can I leave my job after one year if I committed to more?

A reader writes:

I am currently looking for a new job. I’m a person who seems to perpetually be stuck in dead-end positions in toxic environments, so I’m searching for a new position with a keen eye out for any red flags. (Your past advice, plus Glassdoor reviews, have been really helpful in discerning the good workplaces from the bad as I’ve been interviewing!) I’m ready to move into a position where I feel I’m in a career, not just a job, in a workplace that values its employees and encourages mutually respectful relationships between management and employees.

The problem is that, when I interviewed at my current job a little over a year ago, my boss asked if I would be willing to commit to at least two to three years as her assistant. I answered yes, and at the time I was not lying. I really craved the stability of a steady job. But I’ve since discovered that my boss is somewhat of a tyrant who verbally abuses her direct reports, and everyone, from my friends to my therapist to some of my coworkers, is telling me to run for the hills.

When I think about what it will be like to finally have a job offer for a role that feels like a great fit, I get so excited — but then I start to think about the inevitable “I quit” conversation with my boss and I feel guilty. Aside from my boss, I have several coworkers who might be left scrambling if I depart, even if I give ample notice. If it’s not a good fit for me, though, I should definitely try to move on, right? Or am I a total jerk for looking for a new job when I initially told them I would commit to the next two to three years?

The thing about agreeing to stay in a job for X amount of time is that, unless you are signing a written contract, the implicit caveats are always “assuming that you haven’t misrepresented the job or the working conditions, assuming I am treated respectfully, and assuming something big doesn’t change in my life (such a family or health situation, a move, etc.).”

And even beyond those caveats, if you make the agreement without a contract, you’re really just speaking to your intent at the time of the agreement. It would be operating in bad faith to agree to stay for a few years if you knew from the start that you didn’t plan to … but otherwise all parties should assume that you’re speaking to your intent at the time but things can and do change. (Ideally you would make that clear by saying something like, “Obviously I can’t predict the future and nothing’s written in stone, but if everything goes well on both sides, I’d hope to stay for at least several years.”)

If an employer doesn’t like that and wants more certainty built in … well, we have an instrument to do that: a written employment contract. But employers in the U.S. almost never use contracts because that would legally bind them to various obligations as well.

So. When you told your boss you were up for staying for two or three years, you meant it. You have since discovered that she’s a verbally abusive tyrant, a fact she did not disclose to you at the time. You were operating in good faith when you said you were willing to stay several years, and it sounds like you’d still be willing to do that if she were not a jerk. But she is! And she declined to put any commitment of her own in writing, so you are free to do what’s best for you.

There is a reason your boss asked for that commitment, by the way, and it’s because people keep leaving the job faster than she wants … because she is verbally abusive. If she wants to keep people longer, the answer is for her to change that — not to rely on guilting people into staying when they want to leave.

I know you’re dreading the “I quit” conversation, but resignation conversations are nearly always easier than people fear they will be. You don’t need to point out that you’re leaving earlier than planned; let her be the one to raise it if she wants to. Your framing throughout should be, “This opportunity fell in my lap and it’s too good to pass up.” If you want to really lean into it for relationship/reference reasons, you can say, “I normally wouldn’t have thought about leaving right now — I’ve really enjoyed my time here — but the offer is just too good to turn down.” If she accuses you of breaking your commitment (and she may not — half the time managers who ask for those sorts of commitments don’t remember them a year later or know they can’t hold you to them), say, “I had every intention of staying at the time. But I couldn’t pass this up.” That’s it! You’ll have a short, uncomfortable conversation and then it will be over. (If it’s not over, read this and this.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Lacey*

    Good luck OP! The uncomfortableness of quitting is more than repaid when you have a pleasant job and work environment!

    1. Joan Rivers*

      I’ve wondered how a toxic boss would respond if you said, mid-tirade, “This! This is why we have so much turnover!” And if you have your phone ready to record, click it on, so she can see that you are. Or have it on and play it back. Because I don’t think she has an idea of how she sounds when she’s verbally abusive.
      This is called the “Scorched Earth Policy” of course! But when she’s yelling and red-faced, saying, “Do you want to hear this?” would be fun. Playing it back at her even if she says no wold be funny.

      Add “Because HR will want to hear this, and see it too!” if you already packed your things.

      1. Lizzo*

        Recording people (audio or video) without their consent is hugely problematic in many states. 0/10 would not recommend.

      2. Sleepless*

        Even in a one-party-consent state, which I live in, I wouldn’t record somebody for laffs and play it back to them. Climbing down into the mud with one’s boss just isn’t a good look.

      3. Certaintroublemaker*

        The place to address this is in the exit interview with HR, not with the boss. Be explicit that boss has had so much turnover she asked for a 2-3 year commitment. You found out afterward that the reason people leave is that she is abusive, specific examples: X, Y, Z. They can either try to improve her, get rid of her, or allow a succession of people to come through on short stints and leave damaged.

  2. No Tribble At All*

    A verbal agreement is as solid as the paper it’s written on :) plus, you don’t owe jerks anything. Good luck with your job search!

      1. Joan Rivers*

        And it’s easy to say, “This is not working out.” If you can say it mid-scream, and then give notice, that’s good, because it addresses the point. It’s a shortcut to having the conversation that shows what’s coming.

        Of course, sometimes you’ve used competence and initiative to “tame” her and gain trust — that’s always the worst, when she’s improved. But you still want to be gone. You can offer to “train” the next one and leave w/a great review.

        Because she may be abusive but also has hired poorly, and could be dealt with if it were worth the effort. It’s usually not though; you’re not her therapist.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Exactly. This is no different than if the boss verbally promised a 15% raise and refused to put anything in writing. Doesn’t mean much!

    2. Temperance*

      There are few things I hate more than someone trying to claim that a “verbal agreement” is just as good as a paper contract. Calling it a “verbal agreement” is just rebranding a conversation. lol

      1. Pantalaimon*

        and some agreements absolutely need to be in writing due to statute of frauds, such as (in most places in the US) any agreement that can’t be performed completely within a year.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        A verbal contract is — barring a legal requirement for written one — just as good as a paper contract. In theory. Establishing the existence of the contract and the terms agreed to after the fact is a fair bit more challenging. But not every vague verbal understanding rises to the level of contract.

        Especially since I would bet a great deal of money that there is a written statement that there *is* no contract of employment.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Yep, the verbal agreement is intended to shift all the risk to the employee with none of the reward. The employee can legally be fired or laid off at any time. I don’t think that most companies lay off people flippantly, but they are still much less personally invested in this agreement. They know that an individual person will care more about keeping that promise than a group of people who make up the leadership of the company.

    4. TootsNYC*

      not to mention: every contract should contain conditions on the way for either party to break it. Compensation, notice, etc.

  3. 1234*

    OP, I really hope you find a much better work environment and team. You deserve to be treated in a respectful manner at work (and in life!)

