not upholding your end of the bargain, and potentially harming your own professional reputation too.

I am no fan of the tobacco industry, no fan at all — but there are many legal products being sold out there that sicken and kill many of us: meat and other animal products (cancer and heart disease), junk food (diabetes and obesity-related diseases), alcohol (accidents and alcoholism-related diseases), and more. You should absolutely follow your moral compass in deciding where you work … but once you’re there, you need to own that choice and not penalize others for it.

So you’re right to be job searching, but if you can’t keep your resentment in check until you find another job, you might be better off leaving, even if it’s just through a leave of absence that you negotiate with your employer (which isn’t unreasonable if you want to spend more time with your dad right now).

As for what to tell interviewers about why you’re leaving your job, it’s fine to say that you thought you’d be comfortable working for the tobacco industry but realized over time that you weren’t. People will understand that and you don’t need to go into detail about your family’s situation.

If you get an offer, at that point you can explain that you have a seriously ill parent and know you’ll need some time off at some point, possibly without a lot of notice, and that you’re willing to take it unpaid but wanted to to make them aware of the situation. Most employers will be fine with that. (I had to do the exact same thing when I changed jobs while my dad was sick. My employer, like most, was very understanding. If they’re not, take that as valuable information about the work environment.)

Good luck to you and your family while you deal with this. I hope your dad is doing okay.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Chinook*

    I agree 100% with what AAM has said. Part of what you are feeling is probably anger in general at what is happenning to your dad and, as luck would have it, you get to go to work every day and face a reason for it happenning. I can totally understand why you would feel resentment and anger towards the business. But, as AAM said, you are there out of your own free will and the company is treating you well. Remember that the issue is with the product and not the people. Remember that the company is willing to do anything to help. Offering to set up a fund for lung cancer research and support with company money is amazingly generous and a true sign of your value to them. It also shows that they have compassion towards you and that they realize that when you leave, it is the issue and not the company. They can be two different things and you need to accept that it is okay to like your boss and your employer even if you can no longer tolerate the business.

    Oh, and giving them heads up and 4 weeks notice is the classiest way to leave. I personally would have asked them to start up the research fund as well (or atleast openly support your local cancer society) and you didn’t even do that. Congratulations on taking the high road!

  2. EngineerGirl*

    I’m only going to speak to the pragmatic side. You’ve been with your employer for over a year. That means you qualify for FMLA. With a sick father you will most likely need it.

    If you quit now you will lose FMLA, as you have to be employed for a year to qualify.

    I think that it is obvious that you need to move on at some point. But now is a really bad time.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I would also like to add that having sympathetic management in a time like this is a HUGE deal. Right now you need to support your father. In the scheme of things staying put (as disturbing as it is to you ) may be the best situation for your needs right now.

      1. Laura*

        I agree- what I took away from your post was an utmost respect for this company (from the little I know). I first read it and thought “ack- I would not feel comfortable working there either!” however, in any industry, its hard to find a boss who cares, is flexible, and offers to start a charity fund. Yes, the money is not the point, but that he/she cares enough about YOU. That is saying something.

        However, on a side note, if you do decide to stay, may be worth talking over your feelings with someone (perhaps a professional). I think it can be helpful to understand your feelings. Maybe your resentment isn’t entirely directed toward your company (and if it is, and you truly resent them, than you will feel better about your choice to leave).

        Just my 2 cents.

      2. Anonicorn*

        Absolutely. While working for a tobacco company might not be ideal for everyone, at the very least it seems like OP has great managers.

        1. Jessa*

          It at least seems to me that as tobacco companies go, the OP is working for a good one. I’m with the people that are saying you might want to stay at least in the short term, these seem to be good people. But if you can’t. go with kindness. Be nice to them in your leaving because they were nice to you.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Since FMLA is unpaid, and OP doesn’t want to work there any more, I don’t think it’s a good enough reason to stay. In fact, the OP would be letting her employer think that she will be coming back, ready to work, when her leave is up if she does that.

      OP, you need to spend as much time with your dad as you can. If you can afford to be without work, I would urge you to do this. However, if you need the money until you find another job, then just try to do the best you can.

      1. fposte*

        I think EG is making a good point, though; the OP is saying she’s willing to take leave unpaid, but she may not realize that a new company doesn’t have to keep her job open for her even if her leave is unpaid. So if she can’t afford to be without another job, she may need to factor that in.

        OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. It is tough when work doesn’t offer a respite from the cares that haunt you after hours.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        There are other factors invoked, such as health insurance, etc. it is also easier to get a job while you have a job. FMLA will allow you to do that – quitting will not.

      3. EngineerGirl*

        Also – there is intermittent FMLA, which allows the OP to work part time yet still take time off. This allows some income (Vs none if you quit) and allows OP to be there for doctors visits etc.

        There is one other huge factor – the extra time and effort needed by a new job. OP would be forced into a choice of paying attention to her father Vs the new job. And like I said previously, no time off is guaranteed at all in a new job. But FMLA is guaranteed in the old one.

  3. BCW*

    I don’t want to sound harsh, because my grandfather who I was very close with died of lung cancer, so I’m very sympathetic. However, I agree you took that job voluntarily. Its not like the negative effects of tobacco were just made public. You need to be able to separate your personal feelings from work, or not take the job. It sounds like you can’t, so I think you should just put in your month notice now, because it doesn’t sound like this is something you can get over, especially while your dad is battling this.

    In a more general sense though, I think if a person has strong morals against certain “sin” type things (sex, drinking, smoking), you really need to figure that out early on and tailor your job search with that in mind, and research companies. Many times these bigger companies own subsidiaries that do things people find objectionable. I believe adults can do what they want, so I’d have no problem working for any of these industries myself.

    1. Chinook*

      In this case, though, the OP had an epiphany while working with the company and there is no one to blame for that. It can happen to everyone. Sometimes, you learn stuff while working somewhere that you realize you just can’t live with and other times your life changes, like the OP’s, and this changes your outlook on issues. As long as she owns the initial choice she made, contiues to treat her employer professionaly while she is there and looks for work in another industry, I think there are no issues with this.

      Also, I suspect part of the OP’s anger is with the cancer her father has and since you can’t yell at or hit cancer, it gets misdirected to something that is tangible. I think that, since the OP is self aware of having bad days (which she would have even if she was working with unicorns and chocolate teapots all day) and her employer is sympathetic, she should be able to continue working in at the company until she finds other work.

    2. Vicki*

      Related but different – I have worked (three times) at Genetics / Pharmaceutical research companies. Each company asked, explicitly, in the interviews: does it bother you that we’re doing animal models here?

      One company had mice on site in a lab.

      As long as _I_ don’t need to work with the mice, I don’t object to being a programmer elsewhere in the facility. But it was important that they asked. (At one company, I said something and was told that they didn’t start making this question clear until they hired a person who quit after two weeks “because of the mice”.

      I also have friends who have worked for Lockheed, for Lawrence Livermore, and for Moffett Field (US DOD contracts). I worked for Yahoo! (money from advertising).

      You need to decide wat does and doesn’t bother you and where you draw the line.

      1. Anonymous*

        I work in research, and I work with mice. I don’t like it, but my work is related to human diseases, so for my morals it balances out. Also, since I do care about the animals and have some objections about some animal research, I feel it’s better that someone like me works with animals versus someone who just doesn’t give a d*mn.

        1. the_scientist*

          As my name might suggest, I have worked with mice. I hated it, and knew I couldn’t pursue graduate training in a field that meant needing to use animal models. I felt (and still feel) like a huge hypocrite- I totally understand the incredible value of animal models in medical research, I just hated having to be the person who killed the mice. Sending lots of respect your way for being a compassionate animal handler!

          1. LMW*

            I had a conflict at my first post-college job about bunnies. I was working at a medical college and they were doing experiments on rabbit legs (using live bunnies) to try to help who were born with disorders actually be able to walk. I think it was important work, and I was happy to edit the grant applications, help set up the lab equipment in the children’s clinic, etc. But, my first week, one of my coworkers told me not to go into the research lab (said it deeply disturbed her, and since I was also a vegetarian, I’d probably also be disturbed), so I refused to go down there. The research doc was kind of insulted and (especially since English wasn’t his first language), I had a hard time explaining that while I really respected him and what he was trying to do (he was fantastic with the kids!), I had a really hard time with animals being put through (probably very painful) surgeries, and would probably have to quit if I saw them. I ended up leaving for a new job after five months anyway, so it soon became a non-issue.

