are there times when you can’t ethically quit a job?

A reader writes:

I’ve read your site for a long time, so I’m pretty sure that your advice here is going to be to do what’s best for me (and if that’s leaving, then leave), but my question is: Are there circumstances under which you really shouldn’t leave a job?

My scenario is this: I work for a very small company, in a two-person department that does all of the customer service for our clients. So the majority of the institutional knowledge about client products lies with the two of us. And my coworker will be going on medical leave in the next few months, and will be out for a number of months. Leaving … me. Now, a) I don’t really want to be in a situation where I’m basically the whole department (we’re trying to hire an intern, but that person won’t be up to speed in time), and b) I possibly have a much better opportunity opening up, but if it does work out, it might end up that I leave at the same time as my coworker. Hopefully I’d have some latitude for a later start date so I’d be around a bit longer for knowledge transfer.

What do you think? Does this rise to the level of “don’t leave yet”? If it doesn’t, what would?

It does not rise to the level of “don’t leave.”

I think you’re asking whether there are times when you ethically shouldn’t leave a job, for the good of your employer/coworkers/team (as opposed to whether there are times when you shouldn’t leave a job because it doesn’t make sense for you/your career).

And the answer to that is … almost never. Maybe never at all. (I want to say never and I can’t come up with examples to the contrary, but it’s possible they exist. If they do, though, they’re incredibly rare. Like a “most people will go through their lifetime without ever encountering them” level of rare.)

Whenever this topic comes up, you’ll always hear people say, “Your employer would lay you off in a heartbeat if they felt it was in their interests.” And that’s mostly true (although layoffs often do come with a lot of agonizing for those responsible; businesses may have no heart but the individual people working there often do). But I don’t know how much that statement really resonates when you like your coworkers and your managers and enjoy your work — I’ve never found it’s particularly compelling to people who feel genuinely torn about leaving.

That’s because when you are conscientious, it’s natural to think about how your decisions will affect your employer and colleagues. It’s easy to say “these decisions are business, not personal” — because they are! — but when you care about the people you work with and the work you do, it’s natural to worry about the effect your decisions will have on them.

And it makes sense to factor in those things when the stakes are lower. When you’re thinking you’d like to blow off work on Friday to hit the beach, a conscientious person should factor in how much hassle that would cause for others. If you choose to prioritize your work or your colleagues in circumstances like that, you’re not giving up anything enormous. Generally speaking, when you accept a job, you’ve implicitly agreed to factor in your employer’s needs in a situation like that.

But the stakes for yourself are much higher when you’re deciding whether to leave a job. We’re talking about your income, your professional growth (which is something that can have repercussions for years to come), your day-to-day quality of life, and simply what is in your best interests and what isn’t. When you accept a job, you do not agree — implicitly or otherwise — to sacrifice those things for the good of your employer. No decent manager would expect you to.

Sometimes resignations come at really bad times for the organization. It’s pretty common for them to cause some measure of scrambling as the business rushes to adjust. Sometimes the timing is really bad. But healthy businesses are built to survive that. There might be a bunch of hassle and it might be inconvenient, but business goes on. They’ll figure it out. If the departure of one person sends everything crumbling and puts recovery out of reach for years … there was a serious problem with the model, and that’s not on you.

You’re not being paid to sacrifice your long-term interests to keep your team afloat. You’ve only signed up to provide your labor in exchange for money for as long as both parties want to continue the arrangement … and either of you can choose to change that at any time.

Leave when it’s right for you to leave. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can start documenting processes now that will be helpful for people to have after you’re gone. But do not make major decisions based on what’s best for your employer rather than for you.

Caveat: There are some industries where it’s understood when you sign on that you don’t quit during X season — accountants during tax season, campaign workers in the month before Election Day, teachers who are expected to wait until the end of the school year, etc. In those cases you need to factor in any explicit commitments you made and the potential impact on your reputation if you violate a strong norm of the field. Those are exceptions though, not the rule…. and even in those cases I’d say you’d need to balance those expectations against whether your employer has met its commitments to you.

{ 320 comments… read them below }

  1. ThatGirl*

    My husband is a licensed mental health counselor who works in colleges. He’d been at his last job for 11 years and was fed up – the counseling department was not treated well, his new boss was a lousy manager, and he’d gotten one tiny raise in 11 years – and was seriously underpaid to begin with. At the end of last school year, the department of a director + three clinicians was down to him, and hiring on the other two positions was going slooooowww. He agonized over leaving, because he cared about the students he was working with and the state of the department.

    But: he did leave. He realized (with my help) that he couldn’t put the mental health of students above his own well-being, and that if the university really wanted to hire more people, they’d find a way to do it.

    And guess what – his new job pays WAY better and is much closer to home, AND … his old department did hire two new people really quickly. Shocking how they were suddenly motivated.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      what I love about this outcome is that him leaving was better for the students because it was the push the school needed. kudos to you both!!

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I don’t love it because it basically meant they were counting on him to keep the whole thing afloat. He was basically being taken advantage of, they never thought he’d leave because he’s a conscientious and empathetic person. It’s the combo of those two traits that make bosses just keep heaping stuff on you without ever considering you might break.
        I was that teacher. I was given all the nutcase jobs, the guy that was obviously dyslexic but never mentioned anything before I was expected to teach him to read and write in a foreign language, the woman who was so upset at having to work for the first time in her life at 50, that her hands trembled too much to be able to hit the right keys on the keyboard, the engineers who gave monosyllabic answers to everything, when I’d been told they need to learn to make small talk with their clients, and the plain dumb who were still struggling with Book 1 after several years. Guess what? I got burnt out, and only realised it in the midst of a rant about “you as a French woman have no right to complain about English verbs. Our irregular verbs fit on a single A4 sheet of paper and you need an entire book!”

        1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

          “Nutcase” seems unnecessarily harsh and disrespectful to the people needing your help.

          1. Globetrotta*

            No but for real – I hope Rebel has found a job away from students, because no one deserves that level of derision.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I have been around some of those people. At the nursing home, we called them ‘confused’. We still took good care of them, but we certainly did not expect reasonable discourse from them.

            My husband was a teacher and for a study hall, was taught some ways to cope with one student who had mental problems and was on parole. Ah, the delights of public school! (the student wasn’t that much trouble, the work arounds worked).

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      The only times I could think of that it might be “unethical” had to do with healthcare, and even then it would have to be highly specialized/specific situations. And so I was glad to see the first comment basically still be like – health care but it still turned out better for the patients AND the counselor, anyway.

      1. Becca*

        Same, although rather than healthcare I was thinking along the lines of serving a vulnerable population with something they really need (which could of course be healthcare or healthcare adjacent like in home care, but doesn’t have to be). I’d be so, so conflicted in a situation like that, but ultimately if there are bad consequences for them that is on the organization that didn’t staff/train/whatever properly, not the individual who needs to leave for their own well-being.

        1. Nesprin*

          Yep- lighting medical professionals on fire to keep patients warm is not a good long term strategy.

        2. whingedrinking*

          The example I thought of was when Nichelle Nichols was thinking of quitting Star Trek, and Martin Luther King told her she had to stay because of how many boundaries she was helping to break down and how much progress would be lost if she left.
          Even at that, I don’t think she had an ethical duty – at most, her quitting might have been irresponsible. And her obligation definitely wasn’t to her employer.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Hmm I beg to differ with MLK there. Her leaving could have caused an uproar. She said “I’ve put up with the cuts and the racism, but I just can’t do it anymore.”
            Shame on you, the company that doesn’t protect their actresses! So basically we got to see a woman just putting up with stuff, again and again, because that’s what women do.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I take your point, but I also think you’re overstating the amount of uproar that could be drummed up in 1960s America over a Black actress being treated poorly. That was something that already happened all the time. Nichols’ refusal to be driven out was a much more visible pushback that also deprived racists of a victory they badly wanted.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Like, if you’re a surgeon, you probably won’t be looked upon well for tapping out mid-procedure (unless you are suddenly ill or otherwise physically can’t continue.) Or if you’re a therapist it’s not a good look to stand up mid-session and leave the room. But otherwise, if the entire place is going to collapse without you there? It’s going to collapse anyway.

        1. Mongrel*

          “But otherwise, if the entire place is going to collapse without you there? It’s going to collapse anyway.”

          And it will take you with it,

          I hate that certain jobs; front line healthcare staff, careers, emergency services, teachers etc. are emotionally & publicly blackmailed into crappy working conditions.
          “You can’t quit! Who’ll take care of the clients?! Never mind that you can make more flipping burgers with less hours & stress… Look, we’ve even allowed you to wear jeans on Fridays!!”

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            There are always certain jobs where it is ethically squishy to just storm out one day when you get fed up, but pretty much none where you can’t quit if you give sufficient notice (and what sufficient is varies by field). If literal lives are on the line the company/organization needs to have a backup plan, because of the old ‘what if you get hit by a bus’ situation. At any time anyone here could end up in a situation where they suddenly couldn’t go to work – and any company holding lives in their hands needs to be able to work around that. It needs to be their responsibility to work around two weeks notice, not the person who’s leaving.

            I’ve been stretching my imagination to try to think of a situation where standard industry notice still wouldn’t be enough and I’ve got nothing. My mind keeps going to Death in Paradise though, and how they still can’t keep a lead actor on a show set in Paradise and how many they have gone through, and that somehow they just keep scrounging up someone else again and again. Lead actor on a TV show, you would think everyone’s job depends on you, but they shrug it off and cast a new detective.

            1. Expelliarmus*

              FWIW I watch Death in Paradise too, and I don’t think the lead actor changes are that weird because with a show that runs that long and is shot overseas, you’re inevitably going to have to be flexible. Plus they shoehorn it into the plot pretty well IMO

        2. Former Employee*

          The surgeon example came to mind as I was reading the letter. Not just if someone’s on the table, but even if you’re scheduled for particular procedures or if you are an ER doctor scheduled for certain shifts.

          Unless there is a dire situation in your own life, your last day should be the last day where your name shows up on the schedule.

          1. metadata minion*

            And even there, sometimes doctors schedule months out. You don’t have to give 8 months notice just because you have people on your schedule that long.

            1. EthicalMD*

              Doctors often have very long notice periods for this reason. At my last job 4 months was standard.

      3. WS*

        Rural healthcare has a huge problem with this – if you’re the only person who can treat a specific health need, and you’re not facing something life-threateningly serious, the understanding is that you stay until you can get a replacement. Unfortunately, this can lead to complacency on the part of hospital and clinic managers, assuming that someone in this position will stay until they’re replaced, and sometimes this ends in a nasty fight where a healthcare practitioner will give a firm date for leaving, usually as far as a year in advance, and the managers will just not bother to do anything until it’s an emergency. Then you get budget-breaking locums, or, more commonly, non-expert care and long waits and longer drives for patients to see someone else. (A current local cancer treatment fundraiser is called “The Long Road” for this reason.)