    1. Joan Rivers*

      I brought up the idea of “taming” a boss sometimes as you build trust, but of course don’t be abused. It CAN happen — rarely — but is seldom worth it because it’s usually not your dream job anyway, even if she quiets down.

      Building a bridge by being really good at the job and making boss’s job easier CAN work only if you HAVE to be there and options are limited. If you’re stuck for a while be as intuitive as you can and as adult. “Don’t talk to me that way!” is clear. She may learn to trust you, but end up with other toxic behavior because that’s who she is.

  4. A Simple Narwhal*

    If she really wanted you to stay 2-3 years, she would have written a contract that also guaranteed you a job a for that time. If something happened on her end and she had to let you go, I’m betting she would not once worry about how this job was supposed to last 2-3 years.

      1. irene adler*

        Right! Let’s see some consideration (bonus) for the LW for making the agreement!

        Not seeing the consideration the EMPLOYER provided as part of the agreement that LW agreed to stay in the job for 2-3 years. Hence, not a fair agreement in the first place.

        Find the better job, give notice and do NOT let this employer say/do anything to make you give up that better job.

        1. MK*

          I think this is an important point. If there was an agreement that the OP would stay at least 2 years and the employer would offer something in return, like a higher salary or another form of compensation, I would say the OP had an ethical responsibility to stay, barring extraordinary circumstances. But for a casual promise the employer offered nothing for, no. And even in those circumstances, an abusive boss counts as an extraordinary circumstance.

          1. Dan*

            Even still… in the US at least, a contract would just have financial penalties for early termination. No US court would force someone to continue working somewhere they didn’t want. They *would* force them to live up to the early termination part of the contract.

            All that’s to say, I don’t think OP would have an ethical obligation even with that consideration.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          Not to mention there was almost certainly something in the written employee paperwork explicitly denying the existence of any contract of employment. Employers generally treat employment contracts the way most of us treat unstable explosives. But then they want to enforce all kinds of “agreements which somehow aren’t employment contracts” that only bind the employee.

          Don’t play that game.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I was once offered a 5k retention bonus at a job I was working for when it was announced that the plant was closing. I was in my mid-20s and that was a huge amount of money to me. I tried to stick it out, I really did. But I chose to leave less than a month before the end date (for a different job). That place was so toxic that I willingly gave up that money just to get out as soon as possible. And I have never regretted it.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I got a signing bonus on my current job with the understanding that if I left after less than a year I was to give the money back. The manager turned out to be so harsh and the coworkers were the meanest I’ve ever had. I was miserable after a few weeks. I came in most Fridays expecting a pink slip. I salute you for taking that step, I was recovering from the great recession and was scared to death of being out of work again. I wanted to stick it out for a year not just for the money but also so I wouldn’t look like a flake to other employers. Also, after a year on the job I could apply for other positions in the co., so that was my goal. I’m still there under another manager, so it’s okay.

          1. Dan*

            Was it an “understanding” or something in writing that could be construed as a contract? Usually signing bonuses, relocation assistance, and tuition reimbursement programs do have a service obligation attached to them, but the ones I’ve seen are always closer to a contract than a mere “understanding.”

        2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          I don’t blame you, Cat Tree! I happily and willingly gave up my annual bonus to GTHOD at my last job; my immediate supervisor (NTA, for what its worth, but the home office was full of bees, wasps, and murder hornets!) even clarified that I knew I was giving up my bonus by not sticking it out through 1Q (it was middle of previous 4Q when I get my NTA boss my notice).

          It was worth every single penny.

    1. ArtsyGirl*

      My thoughts as well – if the OP been a bad assistant, toxic boss would quickly fire her even if there was an agreement to stay 2-3 years. You never owe your employer anything beyond that is stipulated in your contract. Work culture suggests that employees should always be loyal and put corporate interests first while the C suite has zero expectations of loyalty to the employees.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Even with a contract, I think OP could still leave before the contract timeframe was done. I could be wrong, since I’m not familiar with employment contracts. I have had to end agreements with contractors early and there are stipulations within the contract that detail what happens next (i.e. do either party need to pay any penalties), so that seems like it would apply to employment contracts as well.

      1. Chriama*

        The point is that a contract would detail the rights and responsibilities of both parties. So if an employer terminated the contract, they would owe severance. A contract that allowed the employer to terminate the employee without recompense while simultaneously penalizing an employee who chooses to leave likely wouldn’t hold up.

      2. Antilles*

        Yes. In the few American industries where employment contracts are standard (professional sports being an example that many people are casually familiar with), there’s specific clauses in the contract that state how the separation occurs – how much notice is required to end the deal, what’s owed in terms of buyouts/penalties, what sorts of actions can let the employer terminate it ‘for-cause’ without paying the buyout, and so forth.

      3. TootsNYC*

        every contract–not just an employment contract–is supposed to spell out how you can break it, and what the penalties, etc., are.

    3. Clare*

      I have a contract like this (even though I don’t have a union and it’s not standard for my industry). On my side, I get extra protections and severance against lay offs/firing instead of being “at will” and on my employer’s side, I agree to give them 30 days notice instead of 2 weeks because of the difficulty in replacing my role.

  5. Threeve*

    It’s usually to good to be as considerate as possible, but I would think carefully about giving more than two weeks notice.

    Even if you want to cause as little trouble for your colleagues as possible, if there’s a chance your boss is going to make your notice period miserable, or possibly even fire you on the spot, it isn’t worth it.

    1. Ashley*

      And the professional co-workers will understand. The unprofessional ones you can’t do much about because this is work and not personal despite what they might think.

    2. Nesprin*

      Agreed- and it’s worth planning as though the day you give notice will be your last day. IE, collect knicknacks from your desk, deal with any email/figure out if theres anything you need to keep etc.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I can sympathize with caring about coworkers who get left behind. But I eventually realized that I’m not the one getting paid huge amounts of money to deal with that. It’s the boss’s job to keep the work running smoothly and keep employees satisfied. And even when I know the boss will fail at that, it still isn’t my responsibility and I can’t give up on my future to prop up a failing system.

      Yes, it sucks for the remaining employees. But the best thing I can give them is advice to also get out of that place, along with a referral when possible.

  6. Salad Daisy*

    You owe your employer exactly the amount of loyalty they have to you……none. Please don’t let a misguided sense that you owe them something prevent you from doing what is best for you.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I was thinking that as well. If an employer “commits” to having you on for 3 years, do you think that means they can’t fire you (or lay you off because of budget cuts) for 3 years? Nope. Circumstances can change. It really is more about a good faith intent than an absolute legally binding commitment.

  7. Diahann Carroll*

    If she accuses you of breaking your commitment (and she may not — half the time managers who ask for those sorts of commitments don’t remember them a year later or know they can’t hold you to them)

    This is a good point. I told the manager who hired me at my last company that I would stay for a few years when asked during my interview; however, I only ended up staying for 17 months. She never brought that conversation up, and I don’t even know if she remembered that she asked me that question to begin with.