            1. 4:18 anon*

              My limit is mice, but I might consider working with rats. Anything else? H*ll no. It’s the animal rescue feelings inherited from my great-grandmother.

              LMW as far as these kinds of procedures go, they have to provide pain relief unless there is an overwhelming reason not to. Testing for function wouldn’t be limited by pain relief, so the bunnies would have been given something for pain relief (unless you worked back in the dark ages of animal research.) What your coworker probably didn’t see was someone using their break trying to make the animals more comfortable, as I have seen many times.

              Also if they’re social animals they’re usually put in cages with others (and this is my objection to primate research) and given “enrichment” to enhance their environment. For a zoo enrichment can be making a food harder to get by freezing it in ice, for my mice it’s giving them something to play in or hide in, like toilet paper roll holders. There have been studies that have shown that by doing these things you improve the animals stress levels and resistance to disease even cancer.

        2. Nisse*

          Or it’s not. There’s the option of doing the research without testing on animals. A lot of the research done today on animals could be done just as well (and in many cases better) on human cells for instance.

          Animals are cheaper commodity though and there’s a big industry who doesn’t want tests to be done in other ways. I really doubt the animals injected with deceases care so much if it done by ‘some who likes animals’

  4. RubyJackson*

    Take family leave, use that time to look for another job, and take them up on the offer to start a research fund or make a charitable contribution to a cancer society.

  5. Calla*

    No additional advice, but I sympathize. A while back I had just moved to an area, was unemployed, and the first job offer I got was as an admin at a law office that represented medical debt collection. Yeah, I knew it wasn’t pleasant, but I figured it wasn’t like I was the one representing the collectors. What I didn’t realize is that, even though I was just typing up letters and filing, in that process I would see stories that broke my heart. On top of that the office was pretty hostile (two lawyers were mother & daughter and there was frequent yelling) so I skedaddled out of there pretty fast.

    I think for your mental/emotional health it’s a good idea to get a new job as quickly as possible, but your employer seems to be pretty nice about it all. Maybe think about that instead of the line of work you’re in?

  6. L*

    I have worked in compliance (federal, financial, etc.) So my opinion is from my own experience – There is no one perfect industry. There is no one perfect job. Even if you think you work for a good cause, you might end up working at an organization, which is committing a fraud while healing people. Every job will present a new moral/ethical dilema. It is difficult for you now, but it is, in a way, a good experience in a long run. Being able to handle this type of issues in a future job will help you in your career.

    You sound very thoughtful and balanced, even though you probably don’t feel like it right now. Just the fact that you are seeking asnwers is a good thing. Some people just lash out, do impulsive and crazy things. It doesn’t matter what your issue is, in a long run, people will remember you by how you handle it. It also sounds like you have a great workplace and coworkers! They deserve being treated well back. They will also be giving you references in the future.

    1. Chinook*

      “Every job will present a new moral/ethical dilema. ”

      While I agree with the above quote that many are saying in different ways, there are some moral/ethical dilemmas that are more important to a person that others. Some are worth losing a job over while others are just a reality of life. But, for the OP, working for someone in the tobacco industry could have turned into a deal breaker and she should not be judged by that nor her decision belittled. In her case, she shouldn’t just suck it up because moral dilemmas happen and that’s life. If she is willing to pay the price for standing up for what she believes in, then she is to be admired. And, I have to say that, from what she described, it sounds like the company owners respect her for that change of heart which makes her choice even more bittersweet because they are truly the right company for her but just in the wrong industry.

      OP, you have been given the gift of time to spend with your father and the time to look for another job without having to worrying about paying the bills while you search. Let your company support you how they can and try to realize that your issue is with the industry and not the people.

      Remember – you hate tobacco and not your boss.

      1. Jamie*

        “Every job will present a new moral/ethical dilema. ”

        While I agree with the above quote that many are saying in different ways, there are some moral/ethical dilemmas that are more important to a person that others.

        I don’t agree that all jobs present moral/ethical dilemmas.

        I am pretty by the book and tend to over think everything and I can’t think of one moral or ethical dilemma I’ve had at my current job. Scheduling dilemmas, technical dilemmas, etc. but not ethical or moral. And that’s one thing I was looking for in an employer because I don’t live well with internal conflict or guilt.