    3. Sloanicota*

      yep, the scenario in the letter doesn’t resonate for me as an “ethics” question at all; vulnerable clients who are counting on you was where my mind went. Even the, you just can’t burn yourself out indefinitely until there’s nothing left to give

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes: it’s sad but true, the “sucks but seems to creak along” bad state of affairs will be allowed to continue in most places of employment as long as it’s seen as less work and hassle than doing anything about it.

      Most companies aren’t being run by Snidely Whiplash types cackling as they rub their hands together and plot the ruination of employees’ lives and well being, but they are run by people who tend to back burner anything that isn’t an immediate crisis to THEIR day to day jobs. As long as your husband was there, a warm body filling the space, they mentally kicked that can down the road.

    5. Vio*

      Too many companies rely on the compassion of their staff and volunteers to avoid giving them better pay and treatment. It’s especially common in the care industry. They know people got into the jobs because they want to help others and so assume they’ll continue to do so for minimum wage and despite being mistreated. All that happens is they either get jaded and start to hate the job or they get burnt out and have to leave. But before that happens the company get them working hard, going above and beyond, all for pittance.

  2. Cats*

    Based on the title, I was expecting something MUCH more dramatic than a normal, common business situation :). Good luck LW in making the decision that’s best for you (wherever that turns out to be).

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Me too! Like their boss was undergoing chemo, their other coworker just had person very close to them pass away, and the last member of their team was on a long medical leave. Even then…you still don’t owe it to them to stay, but I totally see how people would feel ethically obligated to stay at least for awhile in a situation like that.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yeah, if I were the only one left standing on the Burning Deck, I think I’d try to cover until somebody came back. But even so, there would be limits.

        I actually underwent chemo a few years back. If my staff had told me they were all leaving, I’d have emailed my boss, grandboss, and HR director and said, “WE have a problem.”

    2. BRR*

      Same here. I feel like there has been quite a few letters recently about feeling guilty about leaving because it wouldn’t be a convenient time for the business and I wonder why the uptick. The interesting thing to me about this is not one person has been told “you need to stay because the office will fall apart without you.” The vp of my department left earlier this year and I liked what they said, “people leave jobs. A lot of us left a job to come here. Things go on.”

      1. Bee*

        I suspect it’s happening more because more people are leaving their jobs in general! So the kind of conscientious people who worry about this are both a) leaving when they might have stayed previously, & b) more likely to have had coworkers leave recently too, so the effect on everyone else who stays is greater.

        1. Overeducated*

          Yes, I suspect chronic understaffing and turnover really contribute. I feel this way too – my one direct report left and we haven’t even been able to start rehire for dumb bureaucratic reasons, one of my two peers retired almost a year ago and they’re still working on promoting her report to the position and then filling the new vacancy, and the other one of my peers is actively, desperately job searching. I saw a couple of intriguing internal openings, but this makes me hesitant to apply too….

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      “The city is besieged and I’m the only person who knows how to keep the main gate shut – if I quit now, thousands will die.”

      1. azvlr*

        Metaphoracially speaking, this is most likely not true, but you’ve been led to believe that’s what will happen.

      2. Here we go again*

        Airline pilot mid flight, anyone on a surgical team in the middle of a surgery. Anyone who has lives depend on them

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Yes, you wait for the end of your shift to *leave*. But that’s putting it to the extreme when everyone else is talking about two weeks’ notice or similar.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        A comment below made me think of playing a song about the firefighters dealing with the burning of Cork city 102 years ago next December. I guess quitting then…no, even then, the two weeks’ notice would probably be fine.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Right. I was picturing a rural doctor/nurse, the only one, and patients who will literally die without their help. Then I can possibly understand an ethical obligation to stay until a replacement can be found.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        I mean… even then, I don’t know that any ethical obligation exists. It might be ethically laudatory to hang on until a replacement can be found, but obligatory? That’s a really high bar, and “there’s no one else with this skill set” is… just not all that compelling, because a lot of times it’s a lie – the truth is there is no one else with that skill set and personal background willing to work in that area at that price. Change the requirements of skills, the area, the backgrounds you’re willing to accept, or the price people are willing to pay, and there almost always does turn out to be someone.

        It may not be the someone the community members want, mind you – but that probably just means they haven’t changed one or another variable far enough.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Well, for those cases where it isn’t a lie, I would indeed say that an ethical obligation – not to the employer, but to the universe in general – exists to at least consider what the path is to ensure someone qualified can step in. Giving normal notice, for example.

          So no, I’m not obliged to stay in an underpaid teaching job just because no one else would take the job for the salary offered. But I would think that the ethical way to quit it is to give notice rather than abandoning the class in the middle of a field trip, and walking off the job.

          I am assuming the OP / the person who quits is not themselves in jeopardy.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Well, I can remember some field trips as a kid, where the teacher would have been well within her rights in walking off…But yeah, in certain fields, such as education, giving notice means telling them you won’t be back next semester.

            But again, this only applies in a limited number of fields. If your boss has been making you work 70+ hr weeks by telling you that “The whole company will fail without you!!!” — just give them two weeks and go without guilt.

      2. Mockingjay*

        And if a replacement isn’t found? Which is a very real issue in rural and disadvantaged areas – people leave not only the job, but the area, and there are no newcomers to replace them (nor the funds or amenities to entice them). So that one nurse or doctor exhausts themselves and ends up quitting anyway. How do you weigh the health of the nurse against the health of a patient? Both have need.

        It’s an impossible burden that no one person should be expected to carry. The answer is not personal choice (to stay or go); it’s a societal choice to ensure that community needs are met while empowering citizens to live and work as they choose. Sadly, we are not anywhere near that yet.

      3. Nesprin*

        There’s actually protocols for this sort of thing- if you’re the last person on duty and can’t care for patients e.g. you’ve been up for 72 hrs, you call an ambulance for transport to a different facility.

    5. LB*

      Exactly- air traffic controller, lighthouse operator… if no one could literally die or be seriously harmed by you leaving, you get to leave. It’s your employer’s job to ensure that their business isn’t one leaving person away from crashing to the ground.

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yeah, my threshold for “can’t ethically leave a job [at this moment]” is much higher. Like, someone specific will very likely die, or we’re in the middle of a natural catastrophe and if you walk away today, some team’s going to get into major physical jeopardy. Sure, sometimes you have to walk away even if people’s well-being depends on you, but if you can, the thing to do is to shift the responsibility over to the institution that ultimately has it, provide it with the opportunity to acknowledge it and act on it, THEN leave. (If they don’t, that’s off your hands.)

      In each case, the responsibility would be not to the organization, but to human beings (clients, co-workers, sometimes members of the public) who would be severely jeopardized (not “won’t have croissants for a weeks” but “might get into life-threatening peril”) if you walked away *too quickly*.

      1. whingedrinking*

        Yeah, I can think of a number of situations where there’s a moral imperative, but I’m struggling to imagine one where it’s to your employer, specifically.
        The closest I can get is if you deliberately encouraged your boss to do something incredibly risky with the potential to have utterly shattering consequences, with the understanding that your presence is utterly necessary to the enterprise and without you there, all would be lost.

    7. Jonquil*

      Right?! I was expecting like “I’m the person organising the Olympics, and the opening ceremony is next week”. Which kind of fits into Allison’s caveat of political campaign staffers, above (although having done that work, people burn out and leave suddenly all the time)

    8. Meghan*

      Same! Like last year there was a hospital who had something like 40% of their nursing staff get better jobs within a month. The hospital wound up suing them to stay because people’s health was at risk with the sudden loss of staff.

      Something like this? They’ll survive.

    9. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Yeah, I thought it was going to be emergency services or homeless abused children or something. Ethics don’t even enter into this situation.

  3. lapidary*

    The one exception I can think of is academic: don’t leave your job if your job is teaching and it’s during a semester or school year where you are responsible for students/the instructor of record. If it’s an emergency, we can find coverage, but you committed to those students for the duration of their course, and keeping your schedule to the academic calendar as much as possible is much appreciated!

    Maybe there’s other “cohort” type jobs where leaving in the middle of a cohort would be much more difficult?

    1. Generic+Name*

      Thank you for saying this. I related a personal story when one of my son’s teachers in elementary school gave a 2 week notice in the middle of the semester, and how it really negatively impacted the kids, and I got some push back from folks on here, even though I specified that if your mental health was on the line that would be different. If it’s at all possible wait until the end of the school year, and barring that, wait until winter break.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Huh, I assumed lapidary was talking about post-secondary education, where a professor leaving could jeopardize graduating on time, scholarships or a thesis. I wouldn’t expect that replacing one good teacher with another good teacher in the middle of a school year would be disruptive in the same way.

        1. Anynonny*

          It can be – but the type of impact is different with elementary-aged students, who are more likely to be emotionally attached to their teachers (and even more closely involved in terms of behavioral/learning accommodations, awareness of individual needs, etc). Coming from a family of public elementary school teachers whose friends are also teachers and the children of teachers, I am familiar with the depth of knowledge and care that good a K-5 teacher works to develop for their class during the first few months of the school year, and have experienced firsthand how big a setback it can be for a class to ‘reset’ to a new person even after winter break. Will kids fail to move up a grade? Highly unlikely. Will they make as much progress as they could have with the same teacher all year? Maybe, but maybe not. It very much depends on the child’s circumstances and the teacher.

          That’s not at all to say that a teacher shouldn’t quit if they need to for their own reasons; just that assuming minors won’t be affected negatively by a change in/loss of instructor is not really looking at the whole picture of what elementary (and all K-12) teachers provide for their students.

          1. Starbuck*

            “the type of impact is different with elementary-aged students, who are more likely to be emotionally attached to their teachers ”

            And yet, shamefully, teachers who work with the youngest kids make the least, so this is clearly not being considered as a value by districts, parents, states, and/or voters because it isn’t reflected in their compensation.

        2. Tom*

          That assumes that you can find a good teacher. Which…might not be the case. From my understanding, teacher availability tends to be rather, ah, seasonal.

        3. Loulou*

          In my experience, when a teacher leaves mid-year, the students are stuck with an endless rotation of substitutes. The lack of consistency really affects that class for that year. We had a teacher leave after a month and there wasn’t, to my knowledge, a vending machine with other good teachers to seamlessly take over. It meant that the subject was inconsistently taught, we were incosistently corrected, and sometimes we didn’t study the subject at all. It left us unprepared for the next grade, and was a compounding problem afterwards. I’m not saying my teacher was a bad person for leaving mid-year, I’m just saying that there’s absolutely an effect on the students when it happens.

          1. Sandangel*

            I had that happen in middle school, two separate times. One, the math teacher, they had a replacement teacher available immediately, but the band class was a more complicated situation. At first the vice principal stepped in, but then he left, so things turned into study hall for a while until a replacement could be found.

            I’m pretty sure those were different years, but it’s been long enough I’m not sure.