    Best of luck, OP. Your work environment sounds horrible, so I definitely don’t blame you for rolling out.

    1. Smithy*

      On the flip side – managers who harp on people leaving too soon will do so no matter how long you stay. I had a manager who asked for a 2 year commitment when I was hired, and then when I gave my notice after three years – she insisted I hadn’t even been there for 2 years…..which….

      Regardless, she still gave me a good reference.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. There’s only two possibilities here:
        1.) Your manager is reasonable; therefore, you’re fine to leave early because she understands life happens.
        2.) Your manager is unreasonable; therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you leave early or stay the full ‘two year commitment’, she’s not going to be happy regardless.

  8. CatPerson*

    I always try to remember that “employment at will” works both ways. Most companies would get rid of anyone in a heartbeat if cost reductions take hold, for example. Loyalty to a tyrant boss? Nope.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep, remembering that at-will works both ways is crucial here, and in general when it comes to places that don’t offer contracts. Those of us without contracts, which is most of us in the US, are bound by nothing.

    2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Yes! I’ve had employers emphasize in orientations that “You’re an at-will employee; that means you can be let go at any time and we aren’t required to give you a reason.” They conveniently leave out that employees can do that too. Notice is nice, but not required, and you don’t have to give a reason for leaving. It’s probably good to go thru the nicety so they don’t trash you to future prospective employers, but once you’re gone you don’t have to worry about them again.

    3. SarahKay*

      Let’s face it, even with a contract, companies will get rid of you if they need to; it just costs them more.
      I’m in the UK and while there are legal hoops to jump through, if a company decides it doesn’t need a person in their current position they make the position redundant and pay off the person. Payment varies depending on length of service, law, and the contract, but goodness knows we lost a lot of heads last year who were made redundant (laid off) due to pandemic cost-saving measures.

  9. Bookworm*

    I do hope this was not in writing for your sake (mostly because I would imagine your boss might make things miserable if boss already makes people miserable)!

    Sometimes I’ve gotten this question and sometimes not and I’ve done the same (for example, applied to school but didn’t know if I’d get in, job came along before acceptance from school and I was in job for a few months before acceptance came in). It can certainly be irritating (you have to restart training and all that as the hiring org) but it’s part of life.

    You have to do what it is best. Even if things were to improve if you stayed, it’s also not your responsibility and your boss should be, well, a much better boss.

    Go! And good luck. :)

  10. Detective Amy Santiago*

    So the other thing that might work in your favor during that conversation is the pandemic. I assume that when you interviewed it either wasn’t a thing yet or was in the early “let’s flatten the curve and we’ll be good” phase. The past year has been so tumultuous that you could say something like “I know I told you I was expecting to stay for at least two or three years, but things have changed so much this year, that my plans also had to change.”

    1. Threeve*

      Smart! For the time being, I think that’s a better gentle fiction than “it just fell in my lap.”

  11. AndersonDarling*

    “Are you planning to stay for 3 years?” is really asking “Do you have any commitments that would cause you to quit soon? Such as pursuing school full time, long term travel, or expected major life changes?”
    It was a casual question. And I bet the boss forgot about it as soon as it was asked.

    1. Bee*

      Yes, it’s largely to weed out the people who know they want to go back to school in a year or who are planning a cross-country move with their partner in 6-12 months – and, as Alison said, almost definitely because her assistants keep leaving faster than she wants because it’s an unbearable position. It’s not actually a *commitment* as such.

      Besides, given the way the job market is at the moment, even if you start looking right now it might take months to find the perfect new job! Beginning a search now doesn’t mean you’re committing to leave next month. You might get pretty close to that two-year mark anyway (though I hope you don’t have to wait that long!).

    2. londonedit*

      I bet the boss has mysteriously gone through several assistants in a short period of time, and now believes everyone is a terrible flake and she needs to try to weed out flakiness by asking if people can commit to the job for two or three years. But of course you can’t commit to something like that in a job interview – you can say you’re generally committed to your work and you like to spend time getting to know a team, but there’s no way you can sit there and guarantee that you won’t want to leave within two years or whatever. Even if you end up loving the job, things can happen, life can get in the way, etc etc.

      1. DivineMissL*

        This was my first thought. The boss can’t keep an assistant for more than a short time (for reasons obvious to everyone but her) and isn’t self-aware or willing enough to change.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          The time to discuss history of the position is at first. Ask why they left. If she says they weren’t good, ask what went wrong w/the hiring practices that there’s been such turnover. This is a big Red Flag.

          If she blame them, ask what they would say about her. Better to enrage her now than later. You can end it by saying you think the turnover history is a Red Flag, again, so you won’t be pursuing it —
          or, you’re “concerned” about that but are mature enough to work for a “tough” boss [use her own adjectives back to her]. If you really want to try it anyway.

    3. Observer*

      I’m sure the boss forgot. But that doesn’t mean that she won’t pull the “But you made a commitment” line anyway.

      She’s a petty tyrant and a bully. People like that are not bound by actual truth, sense and obligation to others. If she perceives that this is an argument that might work on the OP, she’s going to try that whether or not she has an actual leg or commitment to stand on.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Yes, she may well do that. And if she does, the LW can stand firm in the knowledge that she doesn’t owe that jackhole a blasted thing.

  12. Former call centre worker*

    Even if you did have employment contracts in the US, it would be unlikely that they’d put “will stay for at least 2 years” in it anyway. In the UK employment contracts are basically universal and I’ve never heard of a contractual requirement like that for just an ordinary office job (you might get restrictions relating to paying back course fees if applicable). They’re generally very standardised and companies aren’t going to want to make bespoke changes on the whims of individual managers. I can’t really see how it could be enforced in any case.

    1. Forrest*

      Yes, I always wonder about this when Alison says that if employers wanted you to stay for a set period of time, they’d get it in writing! Except in the armed forces, the most an employment contract can do under English law is require you to pay back extra monies which were given on top of your salary — training costs, a golden handshake or something like that. You can’t dock or withhold someone’s pay for work already done. I can’t think of any situations where you’d be able to write a contract that binds someone to stay for a set period of time.

      You’d be on fairly dodgy ground if you wrote a bad reference for someone because they didn’t stay for the promised length of time, too. You could of course write, “Ermintrude signed up for a two year programme, then left after six months”, and a *few* employers might take this as a black mark against Ermintrude, but a lot more would just want to ask Ermintrude why she left early and check there was a good reason for it and not something that was likely to affect them.

      1. TootsNYC*

        In the U.S., they cannot force you to stay in your job. They can offer an incentive to stay, and they can withdraw extras that they gave you (like, make you repay tuition benefits, perhaps), but they can’t “fine” you for not staying.
        That would be indentured servitude, which is a form of slavery.