        But to Chinook’s point, one person’s moral dilemma is another person’s non-issue. I knew someone who had a very hard time working here morally because it isn’t non-profit and has ties to the marketing industry, which they believed to be inherently immoral. They lost sleep because they didn’t feel right contributing to capitalism.

        I don’t see it as immoral, so no dilemma.

        1. KarenT*

          I knew someone who had a very hard time working here morally because it isn’t non-profit and has ties to the marketing industry, which they believed to be inherently immoral. They lost sleep because they didn’t feel right contributing to capitalism.

          I was going to write something similar, as strange as I find the POV. I work for a huge international company (Fortune 500 in the US) and it is very clearly a for-profit, private company. I had a co-worker who was often disturbed that we were doing the things we were doing “for the money.” When people would explain to him that we were a for-profit corporation whose responsibility was to its shareholders, and that we make the products we make explicitly for the purpose of making money, he just couldn’t deal. He seemed to be misled, because I do work for a company that does a lot of good and our products do help people. However, there is just no denying that we are for-profit.

          1. Layla*

            I feel similar:
            It is important to me that my job is for a cause that I believe in. Previously at an IT vendor company I was working for a client whose cause I felt was non important. I felt resentment when they got very worked up for issues which I felt were not so big a deal. (Complaints etc )
            Now I’m doing IT for healthcare ; so issues here I feel have more importance !

        2. TheSnarkyB*

          I agree, Jamie. I also think that there’s a huge range in terms of what constitutes an ethical/moral dilemma and what type it is. For instance, I’m in the mental health field. I come across ethical dilemmas every day, but it’s always in the pursuit of someone’s health, safety, and autonomy. This is very different from the types of ethical and moral dilemmas I imagine are faced by people who work in industries like tobacco, sketchy/intense marketing, sex-related things like.. being an accountant for Hooters, corp, for instance. I say “live and let live” to all who are “in it for the money”, but no one should be telling themselves that it’s all the same because every job is like that.

          p.s. I am pretty brand-loyal and I am definitely a consumer, so i do not begrudge you if you work at Apple (or something) just because it pays a lot. Thanks for all the stuff!!

          1. Jamie*

            As if – I can’t even get Apple to implement corporate consumer discounts I’ve been clamoring for for years!

            But I totally agree that there are industries by the virtue of what they do would cause a moral dilemma…and most people probably have a list of their own types of places they’d never work. I’m okay in that I’m working for profit and not serving a higher cause (because I believe I do that with the money I earn) but I there are industries in which I couldn’t work if I was actively repelled by the goal.

    2. PuppyKat*

      Moral and ethical dilemma question aside (which is something that everyone will have to decide for themselves about), I like L’s posting very much. I think the second paragraph is very helpful.

  7. Rob Aught*

    Something to keep in mind about the business world.

    It is nearly impossible not to come across something your company is doing that you don’t agree with, sometimes on moral grounds. I get that working directly for the tobacco company might create a difficult situation for someone dealing with the end result of the product.

    At the same time, as someone who works in media and deals directly with advertising (since we support the technology that serves and schedules ads across ALL media) we are dealing with all sorts of companies and groups and a common complaint is that we took money from some campaign, some company, some political figure and thus are somehow tied to that organization.

    It’s a business transaction. At the end of the day we need money to operate and if you make money off ad revenue you sometimes have to put personal feelings aside so long as it isn’t illegal.

    I’m not criticizing the OP. I completely how the direct association is different. However, completely removing yourself from moral dilemmas in the business world may never happen.

    All I have done is avoided or left jobs where I was asked to do something I considered immoral or unethical (ie: I was routinely told to lie to customers at one job). When it comes to other decisions I figure that’s on them and not me.

  8. SJ*

    “…there are many legal products being sold out there that sicken and kill many of us: meat and other animal products (cancer and heart disease)”
    Alison, you really shouldn’t be presenting things as fact when it’s not actually determined that meat and animal products cause cancer and heart disease. The studies done are generally too broad with too few variables considered (namely, how the animal product is raised and what it’s fed), and, at most, suggest a correlation – not causation. In fact, more and more studies are showing that saturated fats DON’T cause heart disease, and that it’s the cured and processed meats (with nitrites/nitrates, known carcinogens) that cause cancer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t want to host a debate on this here as it’s not the point of the post, but I’d recommend seeing the advice from the American Cancer Society, the American Dietetic Association, and the Framingham Heart Study if you’re interested in the topic.