          2. Educator*

            I say this as someone who has worked in public school administration–this is why, just like with any other job, it is the responsibility of management to have solid contingency plans in place for when an employee leaves. It is not a departing teacher’s fault if their administration fails to do so.

            It is sometimes the taxpayers’ fault if they are unwilling to fund things like permanent building subs who can develop relationships with teachers and students and be ready to jump in if needed. One of the best things about the pandemic was that many schools in my area used federal funding to hire more full time building subs so that when teachers were out, someone who knew the kids was ready to step in. I think that there needs to be a lot more funding for permanent subs, and a lot less blaming teachers for being people with needs.

          3. JustaTech*

            I had a lot of teachers leave for medical reason in the middle of the year (maternity leave and stuff) and one teacher (5th grade) who died in the middle of the year, but everyone (including us) knew she was dying, so they’d already lined up replacement teachers.

            When one high school math teacher got hit by a cement truck (he lived and recovered) it was a bit of a scramble because it was the end of the year and we needed to prep for our finals, but they made it work.

            Which is to say: none of these things would be a problem if organizations/companies had even a little bit of flex in their staffing instead of being absolute bare bones. But that costs money, so…

          4. Irish Teacher*

            Honestly, that’s a problem with the system though, not with the person who leaves.

            Even if there isn’t a fully qualified person available, somebody must be the best option and it would make more sense to give the full year to somebody who say only did the subject as a minor in their degree rather than chopping and changing.

            I know things are different in countries where there aren’t a long list of teachers looking for long term work, but seriously, if a teacher got ill suddenly or went on maternity leave, the same thing would happen so schools should have procedures. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year when at least one or two teachers didn’t go out on maternity leave, which is a significant portion of a year. I can’t imagine there is any student who goes through their school career without having a few mid-year changes of teacher. It is going to happen. Even if no teacher left mid-year, there would still be maternity leaves, sick leaves, etc.

        4. LawBee*

          My third grade teacher quit in the middle of the school year because her husband died. It was very disruptive to us – lots of substitute teachers, a student teacher who was suddenly in charge beyond her abilities, and just the personal loss of a teacher we all liked.

          I remember it 40 years later. It was disruptive.

          1. Gracely*

            I would imagine she’d have much preferred to keep her husband and keep teaching.

            I can’t fault anyone who quits their job at any time of the year because their spouse dies. I don’t care what job it is.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              But there’s certainly fault to be found with a system which doesn’t ever expect people to be bereaved or sick, or to die themselves. Teachers bear too much alone and they have no back up.

            1. Jj*

              I think they were just giving a data point of evidence that it is indeed disruptive for kids that age. Not faulting the teacher for quitting.

        5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I went to an elementary school that grouped students by perceived ability, which meant that groups of students were kept together from one year to the next*.

          My third-grade teacher was out for medical reasons for a few months; I think there were some short-term substitutes, then a longer-term one, and then the permanent teacher came back. Unfortunate and somewhat disruptive, but these things happened. The next year, our fourth-grade teacher was out of work for a few months, and again we had the disruption of substitute and return of original teacher.

          The principal gave us the same teacher for fifth grade, hoping that she was unlikely to be out sick again–and she wasn’t, and from what my parents said, not changing teachers twice in mid-year was beneficial, for me and probably for my classmates.

          [That sort of tracking is a bad idea for other reasons, and also if they hadn’t kept groups together, maybe a quarter as many students would have had that disruption two years in a row.]

        6. Lenora Rose*

          Pre Covid? Just that happened to my daughter (regular teacher had a several months leave doe a medical emergency) and it was fine. The new teacher developed a great rapport with the kids.

          With Covid? …. I’m not sure I would count on someone else being available.

        7. TrixM*

          That’s been my experience – yes, it was disruptive, but not as much as moving schools, which I did eight times. Including three schools in a year, twice.

          The one time I had a teacher replacement, it was actually beneficial, since the original teacher was well past retirement age, and looking back, I feel certain was undergoing some cognitive decline.

          Maybe kids are closer to their teachers now – I only had one I thought was really “cool” – and obviously my own experience was pretty extreme. I was lucky I was a bright kid. It IS disruptive, but I honestly feel like most kids are more resilient than they’re often given credit for.

          (I suffered mostly from the opposite problem – when your family is poorer than average in the neighborhood, and you’ve been to multiple schools by the equivalent of sixth grade, teachers are subtly less interested in investing time and energy in you, especially if you’re not disruptive. Except for the dude at school #7 who said I needed to be “more sociable with other pupils” on my first report card. W*nker.)

        8. Anon for this*

          A professor leaving does not jeopardize these things, though. The department has procedures for addressing that. It’s the chair/head ‘s job to manage problems like this.

          I’m very familiar with this. My husband, a professor, has now twice had to go on immediate leave for anxiety and depression. The dept chair did the following: got other instructors to finish teaching his classes (both grad and undergraduate), grade a test that he had not graded, advise an undergrad capstone, advise graduate theses, take over on a search committee, take over leading a promotion and tenure committee.

          Rec letters: I wrote those for my husband, by reading other letters he’s written to get his typical approach and talking with him about the students (it took several weeks, it was excruciating), he looked them over and signed them. If I had not, the chair would have done them or found another prof to do them.

        9. Random Bystander*

          It would definitely depend on being able to *find* a good teacher available at a non-standard hiring time. I will never forget what happened when I was in third grade (and I’m now mid-50s, so we’re talking almost 40 years since)–even though I found out later that my beloved teacher did not leave voluntarily, she was yanked out of the classroom very abruptly with no public explanation. What we ended up with was one of the substitutes who was universally disliked for the remainder of the school year. Dislike was really based on legit reasons like her idea of what to do with a bright student like me was make me assist the slower students even if that meant that we both missed recess–and third grade me simply did not know how to explain a concept like multiplication, so my ‘assistance’ was more on the order of hissing “the answer is 56. just write it down” which certainly didn’t help my classmate learn the multiplication. Or classroom management which consisted of splitting the class into two teams with trees and ribbons on them, and any misbehavior meant you had to take a ribbon off your tree, and “when one tree is empty, the other team will get a pizza party, and the team with the empty tree will be doing math worksheets”. Well, of course, I was on the team with the worst behaved student in the class (he was personally responsible for removing 80% of the team’s ribbons), while I had not removed a single ribbon. So, when it happened that our tree was empty, that time I felt like pushing back, and I pointed out that myself, and [named] four students on my team had not removed a single ribbon, another list of people on my team who had personally removed only one, *and* pointing out that [named] person on “winning” team had removed 20 ribbons, which was more ribbons by one person than 10 people combined on my team (there being 30 in the classroom, so 15/team). Because yes, the unfairness of the method had stuck out to me from the get-go, so I had kept track (because neither I nor anyone else on the “team” could have made 80% boy turn in his homework or stop talking in class or get him to quit hitting other people). So they surrendered and did not exclude anyone from the party (though I would have been fine with the highest ribbon-removers having been excluded). The fact that room mothers (moms of other students) were present when I made my stand may have factored into the win.

          A new permanent teacher was hired for the class for the next school year, but that did not help me. I presume new permanent teacher was otherwise employed during the 60% of the prior school year that remained after original teacher was removed.

      2. Gracely*

        I just don’t agree. Teachers are people, too, and they’re not even as well-compensated as they should be. It really is very rare for a teacher to give just a two week notice, and without knowing the teacher’s personal life (which no one has a right to), there are still plenty of reasons why that might be all they could give. A spouse might have died or gotten a new job, or a relative might have injured themselves and needed a caregiver, or any number of other things that everyone else is allowed to move for without being given a guilt trip.

        Kids are often so much more resilient than parents think they are. And learning to adapt to changes like that is actually an important life skill, which frankly is easier to learn when you’re younger and the stakes aren’t as great.

        Maybe if schools had the funds to over-hire, this would be a non-issue. For sure, it would be better for all students if schools had better student-teacher ratios. If 15 students per teacher were the norm, then in a situation like that, you could reasonably just shift 3 new kids into 5 other classes for the rest of the semester without causing too much disruption to anyone. But most schools have much, much higher student-to-teacher ratios than that, which makes it much harder to correct for. Regardless, the issue is not with the individual, but with the larger system not being adequately prepared for the random vagaries of life.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          The other issue is that teacher hiring has seasonal hiring, and most jobs hire year round. So if you want to leave teaching, give regular notice, and not quit without a new job lined up, you’re limited to a very narrow window for accepting new jobs. If you job search like mad in May through August, planning to not renew your contract, but don’t get an offer until October, do you turn down the job, and resign yourself to another full year at a job you don’t want, and start the job search from scratch the next May, or give notice and leave?

          It’s reasonable, when there is a signed contract, to expect people to not quit mid term frivolously or on a whim (I’m assuming the contract is mutual, so the teacher can’t be laid off during the year), but people will leave the field, or need to move for family reasons, or have health issues, or go on parental leave, and it’s up to the system/employer, not the individual employees, to be prepared for that.

          1. HR Ed Rep*

            Teachers can be fired mid year and sometimes are. The contract benefits the school only and offers no protection to the teacher. Some states with strong unions have better contracts but those are rare situations.

        2. Jujyfruits*

          I agree. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. I don’t blame them for leaving for any reason. It happens.

      3. Lizcase*

        Most my class in grade seven were sure that the sudden departure our the teacher in the middle of the year was due to mental health. There were signs that even 12 year olds couldn’t ignore.

        I don’t remember how it affected us educationally. I only really remember that we were just happy to have a teacher who wasn’t yelling at us.

    2. TeenieBopper*

      Nah. Given the status of education in the United States (crappy students, crappy parents, crappy administration, crappy politicians, crappy cultural valuing of education) I don’t blame a teacher one bit for peacing out whenever they want for whatever reason they want.

      1. sofar*

        Agreed. I remember during the WI teacher strikes, every doofus out there was saying, “Well if these teacher don’t like their job, they should just find other jobs, like any of the rest of us would do!”

        And … well…now teachers are doing just that (finding other jobs), and they’re getting criticized for that, too.

        With job hunting, you don’t always choose when a good opportunity comes along. Forcing teachers to wait until summer to switch jobs is just … well … another unrealistic expectation society puts on them.

    3. Em*

      I do not see this as an exception. Teachers are human too. They deserve to leave jobs when they see an opportunity is better suited for them. It is far from ideal, but if schools do not properly incentivize teachers to stay, why should they stay? This profession is challenging and has such low pay, teachers shouldn’t be treated like their profession is a special calling and their motives for working are strictly altruistic. It’s business.

      1. Kiki is the Most*

        This. I find it appalling that teachers are being considered the exception to a crappy “rule” knowing the things that admin/districts have asked us to do. Yes, it’s a poor position for the students and families. However, if a teacher is quitting mid semester or mid-year, it is not something they haven’t thought through.