        1. Observer*

          But they CAN create a contract with a penalty beyond withdrawing benefits or requiring repayments of benefits. But something like that also requires “consideration” that goes beyond merely getting the job, I’m fairly certain.

      2. Former call centre worker*

        I suspect if it did get written into a contract and you left early, it would be the same situation as leaving without giving notice as per your contract, which I understand is that in theory they could sue you for breach of contract but companies never bother because it’s so hard to prove that they actually incurred a quantifiable loss due to you leaving early that they wouldn’t have incurred if you’d left in line with your contract.

        So many companies just do standard form references anyway that it probably wouldn’t even get mentioned if you put your HR dept as the reference instead of your line manager.

    2. londonedit*

      Absolutely – I get the sense from comments I sometimes see here that people in the US view UK employment contract as very fixed things that people are tied into, but in the vast majority of cases – for ordinary office jobs – it’s more like a signed set of terms of employment, setting out the employer’s and employee’s responsibilities. In most standard jobs you don’t sign a contract for a particular length of time – you just sign to say that you will abide by the terms of employment and do the job you’ve been hired to do, until such time as you invoke the stipulated notice period. And contracts can be amended at any time, if there’s a change to your terms of employment. I’ve never seen one that would legally bind someone to a particular job/employer for a particular length of time. I’ve had one-year maternity cover contracts before, and even they don’t say ‘you must stay in this job for exactly 12 months’ – it just means the terms of employment set out the fact that it’s a one-year period of employment rather than an ongoing one.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Americans have all that spelled out too, just not in a legally binding document. (Salary is binding, but it can be changed as long as it’s not retroactive, which sounds like the same over there.) So when British readers are shocked Americans usually don’t have contracts, what are y’all shocked that we’re missing, other than a mandated notice period?

        1. BubbleTea*

          I don’t think salary can be changed during the duration of a contract (or perhaps only to the benefit of the employee), and notice periods on both sides are longer. I think the main difference is the concept of at will employment.

          1. BubbleTea*

            For clarification, I’ve only ever had fixed term contracts. I’m currently on my… third? since I started my job in May 2019, and it runs until the end of March 2022 when I strongly expect it to be renewed. My salary goes up every year according to a public pay scale. I’ve been promoted during a contract and that was just a variation of the terms, not a new contract.

          2. Forrest*

            But if you’re on an open-ended contract, rather than one with a fixed duration, the employer can terminate that contract and offer you a new one at a lower salary. They just need to go through the right process.

          3. allathian*

            Yes, the concept of at-will employment is pretty strange in Europe, but not completely unknown. I had one call center job (outgoing survey calls) where I agreed to continue doing the job one day, and one project, at a time. When I quit that job, I just told the shift manager at the end of the shift that it was my last day. They had a lot of turnover and the vast majority either worked evenings as a second job, or as a temporary thing while looking for other work during the day, like I did. This job provided no benefits at all.

            Because I work for the government, it’s even more regulated than much of the private sector. I can be laid off if my employer decides to eliminate my position completely, or for financial reasons. But if they do that, they can’t employ anyone else to do my job under the same conditions without offering the job to me first for at least 6 months. I could be fired for cause, but unless it’s something truly egregious, like committing a crime you could be sent to prison for, or severely betraying the employer’s trust in some way, it’s very hard to get fired. That’s why the standard probationary period is either 4 or 6 months, when either the employer or the employee can terminate the contract at no notice and you don’t have to state a reason for doing so. I was a poor performer when I first started, but my employer had spent 6 months hiring someone for the role (they had some specific requirements that I met at least on paper and most candidates didn’t), and I agreed to a small pay cut to be allowed to stay. When my performance improved, my original salary was reinstated.

            In my nearly 15 years at my current job, I’ve never seen anyone get fired for poor performance, so the standard for that seems to be pretty high. A few have switched to other departments or other agencies, including my former boss who wanted to get out of management.

            Benefits are the same for all employees, so they’re not negotiable either. It’s illegal to offer different benefits to full-time and part-time employees, or to those who are in an ongoing or fixed-term employment relationship, if they’re otherwise doing the same or sufficiently similar jobs (the market analysts and office employees at the call center where I worked had standard employment contracts). It is possible to offer better benefits with seniority, though, although that’s based on the length of your employment in the public sector as a whole. So I have more vacation days than my grandboss, because I’ve been working for the public sector longer than he has, and the benefits are determined by our collective agreement and by employment legislation. We have single-payer unemployment benefits that every employer contributes to, but your employer can’t contest your UI, because they aren’t paying for it directly. There are some terms an unemployed person must meet to get UI, but they’re very standardized and there’s little wiggle room, certainly none for the employer.

        2. Forrest*

          What surprises me is just that you don’t call that a contract! It is requirement that it’s written down here, but if you’ve got a written offer letter and a written handbook, that constitutes a contract.

          Though maybe the difference is that it’s legally binding– terms and conditions like how much annual leave you get, rights to maternity pay, place of work, hours of work, pensions, grievance process, sick pay entitlement, etc ARE part of the legally binding contract here, and the employer can’t significantly downgrade them without the employee’s agreement. (The power imbalance in the relationship means that it’s fairly easy to get the employee’s agreement unless you’re well unionised, of course.)

          1. londonedit*

            Yes, I think the difference probably is that it’s not legally binding – I think the thing we are most surprised by is the concept of at-will employment. Of course there are unscrupulous employers in the UK, and people are badly treated just as they are in the USA, but we can’t be fired on the whim of a boss – there’s a legal process. There’s a legal minimum for holiday entitlement and rights associated with things like maternity pay/leave, sick pay, etc.

            1. Forrest*

              Unless you’re on zero-hours, so the real difference is that highly-paid professionals in the US have the same lack of protection as many poorly paid jobs in the UK.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I think this is not quite right. The terms of your employment are spelled out in a contract. The terms of our employment are spelled out in labor laws. The handbook stuff isn’t a contract, it’s a written description of one company’s current policy, which can change at any moment without notice or consequence to the employer. That wouldn’t be doable with a contract. The stuff that’s binding is spelled out in laws rather than an individual’s agreement.
            And we don’t have defined required notice periods on either side.

            1. Forrest*

              Yes, although it sounds to me like the mechanisms are different but the end result is not dissimilar except as far as redundancy payments work. If your employer wants to change the terms of your contract, they just terminate it and offer you a new one to sign. There are protections around how that happens–a consultation period, and if you refuse to accept the new contract you’d be made redundant and entitled to a certain level of redundancy pay and so on. But as a worker, even with a good union, you don’t have much chance of enforcing the terms of your original contract if the employer has decided they want to change it.

              It sounds like the biggest difference is that US companies can change terms and contracts relatively easily, and may or may not pay severance, whereas the process for changing terms and conditions is at least a hassle for UK employers and it’s a giant pain for them if they don’t do it properly.

              Bear in mind, however, that we have no form of public unemployment insurance, just Universal Credit of £409.89 per month for a single adult.