    2. Anne*

      This bugged me a little bit too. It is possible that meat does cause problems, but it also provides nutrients that are very hard to get in any other way. It is and has been a pretty important component of a healthy diet for… pretty much forever. Comparing it to tobacco is pretty harsh.

      I know that debating this is very, very far away from the point of this post. And as a powerlifter, I know I’m biased already. So not going to start breaking out the nutrition links and stuff. But yeah, a little bothersome.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Again, I don’t want to host a debate on this, but it certainly doesn’t provide nutrients that are hard to get in any other way — that’s something that no mainstream medical or health association agrees with.

        1. CathVWXYNot?*

          “It is possible that meat does cause problems”

          It’s not just possible, it’s a known risk factor for some types of cancer, especially colon.

          I work in cancer research and yes I do still eat meat – but much less than I used to, for environmental and health reasons. (I also know that alcohol is a cancer risk factor, but I still like my beer, and so do the vast majority of my colleagues… humans are not a rational species!) Eaten in moderation, as part of an otherwise low-risk lifestyle, meat consumption doesn’t increase your risk by much – but you do have to acknowledge that the increase is there nonetheless.

  9. Ann Onymous*

    Dear OP: I don’t have any advice, but I just wanted to extend my sympathies to you. When I was very young and had just started a new job, my father was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. Unlike your employer, mine were not very sympathetic. I had a terrible time trying to keep my work and personal lives separate…and ultimately, I had to leave the job.
    Do what you think is best for you and your family. I wish you luck in your endeavor.

  10. Liz in the City*

    This has nothing to do with your job search, but perhaps joining a support group or seeing a therapist to deal with some of your (totally understandable) issues that your facing would help you in your day to day. As another commenter mentioned, you can’t “hate” cancer because it’s not tangible, so it’s coming across so strongly/frequently at your workplace (and I have to say, despite what they do, they are treating you VERY well and like a human being, which is, sadly, hard to find these days).

    Also, *virtual hug*

    1. Sara M*

      I second this. A counselor would be a really, really good idea. And it’s much better to have an established relationship with someone who knows you well, if things get really bad.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I third the suggestion for counseling. I also want to suggest to the OP that therapy may help her come to terms with anger that she has with her father. When a parent gets sick with illnesses that can be attributed to their own choices, it’s sometimes hard to feel the anger with the parent so it gets redirected to the product, to the job, to other family members, etc.

        This may not be the case at all for the OP, but if it is I just want to say it’s normal to feel that anger. Most people think they can’t be angry at the person who is sick. You can be, but you need professional help sometimes to handle it and deal with it.

    2. TheSnarkyB*

      Yeah, actually a group might be the perfect solution for this, even more so than a therapist. There are a lot of things you can get out of a group that might be particularly beneficial to your situation.

  11. COT*

    I’m sorry to hear about your father’s illness and the stress it has brought upon your family. While you’re sticking it out at work, you may find it helpful to have other outlets to express yourself and your beliefs about tobacco. It’s easy to let your personal needs and sense of balance go during a family crisis, but you need to take care of yourself. Would it help to volunteer for an anti-smoking group or the American Lung Association To get involved in tobacco policy issues?

    Short-term counseling may also be helpful, while you have great health insurance. Counseling isn’t just for those with mental illness; it’s also a great way to work through grief, stress, and internal conflict with a neutral party who you don’t have to be afraid of burdening. A counselor could give you some concrete tools to keep your emotions in check at work, as well.

    For me, in times of personal tragedy or stress, I find it really helps me to stay focused on the moment. When I find my mind wandering from my work to my personal distractions, I ask myself, “What am I doing right now?” I try to answer simply and positively: “I’m typing an email, and it feels good to get it done,” or “I’m waiting for a meeting to start with people I really enjoy,” or, “I’m drinking some water, and it sure is delicious.” That’s often all I need to refocus and let my stresses stay out of my way for a while.