      2. BRR*

        I agree that academia is not an exception. I think of all the letter writers and open thread posters who write in and are suffering health issues because they are so miserable at their jobs. The bar should be extremely, extremely high for someone to stay in a job.

        1. Tupac Coachella*

          With the caveat that the experience I’m about to relay is a consideration, not an argument, because I’m not entirely convinced I disagree with you, BRR: I have seen a situation where a college instructor left mid semester, and it had a significant negative impact on students for various reasons. Some of these students were in selective programs where their grades would be compared to other applicants, and the ones who chose different sections of the class had a theoretical (and in my opinion, tangible) advantage by pure luck. I do think it’s fair to say that it matters that teachers at all levels have made an active choice to commit to these particular students for a set period. You can’t just drop another teacher in to pick up where they left off. The students have to readjust every semester, and it’s hard. Having to do it twice in one semester can throw a student off a lot, especially if they’re new to college (which many of these students were). Not saying that the commitment to the contract trumps all other factors, just that it matters in a way that might not for other jobs.

          1. Apollos Torso*

            This example seems like a real failure on the part of the college. Like all businesses, they need to be prepared and have backup plans. I’ve worked in hire ed and I know they really don’t. It’s a problem with the system. I have trouble blaming the professor in your example.

          2. Alternative Person*

            This is an important point. College instructors, especially when you’re at a level where specialisms come into play can sometimes hold a student’s future trajectory in their hands. Carefully planned pathways can collapse if certain electives (particularly if they’re in a series) become unavailable, and if you’re already a good way in, re-routing can be painful and expensive.

            My (planned) MSc advisor, who had also been my BSc advisor, left three weeks into semester one of my MSc of which he was (functionally) the only professor, taking all his research, the related research access and connections with him. The university did their best to put together a solution, but it screwed over a good portion of the cohort (including myself).

          3. Environmental Compliance*

            I was part of a TA team at a large university teaching a mandatory science/lab class for STEM majors at the freshmen level.

            We had a TA just… stop showing up to classes to teach. No one knew for several *weeks*. He’d barely show up to lab. The *only* reason we found out was because when I was hosting extra office hours (I was somewhat a lead TA), I had one of his students come to my office sobbing because she thought she was going to fail out of college. Upon investigation, he was half a semester behind grading, really hadn’t taught much to begin with, and now we have 45 students behind everyone else and a mountain of catchup to do with a third of the semester left. Great.

            The rest of the team got together in a panic meeting and scheduled out additional drop in classes, coverage of existing classes/labs, split up grading duties, and we had it worked out in 3 days to at least have grades updated. If you looked at the final grades of those students vs rest of the lecture, they were on average 2% behind (with no adjustments).

            It is not the responsibility of the *instructor* by themselves to stay in the role such to not impact the students. It is the responsibility of the *college* to ensure the students do not have a large negative impact. Do not light the instructors on fire to keep the students warm.

        2. Luna Lovegood*

          I completely agree. I work in the dean’s office at a college, and we figure it out when an instructor has to give up a class mid-semester. Of course it’s not ideal, but students also suffer (sometimes more) when instructors are beyond burnt out or don’t have time/energy to teach well. That kind of no excuses culture also tends to trickle down to students, especially grad students, and no one wins in the long run.

        3. Bread Crimes*

          Last year, a colleague teaching another section of the same class as me had to lead suddenly for very understandable reasons.

          The department found someone to cover that section, we spent a weekend hastily coordinating to make sure everyone was up to speed, and… it was fine. It was better for my colleague who left (because they could deal with the stuff that led to them leaving without also trying to cover that section), better for the colleague who stepped in (who needed the income anyway), and better for the students (who were being taught by someone who could focus on them and not be distracted by significant unfortunate life events).

          These things happen! And teachers swearing up and down to never leave mid-class doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; people still get suddenly sick, hit by buses, trapped in another country by quarantine/visa issues, or what not. It’s better to leave between semesters if it’s reasonable. Sometimes it’s not reasonable. So goes the world.

          None of us in education, that I’ve noticed, are being paid well enough to reasonably prioritize that job over every other possible aspect of life.

        1. Lexi*

          As the teacher shortages get more and more dire, this feels like an empty threat at this point. They can’t afford to lose more teachers.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I have a friend whose school district’s contract required staying to the end of the academic year with a financial penalty of several thousand dollars for ending the contract early. She got a new job close to the end of the school year and was threatened with a lawsuit if she quit, so she ended up having to do both jobs for a couple of weeks. If I remember correctly, she took a couple of sick days each week at the school and a couple of unpaid days off at the new job until school let out.

        3. I AM a Lawyer*

          Yeah, in California, a superintendent can report a teacher to the teacher credentialing body for potential discipline if they don’t finish out the year. It’s pretty rare and I don’t know if the credentialing body actually imposes discipline in such cases, but I’m not sure I’d want to test it.

    4. Lacey*

      I had a college professor quit mid-semester. It was shocking, but it was the best thing that could have possibly happened for us. He was an awful professor and the class was so at sea that the new prof had to start over from the beginning of the course.

    5. Beth*

      To be honest, I don’t even think this rises to that level. Yes, it’s not ideal for students when teachers change halfway through term. And most instructors will choose to do so when reasonable–people who go into teaching generally do care a lot about their students!

      But 1) there are ways to handle a last-minute change and minimize the educational disruption, if the school wants to commit to that, and 2) if schools really want to receive a level of loyalty that would lead instructors to miss out on other opportunities in favor of completing a term, they would need to pay enough to make that make sense. In most of the US, at all levels, teachers are wildly low-paid for their level of training and for the amount of effort they put in. You can’t reasonably expect that someone in that situation prioritize their employer’s preferences over their own career needs. If a teacher finds a new job, odds are that new job won’t be able to wait for them to finish out the entire semester first–and schools don’t compensate people well enough to justify missing out on better opportunities.

      1. pcake*

        And aside from the poor pay, teachers in my area are forced to work unpaid after their work day to grade schoolwork and tests, come up with lesson plans, etc. And they’re not shown respect or treated well in many cases, either.

        Perhaps in many cases, if teachers were treated better and were allowed paid time to do their grading, they might keep teaching despite the low pay.

        As it is, the ones who stay “for the children” are giving a bad example – particularly to females – that it’s okay to have a poor job that leaves you no time for your life and may include unreasonable demands and being treated poorly as long as you do it for the children.

    6. Gan Ainm*

      I actually strongly disagree. I think teaching falls under the exact same situation of “inconvenient but they’ll survive”. The school will have to hire a new teacher, and they’ll move on.

      Elementary and high school teachers are already trapped in a cycle that is very hard to escape – they feel a ton of pressure to stay emotionally, and their schools make it logistically tough – they often have to sign new contracts at the end of the school year, so they’d have to time their exit perfectly for the few days between classes ending and a new contract, to avoid breaking their contact, or only job search in summer when hiring is often slow to avoid leaving during the school year. I’m not a teacher but many of my friends are and the only way any of them have managed to escape this cycle is to quit at year end with nothing lined up, which is so risky for them
      Financially. On the other hand if they leave mid year or break their contract the schools threaten them with being blackballed from education or pulling their teaching cert.

      Higher Ed / universities (in the US) are more and more run like businesses hiring independent contractors to teach, and need to be prepared to cover if folks find new roles and leave. If a school is experiencing a rash of resignations mid course they should probably examine why that is.

      1. academic fibro warrior*

        I would argue that in higher ed they are. There’s an oversupply of qualified people with Masters and PhDs who don’t teach full time, adjuncts are really cheap and there are quite a lot of us, and many states limit how many courses we can teach a term anyway (because they might have to pay us healthcare if we contract for 3 classes a term, which in my area is considered 18 hrs a week, 9 in class and 9 in prep! The horror!). I forget the percentages since I’m lucky to be out of the situation now, but it can be quite high. Most of us don’t leave midterm because we have bills to pay, but at most places it’s hard to get out of it and there’s always more people who can take on classes. And FT instructors regularly are given overloads to avoid hiring more people too (more and more positions have higher teaching loads plus low pay, like mid 30s, to reduce teaching labor costs…which isn’t that high). The threats of us being blackballed don’t have much weight since for too many of us once an adjunct always an adjunct. I have gotten calls to take classss for people who have bailed the day before or the day, day after, of the first day. And the coming enrollment cliff will just increase the labor glut. IME most of higher ed has a close to zero incentive to change these labor conditions and they maintain lists of people willing to jump in whenever to get another class. This won’t change until several structural things change.

        1. academic fibro warrior*

          Confusing sentence. In higher ed they are *prepared for people to leave midterm.

        2. Gan Ainm*

          I think we’re in agreement. I was just saying for higher Ed, they can’t have their cake and eat it too. If they want to run it like a business, like hiring contractors instead of full employees, focusing on cost above all, etc, then they need to deal with the increased turnover as well, and that’s on the university, not the teachers.

    7. Avery*

      Even then, I think it’s less “you absolutely cannot leave no matter what” and more “if you can avoid leaving at that point, it might help your reference a bit and reflect better on you, but it still depends on the circumstances”.
      If the teacher’s barely able to make rent or having panic attacks because of the job, it’s still worth quitting in the middle of a semester. If it’s more wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere, it’d be ideal–though still not absolutely necessary–to stay on and finish off the semester.

      1. CowWhisperer*

        Replacing a teacher mid-year is a nightmare. The most common scenario is when a teacher dies unexpectedly. The incoming teacher has to help students cope with their feelings while starting in the middle of a lesson cycle and doing all of this in a classroom laid out by another teacher.

        Mid-year quitting due to illness happens – but the transition is easier because the teacher left due to an outside force that kids understand. Still a transition – but more manageable.

        Mid-year quitting due to bad fit is a mixed bag. If the teacher was really stressed, the students might be relieved..or annoyed at a more competent teacher who gets more work out of them. There’s still grief, though. Even a weak teacher will have a few students who liked them – and they left.

        1. Green Beans*

          yeah but people leave in life. It is not a bad thing for kids to experience unpleasant things that are just a normal part of life.

    8. Rach*

      Like with all things in life, this is situation dependent. My mom just retired from teaching this year, when I graduated and decided to teach, my first job was horrendous (I was made a lead teacher within weeks of starting and tasked with creating an engineering program for K-3rd grade, I was hired as a middle school science teacher, I had a science degree and not a teaching degree and had never even made a lesson plan). It was affecting my mental health, to the point of hospitalization, many seasoned teachers were quitting and the kids in the entire school were miserable. I wanted to quit (there were many other wtf tasks I was assigned) at fall break but my mom insisted I needed to finish out the year as I had made a commitment to the students. I tried and ended up being hospitalized and carried immense amount of guilt for quitting for years. So, no, teachers are human, too, and even in less extreme cases, they need to take care of themselves first and only finish out the school year if they can do so safely and without harm to themselves (even if that harm were financial).