        3. TootsNYC*

          In NYState, a company’s employee manual is considered legally binding. And their habits can be as well; if they always give severance when laying people off, or the last 6 people they’ve fired, they had a two-stage PIP, then the company can be required to follow those procedures for the next employees.

          Though most companies get around that by saying, in their employee manual, “We may not always follow the same procedure,” and that’s often enough to make it possible to remove any teeth it has.

        4. Xavier Desmond*

          Employee contracts usually contains things like sick pay, how much time off you have, overtime pay, the hours you are required to work (the difference between exempt and non exempt doesn’t really exist in the UK), redundancy (severance) pay you would be entitled to

        5. Former call centre worker*

          As mentioned above, notice period, holiday allowance, sick pay, parental leave, grievance and disciplinary process (‘at will’ isn’t a thing here), working hours, benefits and pension. Has anyone said redundancy process? It seems like layoffs are handled quite differently over there. Here when you need to make cuts it’s done on the basis of which roles are no longer needed rather than which members of staff you want to get rid of, and your contract will outline how your redundancy pay would be calculated if your role got made redundant.

          I don’t think pay can be reduced here as such. If they want to reduce pay they have to end your contract (with the required notice being given etc) and offer you the option of signing a new one. I’ve only ever heard of this being done as part of a big programme of change such as pay scales across the whole organisation being reviewed, where it obviously incurs a lot of risk that a significant number will refuse to sign the new contract and leave you short staffed, and typically unions would get involved etc (I spent 5 days on strike over an issue like this once).

          1. Forrest*

            >> Here when you need to make cuts it’s done on the basis of which roles are no longer needed rather than which members of staff you want to get rid of

            I mean, that’s the theory, but —

      2. meyer lemon*

        I think there is probably just a difference in how contracts are employed in a UK vs. NA context. In Canada, it’s not unheard-of to have a contract (at least in my experience), but when you do have one, it’s generally because the employer wants to specify certain terms, like the length of time that the employee will remain in the position. We don’t usually have general contracts like you describe, covering the basics of the employer/employee relationship.

    3. CreepyPaper*

      When I left a job after a month because it was literally dead-end and just… boring… HR tried to say the contract tied me into a year – this was an ordinary office job in the UK. I pointed out that yes it did but the three months probation period allowed for a week’s notice from either party. I don’t think HR was expecting me to actually read the contract…

      And yes, I was happy at the time to commit to anyear but I only needed a month to realise why the turnover in that particular post was so darn high. The gods bless probationary periods.

    4. Elizabeth Bennett*

      If the US contract specified a commitment to work for at least two years, there would also be consequences spelled out for breaking the contract on both sides. For employees, it is likely financial penalties, and repaying any sign-on bonuses, etc. It isn’t typical in the US for “regular office jobs,” but I have seen technical writers on contract as W2 employees. But in this particular case, it was because the turnover was high under that manager, who was too clueless to realize the he was the reason for the turnover. He wasn’t abusive, I don’t believe, but a weak manager who didn’t handle conflict well. For the three years I worked there, not a single technical writer renewed their contract beyond the year to which they initially agreed.

      1. TootsNYC*

        it is likely financial penalties, and repaying any sign-on bonuses,
        They can’t fine you–they can’t take away any earned pay; they can only make you give back any extras. I think that “and” should be “such as.”

        1. Observer*

          Fining someone is not taking away earned pay in most cases.

          So, theoretically it’s possible.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m not totally shocked when employers pull crap like this. “We expect you to stick around for X years, but we’re not going to put that in a legally-binding contract because we want the flexibility to lay you off if we want.”

    There’s another job advice column in the Post that has this letter from the employer’s POV about twice a year. And everytime, I point out in the comments that if you really wanted someone to stick around, you’d put it in writing along with verbiage about what happens if you lay them off or they leave. A contract like that would have protections and obligations for BOTH parties.

    So don’t call someone a job hopper and/or dishonest if you want to retain the right to lay them off if it made your life easier.

    I’m a boss myself, and I’d like to think every boss is aware of this understanding but probably not!

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, I get that it’s a pain to replace people, and there’s an amount of effort you put into developing someone that means you might actually have a net loss as a company if someone leaves after 3 or 6 months. Everyone wants employees who stick around. But thinking you can get that from an up-front promise? Naive at best.

      You either incentivize better for longevity, screen better for flakes, or deal better with turnover. Those are all things that are in your control.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This. If you want to get someone to stay, you have to make it worth their while. I know there are other employers who have flexible schedules, WFH, etc. So I do what I can and try not to be a dick about the small stuff that doesn’t matter.

        But far too often, employers want something for nothing. We’re not slaves.

  14. CR*

    I used to have guilt and fear over leaving my coworkers behind to deal with things after I left, but Alison has given really good advice about this in past letters. The organization will go on without you; everyone will deal and the world won’t stop turning. You can’t feel beholden to a company that wouldn’t show the same loyalty to you.

    1. Artemesia*

      I was there nearly 40 years, built a program that literally saved the organization and was responsible for 50% of revenue and put our division in the black and was running several programs when I decided to retire. And as far as I can see things went perfectly smoothly after I left with people I had hired and trained over the years moving into the positions of leadership I left behind. None of us is indispensable and if you are, the place is badly managed.

      A business will do what is in their interest and if that means firing you after 6 mos when they talked about a minimum of two year commitment, they would. There is rarely any ‘loyalty’ that runs both ways. Do always what is in your best interests; of course with grace and professionally, but don’t let misguided ‘loyalty’ keep you from doing what is best for you, your family and your career.

      1. TootsNYC*

        and if you* are not someone with the ability to leave a legacy behind you, then that responsibility is your manager’s.

        When I was a hiring manager, I was constantly interviewing, even if I didn’t have an opening. “I don’t have any openings right now, but you never know and I’d like to meet you. When is convenient for us to meet?”

        Several times I’d have someone leave, and I just picked up the phone and called someone from my resume pile with the intent to offer them the job.

        1. Lizzo*

          ^^This is smart, IMO. Sometimes when there isn’t a specific position on the line, it makes the interview process much less stressful for the candidate, and they can be more fully “themselves”. :-D

    2. Antilles*

      The organization will go on without you; everyone will deal and the world won’t stop turning.
      And frankly, even if the organization does fail without you, that’s still not your problem because any company larger than a sole proprietorship that fails when one employee chooses to leave was probably not running well anyways.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Also, the boss gets paid waaaaay more than me because it is her job to deal with these things, not mine. Double my salary and then maybe I’ll be willing to stick around and keep the place afloat.

  15. Nea*

    A long time ago, a company bait-and-switched me – said they had work 15 minutes away, promised vision care – and then handed me a coupon for Hour Eyes, said they didn’t get the contract I was hired for, so if I wanted to work I’d have to take a job with them over 90 minutes away in a different state but they’d only offer it if I absolutely promised to stay for at least one year.