  12. Colleen*

    I can’t help but feel that the OP is projecting her anger at her father’s diagnosis onto her employer. People who work for liquor distributors or bars have loved ones who get hit by drunk drivers or die of complications related to alcoholism and still keep their jobs. The issue of the company’s ethics and her father’s diagnosis are emotionally intertwined, but objectively they are separate issues.

    Personally I would recommend seeking counseling services before deciding to quit for another job. The type of job willing to set up a charity fund in honor of your relative is very, very rare. As other’s have said, there are plenty of “honorable” nonprofits that are actually cooking their books, exploiting volunteers, etc. I would encourage separating the feelings about the father’s diagnosis from the feelings about the job to see if this really is a moral conviction or a grief based reaction.

    1. Forrest*

      I strongly empathize with the LW, but as others point out, smoking being bad for you isn’t news and tabocco companies are under stricter regulations than a lot of other harmful products. Not that I’m siding with big tabocco though and I know that provides little comfort to the LW.

      But people have free will and like it or not, tabocco companies provide an in demand product. And while the LW should leave if she can’t look past her (completely understandable) pain, she probably won’t find another company like this one.

  13. Jamie*

    I don’t have any advice, but I’m just so very sorry.

    One of the hardest things when I found out my mom had cancer was having no where to focus how incredibly angry I was. I do hope you have the support you need to get through this.

    My thoughts are with you and your dad.

  14. Sabrina*

    OP, I feel for you. I lost my mom & grandma to lung cancer, and my grandfather to emphysema. All caused by smoking. But they all knew it was bad for them, and they did it anyway. Further, many relatives on my dad’s side of the family are tobacco farmers. I work in the insurance industry and I see things that make want to go home and shower. I have no solutions, I just sympathize.

    1. AllisonD*

      And sadly, the OP’s father knew tobacco was bad for him. (Let’s face it, this has been well known for 40 years) That will be another form of anger/resentment the OP will need to process.

      1. fposte*

        That’s if he smoked, though, which it’s not explicitly stated that he did/does. Even in nonsmokers, lung cancer is a significantly common cancer–it’s just tons more common in smokers.

        1. Chinook*

          I want to add my voice to the fact that the OP’s father may not have gotten cancer from smoking. She has chosen not to share details and I respect that, but, as a result, we are drawing our own conclusions. Second smoke can cause cancer as can working in certain conditions. Also, he may just have drawn the short straw in the genetic lottery. It doesn’t really matter how he got it but that he has it now.

  15. Keli*

    OP, hang in there. Your situation is hard on many levels. Can you focus on one thing at a time to relieve some of the stress? This way you can be 100 percent child of your father right now when he most likely needs you. You’ll have time to make a job change later if you want, but a sick father and a job change at the same time is too much for many people to handle. I wish you peace in both areas.

  16. Anonymous*

    I’m really, really sorry to hear about your father. I’ve had plenty of tobacco-related deaths in my family.

    As other people have said, tobacco is a choice, and it’s 100% clear that it’s not healthy and it can cause severe health problems, including cancer. So while you’re working for a company in the tobacco industry, remember that your company sells products to people who willingly consume them, knowing what the consequences are.

    1. Natalie*

      I’m probably biased because I started smoking as a teenager and have really struggled with quitting but:

      Something on the order of 90%+ of smokers in the US start when they are under 18, with an average starting age of 13. If you make it to age 18 without starting, it’s incredibly unlikely you ever will. And smoking is notoriously difficult to quit, so unfortunately they are stuck with long term effects from a decision they made when their brain was only half-cooked, so to speak.

      If I was the OP I would be pretty bothered by working for a tobacco distributor also. They’d have to be deliberately obtuse to not know that their entire business model is based on getting people addicted before they’re old enough to make smart decisions.

      1. hamster*

        Not relevant, but i people , me included who started later. I was about 22 when i started. Also, notoriously hard is not impossible. My dad started smoking at 18 or so and quit at 38 without any help. Was it hard for him? yes it was. But he made the choice not to burn his money, rather than use it for the family and not for poisoning his lungs. He stuck with it for almost 20 years now.

  17. Lora*

    Just wanted to offer my sympathies. I used to work for the biggest of big pharma, and the marketing department at least deserved every drop of venom they ever got. It was hard not to resent them when I had to sit through days of special training on the exact limits of bribery when it comes to government officials and doctors, because that leads to $2bil fines. When your department is laying off really great people left and right and getting their budgets cut, yet Marketing is somehow swimming in money and not a single one of them get fired for bringing the FDA down on us like a ton of bricks.