    9. ThisIsUnfair*

      I laughed a little bit at the caveat that included a couple of months for some exceptional industries and…a full nine or ten months for teachers. That is a very long time. When you add in the fact that some teacher contract renewals happen in early spring, well before new jobs for the subsequent academic year are posted and very far before a teacher could reasonably apply for jobs in other sectors, there is basically no good time to leave teaching. You have to break your contract, or you have to non-renew without something else lined up. It puts teachers in a really impossible position. The guilt tripping about how it impacts students really ignores those realities.

      1. Gracely*

        Yeah, when I was a teacher, contracts came up in March, and had to be signed by May. The school year didn’t end until June for teachers.

      2. Beth*

        I think non-teachers forget just how much of the year the school term covers! It’s one thing if you’re looking for another teaching job–the hiring cycle for that usually corresponds to the academic year. But there are so many other reasons that people might leave a job, and most of them can’t just be put on hold for months.

        I get that parents would rather their kids have consistency, especially for k-12 education. But ultimately, if education seriously suffers because a teacher left, I think that’s on the school, not the teacher. It’s inevitable that someone will leave mid-term eventually (whether for a good reason like a fantastic new job, or for a more tragic reason like when one of my high school teachers passed away mid-year). There should be a plan in place for handling it, same as at any other business. And when a plan does exist, it’s not acceptable to guilt-trip teachers for that plan becoming necessary; if it’s a good enough plan to handle an unexpected tragedy, it’s probably also good enough to handle an unexpected windfall.

      3. Sal*

        Yup, it sucks. My spouse is a teacher and is looking to advance a bit, which requires (in their circumstances) to apply outside the school. Every year is an enormous pain around re-signing their contract. Even though they have been extremely transparent with administration about their desire to move up (and given the fact that admin has repeatedly declined to promote them to internal positions…), and that this therefore currently requires looking outside the school, either last year or the year before admin decided to play hard-ball and POST THEIR JOB because they still hadn’t heard back from their last interview and asked for an extension to re-sign their contract. I was furious. Spouse ended up not getting an offer and admin hadn’t FILLED THEIR JOB yet (sorry, still enraged on Spouse’s behalf) and admin still appreciates and values them as a teacher, but good LORD does their job-search stuff make me so mad. The norms are so insanely out of whack IMO.

    10. SJ*

      I think in k-12 education the labor contract covers this – a teacher can go on say medical or family leave during the academic year but they actually can’t switch to a more favorable position bc the district needs to release them from their contract. Not endorsing this per se bc I know lots of good teachers who have honestly suffered a lot bc of this practice! But it doesn’t need to be an individual moral calculation bc the union and district have already negotiated the terms.

      1. Ashley*

        I think this is dependent on location. Teachers leave mid-year in my state and just break their contract. There is no dire consequence except for possibly a bad reference. Someone mentioned above that you can lose their teaching license in their state. I think it varies place by place.

        1. Lydia*

          I’m willing to bet in that state, “can” very rarely becomes “will” because of the reasons given by others: there is a shortage already and states cannot afford to lose people with licenses.

          1. PhysicsTeacher*

            My district absolutely WILL and DOES go after licenses to put a hold on them until your contract would’ve been up so that other districts can’t hire you. It’s a decision made by the district, not the state, and you’ve already decided to leave the district at that point…

            We also have a $4000 penalty for quitting after like… July 1. In the summer before the school year starts. Sometimes we don’t even know what our contracts (and therefore salary) for the upcoming year will be yet by that point…

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I am wondering how that works in practice. Like our principal left shortly before the new school year started (I mentioned this elsewhere). We are currently recruiting to replace him. Clearly, whoever gets the job will have to leave their job mid-year as we cannot go a year without a principal. I guess in a country with those rules, a principal wouldn’t be allowed to leave like that, but what if a principal died? Or got seriously ill and was unable to continue working? Would they be able to replace them or would the deputy principal just have to cover for the rest of the year? Would it be different if it were a teacher from the same district, so it would be more like a promotion? (I think in some countries schools are less independent than they are here, so maybe it would be more of an internal move.)

    11. Purple Cat*

      I agree with you in theory, but my child has had several teachers leave during the school year and ….. that’s life. Especially nowadays and the dumpster fire that is education, teachers can only be expected to sacrifice so much.

    12. Starbuck*

      I dunno, this expectation seems to be fading away as more and more teachers/professors/adjuncts are realizing that the commitment expected of them isn’t being met by an equal commitment from the organization to support them. In areas hwere educators are respected and well compensated, sure, this can hold, but that’s not true everywhere.

      1. Panhandlerann*

        A colleague of mine some years ago who taught as an adjunct at a university in a state where there was very low pay for folks in that role told me that every single semester, there were instructors who left mid-semester. With low pay and no job security (a contract was for just a single semester), if a better job came along, they had no qualms (it seemed) about leaving mid-term. And who can blame them–at all? (Oh, I’m sure some people DID blame them anyway, but they shouldn’t have, to my mind.) Unfortunately, my tender-hearted colleague, saying she couldn’t stand seeing the students of the departing instructors go without, would regularly take on extra classes mid-term (and she said others did the same thing). So the admin was not forced to really deal with the situation.

    13. Double A*

      This is true for any job with a contract, which teachers have . They sign a contract for the year; it protects their job, but also commits them for the year. Every time you are hired you are explictly asked if you have ever left mid-year and broken your contract.

      So I agree with you, not because it’s teaching, but because you have a contract so your considerations about quitting mid-stream are very different.

      1. CowWhisperer*

        Thank you! I work in an at-will state – but public schools still have contracts. You agree to stay for one school year – and the district promises to employ you for that year unless you are so incompetent that students are endangered.

        I taught for 8 years in high poverty areas with teens who were failing high school. I had minimal district support, psycho expectations on state testing, and far more useless paperwork than I can describe. Loved the students and teaching – but I got burnt out and decided to go to grad school.

        I finished out the year because I could deal well enough with the day-to-day stressors that I wasn’t dealing with mental illness or an acute physical illness. If your health is suffering, leaving mid-year is less than ideal – but hey, life happens. Breaking a contract because teaching is a poor fit – well, you can do it – but there are often financial, reputational, and licensing consequences.

    14. Seconds*

      We are looking at this right now.

      My husband has a very busy job, and every few years teaches a university course in a highly specialized field.

      Due to the pandemic his last course got postponed to this year, when he is busier on his regular job than before (and he was busy enough then ).

      On top of that, I have become seriously disabled, rarely out of bed. And I can’t eat food from restaurants and such because of multiple sensitivities. AND our adult son who lives with us is only partially functional (though improving), so my husband has two people to drive around to medical appointments and such.

      So my poor, amazing husband is overwhelmed with caretaking and taking care of the house and everything else. He’s barely hanging on.

      It had hardly occurred to either of us that he might withdraw from teaching this semester. If he did, I doubt they could find a replacement, and it could easily affect these students’ graduation plans. I also doubt that he would be hired back again, and he really likes teaching!

      It’s just not a good situation. And yes, he feels ethically bound to every one of his duties. We’re looking at it, though, because it seems clear that something has to give. I don’t think he can maintain this pace until December.

      1. ShinyPenny*

        Sympathies for the very difficult situation.
        I personally ran that experiment, of sticking with a job because I over-focused on feelings of moral obligation (toward patients more that toward my employer). My own health, which had been increasingly threatened by a workload that was unsustainable for me, did finally crash. So instead of any amount of departure planning, I was just, with no warning, unable to go to work again. In retrospect, I wish I had drawn the line BEFORE that predictable end. Because the end result was the same– or worse– for the patients, and I was left dealing with the (in my case, physical) damage for years. That second part should have been avoided! I learned that lesson the hard way, because I didn’t find AAM until much later :)
        TL/DR: We caretaking souls need to put OURSELVES on the care list, and not so cooperatively volunteer to forfeit our health and well-being.

    15. MicroManagered*

      I think there’s some truth to this, but I think an educator quitting during the term falls more within the category of “damaging your reputation / blowing a reference” vs. “ethical problem.”

      1. Mid*

        Honestly, depends on what they’re teaching. Elementary school is one thing, but higher ed is another.

        A friend of mine had a professor quit mid-term, which would have been awful since they were the main professor for a weed out class that a lot of people needed to complete their degree, but this professor was also a PhD advisor for several people, who all had to extend their PhDs to complete them after that professor quit. A lot of funding got messed up because of that, a lot of people had a really bad time because this person left on very short notice for a new job. A lot of students had to take a summer class to repeat the course that this professor abandoned mid-semester. If that professor had done the proper hand-off, it wouldn’t have been disruptive. But honestly, as far as anyone could tell, the professor left for purely selfish reasons, not an emergency, and their actions really harmed a lot of people. I think that crosses an ethical line.

    16. HS Teacher*

      Hard disagree. I am in a state that continues to make it harder and harder to teach, especially social studies, because they’ve politicized everything. I signed my contract before being told the super was leaving the district, and now I’m working under someone I would not have agreed to work under. The district deceived us. If I find another job, I’m leaving. And I hope my colleagues do too.

      Yes, I care about my students, but you can’t treat teachers like crap and then try to play on our moral obligations. It’s the same argument that’s been used to undervalue and underpay us.

      No organization should leave themselves that vulnerable. If they choose not to have a plan B, that’s on them.

    17. Esmeralda*

      Nope, not even then. I’ve been in academia forever. People leave at all points in the semester. We’re dealing with this right now in my office.

      Classes get reassigned and / or consolidated. Students get new advisors. Some work does not get done — postponed, minimum done, cut off the list of things that must be done. Our department provides an important service directly to students. If another person in our office leaves, I can’t assign that work to anyone any more — they won’t be able to complete their core work. It’s at th point where I can’t take it on either, for the same reason. I discussed it with my boss; he’s ready to tell his boss: sorry, it can’t be done. (Excellent boss!)

      I mean, another consideration is, if we push more of this work on the remaining employees, they are not going to stick around. And yes, we are hiring replacements. But that doesn’t happen immediately, even when it moves relatively quickly.

      1. Anon for this*

        I had a colleague say, But you can’t tell the dean we won’t do X any more!

        My response: Sure I can. What’s he going to do, fire me? [laughs head off].

        Colleague: He might! He can!

        Me: Cool. I’ll get a non academic job that pays better.

    18. Chickaletta*

      My mom quit her elementary teaching job in the middle of the year, didn’t go back after the holiday break. This was a long time ago in the 90’s. For context: she taught 4/5th grade special ed. She really enjoyed teaching the learning disabled kids, but the school district grouped learning and behavior disabled in the same class. Over the years, the balance started learning heavier towards the behavior kids and she had a couple rough years. Finally, she ended up with a class with only behavior kids. My sweet, good-natured, apple pie mom was dealing with 9 and 10-year-olds cussing at her, spitting, turning over desks, throwing shoes at her head… it was constant and every day. There wasn’t one redeeming kid in her class that year that made her feel like it was worth it. So she quit in the middle of the year and got an office job after that making excel sheets for adults. Never went back to teaching :)

      1. Harper the Other One*

        This… is a rough comment to read as a parent of kids who are sometimes the “behaviour” kids because of their neurodivergence. I appreciate and understand that it can be hard to work with those kids! But “there wasn’t one redeeming kid in her class that year”? If that was really the way your mom was thinking of those kids, she was badly burnt out and leaving he classroom was the right call.