    To this day, decades later, I regret in my soul that I didn’t say “Yeah, sure, no problem,” keep up with my job hunt, and drop them like a hot rock ASAP.

    Companies that do not work honestly with you do not deserve your loyalty in return. Do not make my mistakes, OP. Leave with a clean conscience.

    1. Pikachu*

      An old friend of mine took a job in a B2B industrial sales type of position. Factory/manufacturing equipment stuff. His only experience was in sales. The job he was hired for was sales.

      On his first day, he was told to buy steel-toed boots because to get to know the product he would be working on the assembly line for at least two weeks.

      That is how his first day became his last day.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I work in manufacturing (as an engineer) and we don’t let anyone operate on the line until they get a bunch of training. This was true even when the operation was basically hand-counting 20 things and putting them in a box.

        It could be a good idea for sales and other departments to shadow production for a day or two, so they understand the products better. But manufacturing still requires skills and it’s not a good to just place any warm body on the line.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        I don’t think that’s the same type of situation. This is relatively common in design/sales roles, and to be honest – if I’m a business person trying to purchase equipment from you, I’d like you to know your product. From a production standpoint as well, there is quite a lot of frustration when your design team or sales team promises something that isn’t physically possible.

        So your friend’s new company should have made that clear in the interview process, but that’s really not the same as a true bait-and-switch for a completely different role.

        1. Observer*

          This is relatively common in design/sales roles, and to be honest – if I’m a business person trying to purchase equipment from you, I’d like you to know your product. From a production standpoint as well, there is quite a lot of frustration when your design team or sales team promises something that isn’t physically possible.

          Nope. Yes, you need to know the product. But you generally do NOT need to work on the assembly line to actually learn the product. Nor does working on the assembly line for two weeks really give you a good sense of what is, and is not, actually reasonable, realistic or possible. Best case it gives you SOME information about ONE aspect of the product.

          If actually seeing the manufacturing process really makes a difference, then the best way to deal with this is to have someone shadow several different people over the course of a few days or weeks.

      3. allathian*

        I’m amazed that this requirement was never brought up during the interview process, if that’s standard procedure for this company. If that had been the case, your friend could’ve noped right out of there.

    2. CCSF*

      I fixed it: “Companies…do not deserve your loyalty.”

      Not even the good ones. Not even the amazing ones. I say that as someone who loves their job and works for one of the good ones. If the business need was there, they’d lay me off.

      Loyalty is for people—partners, family and friends, maybe coworkers—but not for organizations.

    3. CCSF*

      Companies do not deserve loyalty. Not even the good ones. Not even the amazing ones. I say that as someone who loves their job and works for one of the really, really good ones. If the business need was there, they’d lay me off. My boss, my grand-boss, and my great-grand-boss would all be apologetic. I would almost certainly get severance. But I’d still be laid off.

      Loyalty is for people—partners, family and friends, maybe coworkers—but not for organizations.

      1. allathian*

        Definitely agree that loyalty is for people, but even then, it has to be at least somewhat reciprocal, at least from a WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) point of view. It’s acceptable to go no contact with toxic family members, for example.

  16. AmosBurton*

    Never feel guilty about quitting. While we do build important personal relationships at work, in the end, a job is a commercial transaction. I’ve had folks quit on me at the worst possible time, and if there are problems? That is on *me* as a manager and my poor planning.

    It sounds like you are planning on being decent and responsible, and on giving appropriate notice. That means you have ZERO to feel guilty about. If your boss has a conniption fit? That’s on her, not you. Do what’s best for you….you can be certain that the *company* would do what’s best for them if they had to make a decision about letting you go.

  17. Temperance*

    OP, in my experience, it’s crappy jobs that want you to commit while offering nothing in return.

    I’m a lawyer. There’s a concept in contract law called consideration, which is basically a thing that says both parties need to benefit from any given contract; otherwise, it’s unilateral. Your boss has offered you no special benefit in exchange for your (verbal) agreement to remain in your role for 2 – 3 years.

    1. irene adler*

      Right! I didn’t see any consideration from the boss.
      Hence, no contract.
      AND, our LW should not feel even the slightest twinge of guilt over giving notice at any time.

      1. Temperance*

        RIGHT! And, honestly, it’s not a hyper specialized role. It’s working as someone’s assistant.

        Even Miranda Priestly made a fair deal with the staff she terrorized.

      1. Observer*

        For many types of commitments and situations, the consideration needs to be something beyond just the job.

  18. Sandman*

    “There is a reason your boss asked for that commitment, by the way, and it’s because people keep leaving the job faster than she wants … because she is verbally abusive.”

    This comment by Alison is what I was thinking all the way through your letter. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s been a lot of turnover in your position because she’s so difficult to work with, but the solution isn’t to force commitments from employees. You didn’t misrepresent your intentions and this doesn’t sound like a you problem. You’re allowed to reevaluate in light of new information (like that your boss is a tyrant).

  19. I should really pick a name*

    The conversation might be hard, but it’s one conversation versus years of your life.

  20. Emmie*

    You said you’d stay two years based on the information you had at the time. It seemed like a reliable job with a company / team you wanted to join. You did not have the information you have today. It is unhealthy and you work for an abusive tyrant. I understand the guilt. I understand being true to your promise. But go. Actively seek new opportunities. Information changed and it is impacting your well-being.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      You make a very good point about making promises based on the limited info we have as job seekers at the time we interview. I feel like employers should always take these answers with a grain of salt (or stop asking altogether) because things change, and we often have no way of knowing as job seekers when those changes will occur.

  21. Alldogsarepuppies*

    IN my first job out of college, I was in a similar scenario. They kept having paralegals leave in under 6 months and wanted someone for a year, which I agreed to but then I might go to law school (which was what they said they hope their paralegals pursue if it’s an interest). After three weeks one of the two lawyers I supported turned abusive and hostile (in the general way, not legal meaning). I quit with nothing lined up a month or two later – well under even 6 months. One boss tried to vilify me and say “well this will be disappointing to our clients to have to deal with another paralegal so soon” and “not everyone is compassionate enough to practice our type of law”. The other lawyer shut him down quickly saying that I was a very compassionate and caring person, and asked if I could possibly give more than two weeks’ notice to help them through a trial if they lowered my load – which I agreed to. I was very surprised but it worked out well for me. Less than a month later I landed my current job where our bosses recognize our humanity, treat us with respect, and we do interesting work.

    Good luck to you!

    1. Temperance*

      Let me guess … personal injury or disability? And you were the person stuck dealing with the clients, as well as an attorney who was all grumpy because he was paid on contingency exclusively?