    That said–since then, I’ve worked at two companies that are supposedly all warm fuzzies: green energy and orphan drugs (drugs no company would pursue as they wouldn’t make any money without government support). You know what, I really miss Big Pharma! The green energy company would take any money from anyone, frequently lied to investors, and had an absurdly dysfunctional structure. The orphan drug pharma has the most indecisive, political (office politics, not the gov’t kind), dithering, aimless management ever on the face of the earth. Big Pharma knew exactly what they had hired me for, put me to work at that, gave me plenty of support for career growth, and told me in no uncertain terms what I should be working on, and then I got to work on it until the project was done.

    I got through my resentment of Big Pharma while I worked there by spending time with my colleagues (all the way up to the VP of our division–he was righteously pissed too) and we all supported each other, went to the bar and vented over beers about Those Dumb Jerks In Marketing, listening to the old timers telling war stories about worse times.

    When I was asked by interviewers, “why do you want to leave?” I just smiled and said, “It’s BigPharma…” and they nodded sympathetically, because they knew it sucks to work for the Dark Side.

    Best of luck!

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I agree that management and cause are two completely separate things. BigPharma is probably the only industry that I would have trouble going into purely based on cause. “Evil” comes from an inelastic product and their mark-ups are criminal. I’m very libertarian in terms of substance control so I have no problem with tobacco, alcohol, illicit drug distribution companies. I do however, have a problem with people dying because they can’t afford their medication. :/

      1. Lora*

        Me too! They had some “free drugs for poor people” type programs through pparx.org, and they also had their own program for people who didn’t quiiiiiite meet the income limits. But it definitely wasn’t half enough.

        Of course, I am an Evil Socialist because I reckon the food stamps program should be extended, not cut, but that is a whole different subject and we won’t go there :)

  18. KJ*

    I don’t have anything to add to all this great advice, but want to say I’m so sorry you are going through this, it really stinks. I lost my grandpa to a type of cancer also related to his cigarette smoking. I was only 18 months old. I truly hope your dad beats this; and that you have him for many years to come.

  19. Kelly*

    Try to remember that your dad is an adult and the risks of smoking have been known by the public for a VERY, VERY long time…since before your dad probably decided to start smoking. We also are allowed to buy fast cars that kill people every day. We also are allowed to buy beer – that kills people every day. We are also allowed to … the list goes on and on. Your dad could have smoked until he was 98 years old – and never got cancer of any kind like my husbands grandpa.

    There is no real rhyme or reason as to why some of us get cancer and some of us don’t; or some of us die in car accidents and some of us don’t – you can’t blame an industry for what happens through the use of their products.

    Both of my grandmother’s died of cancer. My mother is dying of cancer. My best friend is battling Stage IV breast cancer – I know all about cancer and it’s trail of heart breaks – but try to direct your anger at the illness and not the assumed cause of the illness – at least until you have gotten another job.

    I am impressed with the reaction and support you are getting from your company. I wish you the best of luck in your search for another job and I hope with all my heart that something someone says on this board helps give you the strength you need to hang in there until you find another job. Being miserable in a work environment sucks.

    Thoughts, prayers and hugs to you and your family – especially your dad.

  20. anon attorney*

    Hi OP, I am so sorry you are going through this. I too have a family member with advanced cancer. The emotions it generates in all of us are so hard and so unpredictable. I wish none of us ever had to deal with this. I hope one day nobody does.

    I so feel for you too because for me, work is somewhere I can escape from it all, but for you work is full of reminders (and as an aside it is astonishing how you suddenly become so aware of the myriad mentions of cancer in the news and media once it becomes personal to you). And your principles about tobacco are genuinely important. Set against that, though, is the kind and empathic response of your boss and coworkers and I would urge you not to undervalue this. I too have been incredibly fortunate in the amount of support and kindness shown to me at work and I just cannot imagine going through this experience while also battling an unsympathetic boss or HR.

    Only you can decide what balance between these elements makes sense, but I know that for me, leaving my workplace at this point would be too disorienting, plus it would bring with it the stress of having to re-establish myself elsewhere, build new relationships, and learn new working systems is something I cannot even contemplate. A new job is horrendously stressful even when you have all your resources to call on.