        1. Educator*

          I am so grateful that my teacher training program gave me a good understanding of how to support students with both disabilities and behavior challenges. There are a lot of challenging things about teaching, but none of them are the fault of the minors being taught.

          1. CowWhisperer*

            Yup. I worked with fascinating teens who were dealing with on average 2 of the following list:
            1)Parenting a child or siblings
            2)In foster care
            3)Severe undiagnosed learning disabilities
            4) Untreated parental mental health issues
            5)Working multiple jobs to support family due to undocumented status
            6)Learning English
            7) Disrupted education due to repeated frequent moves by parents searching for work.

            In 8 years, I taught around 800 students – and exactly three were dealing with psychopathy so pronounced that the students were unable to form any form of mutually beneficial relationships. That means I had 797 teens who loved someone. I may not be the person they loved – but they loved their child, parent, sib, aunt, grandfather or friend – and were willing to do something kind of sacrifice to help that person. And as long as a person can care about one other human, they can do alright in the world.

            I burnt out eventually – but not because of my students. They were the reason I kept on because I was in awe of how much crap life had dealt them – and yet- they still cared.

      2. Velociraptor Attack*

        “Wasn’t one redeeming kid in her class” is a really rough thing to say about 4th/5th graders, especially considering these are 9 to 10-year-old children.

        There’s usually a reason that kids that age have behavior problems, please reconsider using that language when relaying this anecdote.

    19. Library in the middle*

      No. Just no. We, as teachers, are not obligated to put our lives, health, and stability on hold for other people’s children.

    20. Chinookwind*

      Except if this is a dangerous place to work.

      I was that teacher that left in November. The teacher who left the month before had been there 2 years but had had enough of a student standing outside his classroom door, yelling physical threats. I left after a student bounced an elastic band off my glasses and was told to just go back to class. I heard that a third high school teacher (remote community and only 4 of us teaching grades 7 to 12) left a month later. The remaining teacher actually apologized to me, as I left for talking me into staying as long as I did (it wasn’t the first time I was physically threatened or intimidated but I no longer had the former pro-hockey player next door to call in for backup). Since the cops were an hour away (ask me how I know) and ambulance a little longer (completely different incidents), I chose to take the hit to my professional career and move back to live with my parents over risking my safety.

      I was in tears as I packed up mid day, leaving the 3 grade 7 boys I had bonded with to deal with the fallout but I couldn’t do it. I did leave all my notes and lesson plans for my replacement, who ended up being the wife of the teacher who left a month later (so I am guessing she went too) and my number for her to call for advice. I regret leaving them in a lurch, but not that I made that choice.

  4. V*

    There is an understanding in my industry that if you are a critical person on an imminent regulatory filing it is a dick move to quit within ~3 months prior to the filing date. It’s not unethical, it’s just a giant pain in everyone else’s ass and if you can slog it out until the filing is done, you do. This is more about not screwing over co-workers than not screwing over the company. Having said that, the lack of flexibility and slack in staffing that leads to this level of dependence on key roles is getting worse and worse and I see more and more people burning out on it. Retention is horrible if everyone wants to quit as soon as a deadline has passed, and I hope that corporations will at least notice the cost of hiring/training to fill roles.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m actually adding a caveat to the end about some field-specific examples of this — although even then you’d need to balance those expectations against whether your employer has met its commitments to you.

      1. Luna Lovegood*

        Thank you for including the onus on employers to meet their commitments as well. If a job is so critical that it’s unethical to leave at an inconvenient time, then the compensation needs to reflect that. And honestly, there need to be back up plans built in, because some people will still need to leave sometimes. “Helping” professions like teaching put so much pressure on individuals without sufficient support for those individuals.

    2. sacados*

      True. And even then, it’s not “you CANNOT quit” but more “make sure you fully understand the consequences of quitting, the hit your professional reputation may take/bridges burned, but if even knowing all that you still decide to do it… well, then godspeed.”

    3. TaxLife*

      What happens when you are always within 3 months of a regulatory filing? You can basically never leave. Don’t turn down an opportunity because of this. Make sure your documentation is good. Give a month’s notice to transition, but don’t give up opportunities because of bad timing.

      1. Beth*

        I think this falls under the “whether your employer has met its commitments to you” part of the caveat. A reasonable workload might involve some crunch periods, but it also involves some downtime where deadlines are less intense and work is more relaxed. If your employer has things set up so you’re always in crunch mode, then they’re underhiring and expecting you to pick up the slack–and that’s not the behavior of an employer that deserves you going out of your way to accommodate them.

        1. Merrie*

          This is the way my old employer structured their business. Have barely enough staff and barely enough allotted hours, pay them terribly so they’re constantly quitting, and then blame them when their customer service scores take a dive when business takes a jump. Not a winning formula. I don’t miss it there in the slightest.

  5. Daniel*

    Do document your internal knowledge and processes. That’s something that’s worth doing whether or not you have a new opportunity or even if you weren’t looking to leave at all. That sort of thing is oftentimes thought of as a way to preserve knowledge if something goes wrong, but I’ve found that it’s often useful even in a day-to-day sense–more like a checklist.

    But please, don’t feel like there’s an ethical obligation to stay. That puts way, way more emphasis on your relationship to your employer than it really warrants, especially in a situation like this one–this sort of thing happens all the time! Maybe your employer will have to muddle through for a while, but that is totally okay.

    1. Fluffy Initiative*

      I came here to say almost exactly the same thing – especially if you have a coworker who is going to be out on leave, and you’ll have an intern or temp pitching in. Documenting your processes helps you in the short term by writing them down and maybe identifying things that need help, it helps you in the longer term where someone else is temporarily covering you (or your teammate’s) job, and it can help soften the blow if/when you do decide to leave that you have a binder of information for the new person to learn from.

      Pro tip: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to document every single instance, exception, or possibility. Lay out the steps in the process, resources they’ll need, and what to do if something deviates from the expected process (escalate to a manager, punt it to Engineering, etc.)

    2. Sara without an H*

      Daniel & Fluffy Initiative, you both have good takes on this situation. Documenting key operations is always a good idea — even if OP stays, she may want to take vacation when things settle down.

      I agree that you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) try to write processes for very minor operations — somebody can always show a newbie how to do the daily mail run. Write up essential stuff and have a list of people they can call for backup.

  6. Brain the Brian*

    The closest I can come to an example of a time when it might really be ethically *not* okay to quit is a youth camp leader who is leading a group of students after one of their peers died unexpectedly. To leave in such a situation would risk the mental health of the remaining students. (Yes, this happened where I work — and yes, the person in question stayed for the sake of the students.)

    1. Tourdion*

      True, but that’s even still not a hard and fast rule–that’s only if the camp leader is able to stay, because I can certainly see a scenario where the leader is also struggling and their struggles just make things harder for the students, rather than easier.

      Virtually the only thing I can think of that is truly hard-and-fast is “medical provider dealing with a current medical emergency, who is capable of dealing with that emergency, and with no one else available to sub in or even take direction” which is… rare. Or, the captain of a stricken ship / plane who bails with passengers on board (which, again, I might understand for mental health reasons, but even still). Basically, immediate emergency with no support and a short time horizon

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Said leader was, indeed, also struggling; however, said students expressed that they would commit serious self-harm if he left them (despite his desire to take time off if not leave outright). The leader felt that he could not in good conscience leave, we back-office staff got them all (students and leader) high-quality individual and group trauma counseling, and everyone made it through alright. The employee then took leave for a while to regroup, and he has been back to his usual incredible form since returning.

        Side note: When the inevitable audit question arose the following year about why we didn’t have proper procurement paperwork for the counselor we sourced during this absolute emergency, I had the distinct pleasure of telling the auditors to go pound salt. A good day.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            They had just watched a good friend of theirs die in front of them in a horrific accident. This situation was a tragedy all around, and I can’t in good conscience blame anyone — students, staff, or others — for anything they said in the months immediately following it.

    2. Smithy*

      I think the times where it’s truly ethically not ok are more to do with genuine danger – like a outdoors guide quitting in the middle of a tour until they can be relieved by another guide.

      I think that situations that involve kids – be it camp, schooling, etc. do require a higher level of care and certainly safety but it’s more about overall best practice and reputation than true ethics.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I would say that even then, it is ethically acceptable to quit. The first rule of self-care is that you can’t light yourself on fire to keep other people warm – the age of the other people or their mental development is irrelevant.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I like this example because it is so unusual and specific–a true one-off where I can see pushing off a planned departure to see this through, even if that wasn’t my plan pre-death.

      Usually it’s much more “I can’t quit because the company hasn’t hired enough people to cover all the people who quit earlier” which is not a thing that is within the letter-writer’s power to fix. A few examples here where that last person leaving was what convinced the company to stop wafting along and hire some people.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Definitely a one-off. I’m frankly quite proud of the way my organization handled this, and of the fact that the employee in question — who had previously indicated a desire to leave — wound up staying in part because we handled it so well. Not everything gets done this well, but in a true emergency…

  7. HA2HA2*

    Yeah, I’m trying to think of times it would be unethical to quit your job and I’m imagining things like “In the middle of a surgery, it is unethical for the surgeon to quit on the spot” . Not “It’s a small business and 1 person will be going on medical leave soon”.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, my mind was also on immediate life-or-death situations, like your surgery example, or on very rare “for the greater good” situations, like if you are a head of state and your nation is going through a crisis so you should serve out your term of office (but even then, I think it would have to be a very rare crisis with other compounding circumstances to rise to the level of ethical obligation to stay in office–hopefully the next in line for succession is adequately prepared!).

    2. Beth*

      Agreed, life-or-death situations are the main exceptions to the “it’s never unethical to quit your job” rule. Which is not a factor in most people’s jobs!

    3. Heidi*

      Yeah, I was thinking a pilot couldn’t ethically quit in the middle of a flight or something. The situation described by the OP doesn’t really seem unethical at all. Imagine if both of them died. Whatever the employer would do in that situation is what they would do if OP quit. It might be a real setback and a struggle to get back to normal, but the company won’t go under unless it was already in trouble. The OP could help by writing down some of the institutional knowledge stuff, but there’s no obligation to give up a great job to make it convenient for the current employer.

      1. Merrie*

        It’s one thing to quit with no notice and walk out in the middle of your shift–which is what it would be to quit in the middle of a flight. That is an unpleasant thing to do in most jobs, and in safety or health-related jobs it could be dangerous to others. But it wouldn’t be unethical for the pilot to put in two weeks notice and end their employment at the end of a flight.