      1. Alldogsarepuppies*

        On point. The firm owner is the one who knew I was a caring person. The mean lawyer became a partner about a year after I left so hopefully found less reason to yell at paralegals (such as someone who rents office space from us left a cup of coffee out overnight and it’s your fault)

  22. cactus lady*

    I was once in a similar situation! I had verbally committed to 2 years when I accepted the job, but they decided to change the responsibilities about 7 months in so that I was an administrative assistant instead of a project manager. I was not a fan! I left after 1 year 10 months, and it burned a bridge with my boss. She didn’t understand why I would be unhappy, I had a job! Not the one I applied for, but a job nonetheless! No hiring manager has ever questioned why I would want to leave over that. It will be ok! :)

  23. Xavier Desmond*

    You’re not an indentured servant! You are entitled to leave your job for whatever reason.

  24. Archaeopteryx*

    If she tries to guilt, accuse, bully, or control you into staying, just make like Labyrinth and repeat to yourself, “You I have no power over me!” Best of luck getting out of there.

  25. TootsNYC*

    I still remember how weirded out I was when an editor-in-chief got SO upset because her editorial assistant (glorified secretary, really, but a role that people always moved up from) gave notice at 9 months or something.
    Like, just hire another assistant. She was supposed to pass up an assistant-editor-ship for your job?

  26. hbc*

    I’m not sure it’s as general as a Rule, but when I think over my experiences and many of the stories we see here, something like the following makes sense:

    If you feel more sadness than guilt when you leave, it was a functional workplace that treated you well.
    If you feel more guilt than sadness when you leave, it was somewhere on the spectrum between bad fit and dumpster fire.

    Not to say you can’t feel both emotions–I left my first adult job after they invested a lot in me and had to do it on a quicker timeline than I hoped, so I felt a little guilty. But I knew that they would get by without me, and I was going to miss my coworkers, my boss, and the work I was doing.

  27. Disgruntled Pelican*

    US-based person here. I have had exactly one boss who aggressively asked me to promise I’d stay in my position for at least three years because they’d had a ton of turnover (which should have been a red flag on its own). Turned out that:

    a) She was BY FAR the worst boss I have ever had—would corner one of her male subordinates to supply graphic details of her sex life, made it crystal clear that she expected people to never take vacations, required doctor’s notes *every time* I called out sick (which was very rarely, not that it should matter), etc.
    b) It was the lowest-paying job I would ever have, including retail, because of the shitty salary + insane hours + absurdly expensive health insurance (that barely covered anything).
    c) They loved to “reward” people’s good work and long hours by dumping even more responsibility on them with no acknowledgement or commensurate increase in pay.
    d) The situation became so stressful that I started having panic attacks—which I hadn’t had for years since recovering from PTSD related to an abusive relationship.

    I definitely screwed my colleagues by giving precisely two weeks’ notice, but I do not regret it one bit, nor did they resent me for it because they knew how toxic it all was.

    I later heard from a colleague who never escaped that Boss got caught sending emails to her brother—using company email—gleefully discussing how she had “room in [her] trunk” for said colleague’s body. So. Yeah. Get out and don’t look back.

    1. Observer*

      I later heard from a colleague who never escaped that Boss got caught sending emails to her brother—using company email—gleefully discussing how she had “room in [her] trunk” for said colleague’s body. So. Yeah. Get out and don’t look back.

      Good grief! I wonder what she did that caused them to be looking at her emails?

      1. Disgruntled Pelican*

        I was just looking through emails trying to find the conversation, but I couldn’t track it down, so I don’t remember—I think that conversation might have happened via work email at a different former job. However, I *did* find references to a couple of conversations I had completely forgotten about, in which Boss + the CEO entirely blamed me for struggling to transition into project management when they just… dumped several huge projects on me with no training and no support. (Apparently I “misrepresented” myself in interviews.) Hahahahahhhh oh man I’m so glad I left.

      1. Disgruntled Pelican*

        Nope. The C suite gently chided her and asked her to consider resigning, which she eventually did. She had been a horrible bully for a verrrryyyyy long time, but she had *just* enough skill to keep landing them projects (aka $$$), so the CEO refused to hold her accountable for anything. Toxic, toxic, toxic.

        1. Observer*

          Did these idiots think about the cost of keeping someone like that?

          There really ARE costs.

          1. Disgruntled Pelican*

            Right? It blows my mind. Kind of hilarious that everyone complained so loudly about the turnover, as if there were nothing to be done about it… :-|

  28. Middle Name Jane*

    Ugh, I hate this! Years ago, in my first job out of college, they wanted a similar agreement from me (verbal–there was no contract). I wasn’t comfortable with that and was young and didn’t know how to best respond, so I was noncommittal about it and pointed out I wasn’t under contract.

    Then, when a promotion came along, I was passed over in favor of someone else–even though I had been doing the work for months when the person in that position had left. I managed to find another job and get out of there 3 weeks later.

  29. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    If you don’t want to have the conversation, then don’t. You’re an adult. Just announce your resignation and specify your final date of availability–email is great for this–and leave it at that.

    If the boss can’t make it two weeks without demanding the conversation, move up your date to departure. Same day if you must. Just… don’t have the conversation.

  30. Observer*

    OP, you have a really good excuse here – health issues. The fact that your health care team is related to your mental health doesn’t make it less true.

    Of course, you should NOT discuss the specifics, just the fact that this is the advice you have received from your healthcare provider(s).

    1. Observer*

      I hit submit too soon.

      Also, don’t worry so much about your coworkers. For one thing, they will clearly understand. I mean, they are already telling you to flee! Besides, what would you do if you had developed a physical ailment that made this workplace unsafe for you? Would you be a jerk for finding another job that was safe for you? Your mental health is no different.

  31. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I take the view of regardless that someone is paying me; they don’t own me.

    Therefore no company, boss, coworker etc. has the right to tell me I can’t just up and leave. Sure, if I’m working a fixed term contract there may be penalties for breaking it early but they can’t actually forbid me from doing it.

    The long term damage to your mental health from staying in a horrible work environment takes a lot longer to heal than the hurt feelings of one manager because you resigned earlier than expected. Trust me.

    1. Kiko*


      I still lose sleep over a job I gave too many years to. It wasn’t toxic, but there was some really shady things going on with the finances. I felt like I owed my employer loyalty. It took months for me to work up the courage to resign.

      OP, the fact you were able to get there in a year is something to be proud of. Take care of yourself first.

  32. Minerva*

    Even with contracts, they’re not slavery. It’s commit to 2 years or pay back a signing bonus, or relocation money, or certain other reimbursements. Or more likely you get a cash or stock or other payment after the 2-3 years. The consequence of leaving earlier is a possibly crappy reference here, and that only matters if staying would get you something you want (a recommendation for a better position at the end of 3 years, say)

  33. The Letter Writer In Question*

    Hi everyone, OP here! I appreciate everyone’s support so much, as well as confirmation that I don’t owe my employer anything but two weeks’ notice and professionalism on my way out.