    It may be that as you come to terms with what is going on the environment may become less triggering for you and in the longer term certainly I can understand why you might want to rethink your job choice. For now, I think that for me the value of kind and supportive coworkers who value you enough to accommodate this immense challenge and disruption in your life and to treat you well is worth compromising your principles in the short term.

    I am so sorry and I wish strength and peace to you and your family.

  21. Sarah*

    I work as a legal assistant in the asbestos defense world in a job that I found after a year of unemployment. I completely understand the conflict between your problems with the industry and the good work atmosphere – my colleagues are generally great and the work environment is good, but I have moral problems with the work itself and have since the first interview (where I learned the field of law and what the job entailed). I’m looking for a new job and have been for a while. I just can’t continue to do work that is not only incredibly depressing, but also on the “evil” side of the issue. I would encourage you to continue looking for a new job as well – hopefully you’ll find something with good challenges and opportunities that is also something you can support. I hope I find something for myself as well.

    I’m really sorry about your father. That’s an incredibly hard thing to go through no matter what your line of work.

  22. Not So NewReader*

    A couple of questions that may/may not help:

    If your father were okay, nothing wrong with him right now, how do you think you would feel about your job? (This is tough, so take a bit to mull it over…)

    When you took this job what was your original plan? Do it for 5 years? Ten years? Retire from this job? Or was it a place holder until something really good came along?

    Let’s fast forward into the future. Pretend you left the job a year ago. How do you feel? Are you still angry? Are you relieved?

    Anger can be a habit or crutch to avoid processing grief. And grief is for all kinds of things- not just death. We can have heavy grief just because someone we love is suffering. We can grieve that we must work all week and lose precious time with loved ones. (This means any job will become annoying…)

    My suggestion to you is to look at these posts above here very carefully. What you will see is that it is okay for the rose colored glasses to fall off and for a person to see their industry as something other than what they thought initially. It happens often. These folks here got through it. We are supposed to learn and grow. If we are doing it right we learn and grow for our entire working career. Yes, you could face another ethical dilemma in the future. These type of quandaries shape our working persona- we become who we are because of these hurdles that we have to jump.

    If you do leave this job- make sure you are running toward something, not running from something. Your dad wants you to have that– something that you are eagerly running towards.

  23. LovelyLibrarian*

    A note on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave: I’m currently on FMLA leave part-time with my job for mental health reasons. I can’t describe how helpful it has been for maintaining my sanity and relieving my anxiety about my job. I would strongly encourage you to read up on it (http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla) and and think about taking FMLA leave-without-pay while you reconsider your job and deal with your Dad’s health.

    One, you maintain health benefits, and two you have a certain amount of job security while you’re on leave. I agree with others that it’s easier to get a job while you have a job, and this would allow you a transition time to figure out what you need to do next. It would also allow you time to see a counselor or other health care support if you so desired.

    I don’t agree that you would be expected to return to your job after leave, that’s not one of the requirements of the act – though giving a certain amount of notice is. Given how understanding your employer has been about everything up to now, this might be something they can easily give you.

    Anyway – good luck with everything and my sympathy and best wishes to you and your family.

  24. Another Anonymous*

    I want to echo everyone’s sympathies. Regardless of the cause, your father is sick and the prognosis is poor. You are affected because it is your father and you care for him and you are going through a tough time as his illness progresses. (I recently lost my father to Alzheimer’s and I think of him and miss him every day). My point is that what matters is how you care for your father and yourself during this time. I hope you can focus on that. You have my sympathies and prayers for your comfort.

  25. Anonymous*

    Wow. Thanks for this post. I also work in a very controversial industry (firearms) and have struggled with this sort thing while I’ve been interviewing. I chose to work for my company because a) they were the first company with a marketing position to take a chance on my while I switched careers, and b) I live in the south, and hunting is perfectly acceptable.

    But after the last year, I’ve just completely changed my mind, and it’s very difficult to discuss my job, let alone why I’m leaving, without sparking some touchy political notes.

    Anyway, this gave some great insight, and I’m glad I’m not alone. I hope the OP finds a new job that’s more emotionally fulfilling soon.

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