    4. Anon (and on and on)*

      I 100% thought “it’s not okay to quit halfway through brain surgery.” Not much else rises to that level!

    5. Fluffy Initiative*

      I would say airline pilots and flight attendants should ideally not quit if they’re mid-flight, but that’s another VERY rare example.

    6. Smithy*

      I think in general, situations where safety is at play come to mind around ethics the most. In addition to more concrete life and death situations, I do think that professions like being an outdoors guide in the middle of a tour or professions where you oversee the care of animals or children – quitting and walking off the job before you can be relieved would be unethical.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        Safety is a really good point in this conversation. Like it might be unethical for a crane operator to quit mid shift and leave a couple of tons of steel girders dangling in the air. But if they quit mid-shift, with all materials safely stored on the ground… do what you got to do Boo!

    7. PsychNurse*

      Yes– I’m a nurse, and it is unethical to leave a patient in the middle of your shift. Or, if you stretch it, if you’re an in-home nurse and you find out that there isn’t a replacement for you, MAYBE it is necessary to cover a shift or two, to ensure a replacement can be found. Maybe.

  8. Artemesia*

    There is only one situation I can think of where someone should postpone a move in their own interests and that would be if a small employer had gone above and beyond for the employee. My Dad had a near lethal reaction to penicillin in the early 50s and was hospitalized for 6 weeks and out of work for 3 mos. His employer paid him this entire time although he didn’t have sick leave or vacation time saved up for that length of time. I can see someone in a similar situation where they were paid for a long period of non work wanting to bend over backwards to make sure they gave enough notice for a graceful transition.

    But yeah. Sacrifices made for someone else’s business will not benefit you or the family in the long run — do what is good for you while documenting well, and doing what you can reasonably do for the transition.

    1. Anonym*

      I’d say that’s still outside of the realm of ethics, though. It’s a hard decision, and you’d want to return their generosity if possible, but it wouldn’t be unethical to leave if that was the best thing for you.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      In that case, I would say that your Dad should have given AMPLE notice (say 3 months), seeing as the company had treated him well and presumably, would honour any decision he had to leave by respecting his notice and employing him to the end of the extended notice period.

      But there’s nothing ethical there that should have prevented your Dad from taking another job, if he wanted to.

  9. Anonym*

    The only genuinely unethical situation I can come up with is if it would create significant hardship on your family/dependents (NOT your organization or colleagues), more so than you staying. That is, if the kids aren’t going to be fed enough or your spouse has to forego their medication… not kids don’t get to do music camp this year or something. Real hardship. Otherwise it’s a personal and practical decision, not an ethical one.

    1. Anonym*

      Seeing some of the other responses, I’d like to expand the definition of dependents just a bit – like the patient on the surgical table or the people who need the tour guide to lead them to safety. But it all centers around avoiding real harm or danger to those who can’t reasonably get their safety or wellbeing any other way.

  10. Deb*

    I think it would be unethical to quit when someone’s life is in your hands and/or physically harmful things would happen to someone if you quit. (I know in some places this would be illegal, but not always.) I’m imagining a lower key example of a tour guide in a country where your guests don’t know the language and you decide to abandon them in an area where they don’t have the tools to help themselves. This is a short-term “wait” though. Not, stuck for months situation.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      My example above (group leader for a summer camp where one of the students had died and the others needed support that only that person could provide) intersects with this one: the camp was in a foreign country. So, yes, life in hands.

    2. Nack*

      This brought to mind a vague memory of a news story from several years ago: IIRC, a cruise ship crashed on a rocky outcropping and the captain abandoned ship while the crew and passengers were still aboard/potentially in danger.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        32 people died, including 5 crew members who risked their lives to save the passengers, because the captain decided to turn off the alarms and navigate by sight. At midnight.

        I suspect that people would have been less miffed about the incident if it hadn’t been his fault that people died.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I think Nack was referring to the Costa Concordia, since it was in 2012 and involved a cruise ship on a rocky outcrop- that was the one I was assuming.

      2. Vladimir*

        worth noting that captains behavior was deemed ilegal and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison

    3. Twix*

      I think your last sentence there is a key point. As Allison mentioned, it’s a question of what constitutes a reasonable sacrifice, and duration is a major part of that. I can think of tons of examples of where it would be unethical to literally drop what you’re doing and quit right this instant and many where it might be unethical to quit today with zero notice, because A) There are lots of jobs where you’re responsible for the immediate wellbeing of people you have no larger ethical duty to, B) Continuing to do a job you want to leave for 2 hours is a very different ask than continuing to do it for 2 months, and C) You’re leaving people without time to prepare for the impact of your departure. But the longer the time commitment being asked of someone, the higher the bar for it to be an ethical obligation.

  11. The Rural Juror*

    A surgeon quitting in the middle of surgery… A firefighter quitting before responding to a call…

    Unless someone’s life is dependent on you staying in your job, then it’s not unethical! It’s a business arrangement, not typically life or death.

    1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      Fair enough. But it’s not a question about ‘what is the best time of day to quit?’. It is understood that it’s about picking a time to quit on days/weeks/months scale, not on an hour scale. The surgeon can quit after the surgery and the firefighter can quit at the end of the day too.

    2. Artemesia*

      I was framing the question as quitting with two weeks notice — when THAT might be unethical. Pretty obvious that a pilot quitting mid flight, a doctor mid surgery, a fire fighter mid fire would be dereliction of duty.

    3. Less Bread More Taxes*

      This also goes for situations that aren’t immediate emergencies. For example, my mother is a psychotherapist who works with addicts and recovering addicts. Some of her clients have been seeing her for years and have used her as support through all kinds of life changes. For some of her clients, she is the only stable thing in their lives. She’s seen people relapse over the most minor things, and so she knows that removing herself from their lives would be a traumatic thing for some of them. Therefore, whenever she talks about changing jobs, she talks about a six-month process of handing over her clients to someone else.

      I know this is not how all therapists operate, and I’m sure a lot of people who think she shouldn’t be this dedicated to people, but to her, it does really seem like a life or death situation, and I think she’s right.

  12. TeenieBopper*

    The only situation I can think of where it would be unethical to quit is if someone would literally die immediately when you do.

  13. Jenny*

    Yes! And if your leaving would cause some kind of catastrophic result, it’s NOT your fault, it’s the fault of management for not having better contingency plans. Don’t accept responsibility (and corresponding guilt trips) that are not yours.

  14. Lauren*

    Medical position in charge of patient care. If you take over a doctors office as the only doctor, then you need to ethically continue care until you’ve found a replacement for most patients. Quitting during a surgery as the surgeon, nurse, or anesthesiologist. Home health aides for those without any backup – but really if you are the only person around and family doesn’t exist or are far away, you need to find another option before you leave them unattended. The professor thing would be bad too, but in theory someone else can take over and the university shouldn’t just stop the class putting everyone’s education track in jeopardy. That is on the university though and if you are harassed or in danger, leave. Same as a medical person, but you just need to ethically find a solution before you bolt.

    1. Jay*

      If you’re the only person capable of providing the care, absolutely. If you’re part of a larger system and you follow appropriate procedures to give notice, that’s not abandonment. I resigned from an inpatient job with the standard 90 days notice. I knew that one of the three other docs in the group was going on mat leave at the same time I finished. Since my boss – not the administration, but my boss specifically – to leave a position unfilled because he was waiting until he could hired his hand-picked protegé, I didn’t feel bad at all about leaving them shorthanded.

      1. Yellow+Flotsam*

        It’s interesting – the term quitting has different connotations to me than resigning. So when people say quitting, I’m thinking not working their notice period (and this is usually in your award or contract – there is always one or the other here, possibly both). It doesn’t have to mean that, but it’s my default assumption.

        So for me – the bar for quitting being unethical is a lot lower. Even if a job sucks – in most cases it is not harmful to you to resign properly.

    2. Just Another Starving Artist*

      Yeah, for me the question ethics comes in terms of “are you hurting people or are you hurting the company?” If you’re an obstetrician, don’t take on any new patients, but maybe wait until your high-risk 7-months pregnant patient delivers, or see that their care is continued not just by some provider, but by a provider you trust. If you’re the head of a disaster preparedness/recovery agency, don’t quit in the middle of a disaster (unless your deputy is more competent than you). If you’re the only customer service rep for a medical device company… honestly, get the hell out of there because that’s unsustainable, but make a whistleblower complaint before you do because that company’s going to get people killed. It’s a question of did you accept responsibility for people’s well-being when you took the job. Because if you did, then the ethical thing to do is to make sure that responsibility is properly handed over.

    3. Raktajino*

      Example for contrast or discussion: A major hospital in Oregon had to close their heart transplant unit a few years back when all their cardiologists quit. Patients had to be referred out of state, so the risk to patients was moderate but not necessarily immediate. I’m not sure what happened to lead the cardiologist to quit; sounds like a systemic issue that ohsu should have handled differently.

      Between the timing and the probable cause, to me it felt more like a shitty situation all around and less a clear cut unethical move…at least for the cardiologists. Someone high up at OHSU was probably acting unethically.

      One article:

  15. A Tired Queer*

    This letter and response have come at such an appropriate time; I’m going through the exact same mental math with my own position, with the added bonus of me being the one about to go on medical leave. “I know my team is prepared for my temporary departure, but what about if I take this other opportunity that I’ve been waiting for for years? Can they really handle that?” Yes, I’m sure they can, but I’m also grateful for this letter to help ease my worries about it.

    1. academic fibro warrior*

      Yes they can! I left a position where I had the most institutional knowledge because I had been there for 20 years (in various capacities including a resident student, when people didn’t leave jobs so I knew most people in my professional network from my teens and twenties) and therefore had a good network to do my job (student services and the tons of paperwork). My replacement did not. They survived fine for the two years before the program was closed with zero crises in student services (some of the part timers kept me abreast of things). It helped that I documented processes thoroughly. Over documented really. And that’s a nice thing you can do for your coworkers, giving them the resources they need to be successful while you’re out/leaving, honestly. Don’t put your life on hold for them! Go for the opportunity! Best of luck!

    2. Sara without an H*

      They probably can, although they may not handle it exactly as you would.

      In the course of my career, I’ve had a couple of people quit on short/no notice. Rather than trying to reconstruct what they knew, I focused on what needed to happen in their positions. If you’re clear on what the outcome has to be, you’ll usually find several ways to get to it.

      Your team has probably learned more from you than you think. Trust them to cope and do what works for you.

    3. Rosamond Vincy*

      Same! I was wondering if I wrote the letter based on the subject line, though in my case the issue is not medical leave but just plain understaffing. I feel sad about the possibility of leaving my immediate team and some of my clients but Alison helps me realize – it’s not unethical.

      Good luck with your leave and your new opportunity, ATQ!