    I’ll address a comment that Alison wrote and that many commenters have echoed – that the position I’m in probably has a lot of layover because of the boss’ behavior. What’s crazy is that that’s the opposite of the truth! My predecessor was actually in this position for more than five years before I came into the picture, which is part of why I decided to take the role! I figured if anyone stayed in a role like this for that long, it had to be a good opportunity. It turns out that the relationship between my predecessor and my boss is a very bizarre one; “Stockholm syndrome” comes to mind. Though the predecessor was promoted, she is basically a glorified first assistant, and I am essentially a second assistant. The predecessor insists that she loves the job, but she also regularly laments about how our boss’ tone is harsh and unkind when she’s stressed out (which is often), and that she feels she can’t do anything right by our boss. Even though she’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met, my boss is often deeply unfair toward my predecessor in her criticism. But they knew each other in a sort of mentee-mentor dynamic BEFORE my boss hired my predecessor, and I think that for that reason, my predecessor sees herself as maybe in debt to my boss for hiring her…or something, I don’t want to psychoanalyze. She also buys groceries for my boss regularly, waters her plants when she’s traveling, etc. Take that as you will. Basically, my predecessor has put up with a lot of abuse (both verbal abuse and what I view as an abuse of power)–way more than I’m willing to put up with–but that’s because she sees her relationship with my boss (who’s a pretty powerful person in our area) as being something that will land her an AMAZING next job, and because their relationship started out as more personal than professional.

    Anyway, thanks again to Alison and all the commenters here for the pep talk. I have no idea if I’ll land a new job in a month or in six months, but I’m excited to get out of here. I feel much better knowing that it’s not the end of the world if I leave before the time frame I verbally agreed to is up!

    1. Could've Been Me*

      OP, I just wanted to let you know that I could have written your exact letter five years ago. I too left before I ‘promised’ I would. She was due to retire in two years and I only made it one. Leaving when I did was SERIOUSLY the best decision of my life. Was my boss pissed? Yup. Did I care? Absolutely not (especially not after how she had treated me.) All of my coworkers understood–they had to work with her too so they knew what she was like.

      Wishing you all the best of luck on your job search–you got this!

  34. Alexis F.*

    This LITERALLY happened to me. I was an executive assistant at a media buying company where the VP I supported expected me to be there for at least 2 years but the pay was well under average and her demands were ridiculous. I got berated once for buying her peanut butter without salt when her directive was peanut butter “with nothing in it, just peanut butter.” At the end of the day you come first… with so many contracts saying employment is “at-will,” a company won’t hesitate to kick you out the door for any reason so don’t feel bad for leaving.

  35. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    On this part:

    Aside from my boss, I have several coworkers who might be left scrambling if I depart,

    I understand where you are coming from (and have felt the same way in past situations myself). However this is going to be true whether you move on now, or in 2-3 years or whatever… it’s not like once you’ve stayed 3 years the boss will be thinking “right, OP has reached the end of what she committed to so now she’s going to be looking to move on” and making contingency plans accordingly…

    It’s been talked about on this site before, but there’s never really a ‘good’ time to leave a job, and there’s methods for addressing just that (I’m not saying it to make you more anxious!)

    I do think you need to separate the “leaving colleagues in the lurch” from “not keeping promises” in your mind.

  36. Lobsterman*

    OP, don’t bother to give any notice. You’ll be retaliated against for any time you are there. Just call in one day and say you’re not coming in and where the last paycheck can be sent.

  37. Kevin Sours*

    Regarding the “I quit” conversation. Always remember that *you* have the power there. What are they going to do, fire you? In fact, if at all possible, position yourself financially so that not getting paid for your notice period won’t be a hardship. Then if your boss tries to retaliate you can just walk.

    It’s amazing how not having to worry about keeping a job can change your mentality towards it and the power dynamic with your boss.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, this. Also, keep in mind that you don’t need the reference THAT much – you were able to get a new job without it this time.

  38. DavidC*

    I once signed on to a smallish company under a similar agreement that made me sign several agreements about understanding that I was going to be working in a progressive , non abusive, non discriminatory work place and that it was my responsibility to not be any of those. At the time (almost 20 years ago now) I thought this was really progressive. Most work places wern’t getting in to the equal opportunity and treatment for all mind set at that stage.

    It took less than a week to realise that I was working in an organization that !!! inversely !!! embraced all those ideals. The Owner was Racist (made me sit aside whilst his son filtered through several hundred resumes to filter out all surnames that didn’t sound Caucasian). All the senior positions were filled with men and he had specifically said that women (girls) could never be management because they would just go and get pregnant. Shortly after I started I learnt that the person I was replacing hadn’t actually been let go yet. he was still on holiday and he didn’t even KNOW he didn’t work there any more. I got in one morning and was told to take an extended coffee break whilst they got rid of the last person. The Owner was Abusive, if you didn’t show absolute reverence to him he would yell at you how you were never going to get another opportunity like this one. He once asked me a question about a task I was allocated and I shrugged my shoulders and said I wasn’t sure exactly how long it would take as I was still developing a solution. And he abused me for the next 30 minutes in front of staff about how shrugging your shoulders was rude and insulting, He didn’t care about the critical thing we were trying to work and and fix.

    There were several other things wrong with the org and the owner, but that last incident was the last straw for me. I had stayed for just 3 months and the last month was spent waiting for a new job (that had offered me a role) to sign all the paperwork. I gave them 2 days notice, told him that I had to get on with my career in a real job and moved on.

    The business really didn’t last much longer than that.. I kept an eye on them for a while and I think it was about 12 months later that their website went “in maintenance” and they disappeared from the phone directory and other business references.

  39. LizM*

    Ask yourself if she would hesitate to let you go if it made sense for her business. That’s why she doesn’t ask you sign a contract. Employers who ask for commitments without giving anything in concern want to maintain all the power and flexibility. There is a reason that to be legal, contracts require consideration to be given by both parties.

  40. Liz*

    Yeah, you are 100% fine to leave this job. And I don’t think you need to overly lie to your boss, as Alison advised (“I normally wouldn’t have thought about leaving right now — I’ve really enjoyed my time here —”). Why bother? It only opens you up to questions that might end up in you having to reveal the truth behind the lie. Your bosses’ emotions and reaction are hers to own, not yours. Spare yourself the burden of coddling her.

    Just be honest: yes, when you took the job, you envisioned staying longer, but you recently found a job that’s a better fit for you and your career goals. Fine to not mention the reasons for your dissatisfaction at the job — just be polite, professional, neutral.

  41. Tara*

    Definitely a silly question on my part, but when it says the US doesn’t really use contracts – how do you know you have your salary, hours, etc. all outlined? How do you agree to this? Is it all just done verbally? Surely there’s some kind of informal contract in place?

  42. Sun Tzu*

    There is a reason your boss asked for that commitment, by the way, and it’s because people keep leaving the job faster than she wants … because she is verbally abusive.

    This. Exactly this.

    OP: Go ahead and don’t worry. Rest assured that if the situation was inverted – if the company had promised to keep you for several years, and they needed to fire you after one year, they’d do so without demur.

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