  16. Generic+Name*

    I was waiting for the OP to get to the part where someone could die if some part of their job wasn’t done. Like a surgeon doesn’t up and quit mid surgery or a fire fighter doesn’t resign effective immediately when they are carrying a child out of a burning building. I think quitting the vast majority of jobs would at worst be a pain in the butt for the company, but that’s it. It’s up to companies to staff appropriately, and if a single person leaving, even if it’s the CEO, shouldn’t spell doom for the entire company.

  17. Spearmint*

    I think for very senior people, like C-level executives/government department heads, there may be situations where it’s unethical to leave a job if doing so would really harm clients or constituents. So the head of FEMA shouldn’t resign 2 weeks after a hurricane, for instance. But those are very high levels positions and the vast majority of people will never be in them.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      but normally these organizations are run (when run correctly) on delegation. I do news coverage on a certain sector of medicine and I can’t tell you how often CEO’s quit! I was shocked at first but often they aren’t a good fit after coming from another industry or just get burned out, that’s what boards of directors are for, to make decisions in the interim and balance powers.

      1. Jonquil*

        Exactly. FEMA would have governing legislation that specifies delegation to make decisions about resources/deployment etc and those are assigned to positions, not a named individual. They also have accountability structures like oversight committees and cabinet ministers who are able to appoint interim people into jobs, so it would probably be annoying to the government, but not have a huge impact for staff delivering services on the ground.

  18. Riding a Bike on Fire*

    One of the things that keeps bringing me back to this site is how often at least one post in a given day is something I really needed to hear. I’ve been concerned about leaving my job because it’s in consulting and I’m in charge of a couple of clients, so leaving would put my company into a scramble. I’m also worried about the impact on our company office, as I’m the only person working here in the entire state (HQ is elsewhere) and unsure what all I would have to do to help close the office, if anything. And I’ve been worried because I got some training and certification costs reimbursed earlier this year. I’ve been in some degree of burnout for years, though, and have toughed it out as long as I can, but I’m making a decision to leave at the end of the year so I can rest and get ready for something else. I was worried about leaving my company in the lurch, but this post makes me feel better about something I’ve wanted to do for myself for awhile. Worst case on the training reimbursement is I could repay it if asked and still be comfortable for awhile with money saved back explicitly for extended joblessness.

    1. Llama Llama*

      You know, I changed jobs a few months ago from a job I was in a long time at a non-profit where I really cared about the mission but was also burnt out and underpaid, among other things. I was worried about the transition so I gave them a month of notice. They asked for more and I couldn’t do it. Then they basically ignored me for a month, didn’t do anything to try and start to hire or figure out what to do when I was gone, and that was that. Businesses can act and do what they want, in their best interest or not, and so can you. Seeing how they handled my leaving really opened my eyes to how they valued me (or didn’t) and prioritized the work I was doing. If your company is in the lurch and you’ve given adequate notice and left your work in order and ready for someone else to pick up…well that’s on them.

      1. sweeps*

        +1, had a very similar experience leaving my last job. I felt guilty about leaving until I served out my (lengthy) notice period and it became clear they had no idea what I did and didn’t care to find out while I was still there.

        1. Be Gneiss*

          At OldJob, where I was the only person in my compliance-type role, I worried for a long time about leaving and talked myself into toughing it out for a lot longer than I should have. When I did give notice, my boss quite literally asked me to teach her my whole job in the last 2 hours of my last day.

    2. Alpaca Bag*

      I did that once. I ended up in charge of having the copier rental people get the copier, being the point of contact for selling unneeded office furniture, and driving a rental van to the other state with the remaining furniture and office supplies. The company hired people to lift & carry the heavy items, and I only did the parts I wanted to do. When I got to the head office, I had a great lunch with people I knew electronically and it was great closure on one of my favorite jobs. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and I wish you similar satisfaction with whatever decision you make.

  19. Odyssea*

    This is why I always recommend that people make (and regularly update) documentation for their tasks, even if they’re not considering leaving. Especially if you’re learning something new or for tasks you do rarely, making documentation can be helpful to yourself as well! If the documentation already exists, then you don’t have to worry about trying to complete it during your notice period, or in case you have to take emergency leave. Sure, written documentation may not always be as useful as direct one on one training, but if it helps you leave without regret, it’s worth it!

  20. Nes*

    It might be unethical if there is a contract signed for a specific period of time, barring an emergency.

    Quiting on the spot with no notice when you are the absolute sole person responsible for the well-being of others, such as medical care or the supervision of the very young or disabled, would be unethical if you have not notified others (bosses, social services, ems, etc) to get replacement care before leaving.

    1. TaxLady*

      Supreme Court Justice when the other party is in power? That’s the best one I can think of.

  21. Jake*

    1. This situation certainly doesn’t reach that level.

    2. There CERTAINLY are times when it is straight up unethical to quit a job, such as:

    -Contract work definitely falls into this category sometimes. For example: I have contracted you to deliver a business critical component. Failure means a huge business failure, maybe closure of the company. 1 week before the deadline of this theoretical 40 week project, you send me all of your work to date and walk away with no notice because a new job came along that doubles your salary, but you have to start tomorrow.

    This is definitely unethical, and depending on the contract language, potentially illegal.

    -Outside of contract work, there’s really only one example I can think of where it really is unethical, and that is when an employer took a chance on you, and trained you but asked for a commitment of x months, and you walk away before those x months are up. It doesn’t rise ot the level of making you a bad person for the rest of your life, but it is definitely unethical, as long as the employer isn’t doing something unethical to make you leave.

    1. Tau*

      For the training, I’d say this also depends on the length of the training and the value of X.

      When I was looking for my first job I had one that sent you to an… IIRC six-week training but possibly less, and demanded a commitment of two years in return. The contract included a clawback clause if you quit before (and the estimated value of the course seemed rather excessive). The whole thing struck me as unbalanced and tilted in the employer’s favour. Never to mention that I realised I probably didn’t want to be in a situation where my employer had a financial incentive to make me quit!

      1. Tau*

        On the flip side, because people are pushing back against the training thing at all, the place I actually started at basically put you through a paid on-the-job training for four months before you started any sort of work for their clients. Given the investment on their part I would have considered it unethical to quit immediately afterwards without some really solid reason; I think most people aimed for at least two years.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I disagree with both of these, actually.

      If I get offered a new position with double the salary, I’m taking the job. Ethics of business and personal ethics are different. And legality is not synonymous with ethical.

      As for your second example, this is SUPER COMMON in trades. Taking someone on as an apprentice, and they leave before their time commitment is up. Most of the country is at-will employment. People really can just leave jobs, even with contracts.

    3. Lizzianna*

      I disagree that #2 is unethical. When we provide tuition reimbursement, etc., we have a contract that spells out the circumstances under which it may need to be repaid. It’s a business arrangement. The employer has all the cards here, if they expect to see a return on their investment, they can develop a contract. If they don’t, that’s on them.

      Even your first one, I feel like this can be in the contract. If your work is that critical to the success of the project, there should be incentives/penalties for fulfilling/breaking the contract. Again, the employer has a responsibility to make sure they’re protected if it’s important to them.

    4. Sarah*

      Neither of these is unethical. In both cases, the company should have protected themselves contractually. Your consultanting agreement should have a fine if you fail to deliver final product. Company should have a charge back clause if you fail to stay X months after finishing training.

  22. Lcsa99*

    If nothing else, the fact that your employer knows your colleague is going on medical leave means its on them to get coverage for that colleague. At a minimum they should be getting a temp that you both should be training in the week(s) leading up to their leave. The fact that they aren’t doing that means they care a lot less about coverage for what you do than you do and that’s a little backwards. You should take their cue and worry about yourself first.

    1. beanie*

      100%. Even if the OP was staying, the company should be looking for backup coverage while the colleague is out for months. It’s not the OP’s responsibility to stay if the company isn’t doing what it can with the staffing issues it already knows about.

  23. Margaret Schlegel*

    I used to be the only assistant in a small family company (parent and child working together, and me) when a child in their family was diagnosed with a terminal disease with a prognosis of one year. It was an awful time but I wouldn’t have left for anything while they were going through that

    1. Clisby*

      I don’t think it would have been unethical for you to leave, but I can understand your feelings.

  24. Galla*

    I worked for an organization that asked people not to leave during its busiest season. When I started, that was August and December, and seemed fairly reasonable. But over my years there, a failure to fire incompetent people or hire replacements when they left meant that August became June-September, and December became November-February.

    When a better job offer came in for me, it required me to leave in December. I negotiated 4 weeks’ notice to help my old organization, shared the documentation I’d painstakingly built for every aspect of my role, and specifically offered to promote and train one of my team members who was ready for the job. They didn’t hire anyone and I spent 4 weeks doing my usual daily work until my departure.

    If companies want to keep you, they will. They’ll pay you right, build a healthy culture, and surround you with competent people. You owe 2 weeks’ notice and an updated list of your role and responsibilities, nothing more.

  25. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, I work in a department of 2 people. We are the only 2 people in the company who know how to handle a bevy of tasks and responsibilities. If one of us were to leave, the other would have 100% of the department on their plate. So I feel EXACTLY where you are coming from.

    It’s still not unethical to leave. Even if your coworker has extended medical leave, or a vacation, or a sudden illness. It’s not unethical if you both quit within a week of each other. Leaving jobs is a very normal thing, and sometimes it’s inconvenient for the company. They will handle it.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Here’s the thing. Two people for a critical role is still too little. One could be off and the other get sick. One could give the other COVID/flu etc and they both be sick. Both find new jobs at the same time and quit at the same time.

      Any company should probaly have some sort of backup (more than one person) for any time sensitive or critical tasks. Be it a well documented checklist and a few other people cross trained enough so that they can follow the checklist to complete the task.

      In the LW’s case someone is going to be out for a few months for medical leave, the solution is not that the other employee come to work every single day and don’t get sick during that timeframe. The company should have already been thinking about mitigating the risk of the lack of backup.

      1. shruggie*

        Ding ding ding. I’m 1 of a department of 2 in a critical role, and I gave my notice a week ago; my coworker gave his yesterday.

        A couple months ago, we both took ONE DAY off adjacent to each other. My flight got very badly delayed so I had to take a second day off that overlapped with his, and the company nearly went up in flames. When we were both back in, it was our job to clean up the mess – and the CEO had nothing to say regarding staffing. We’d already been raising the staffing issue for months at that point. Shocker that we’re both leaving…

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          It has been a frequent topic of conversation between my coworker and I that we are stretched too thin. I had a baby not too long ago, so he was solo for 12 weeks. The only reason he didn’t run away screaming was that he let some non-critical things (but still very important things) lapse during that time. We’ve raised it a few times that we a) have too many tasks assigned to just 2 people, and b) have no backup in case something happens. Crickets.

  26. Colleen*

    When Meredith Grey had her hand in a guy keeping a bomb from going off. That is pretty much the only time.

    1. Lcsa99*

      Even then she could have given her two weeks notice on the spot and no one would blame her :) We’re not talking drop everything and run quitting.

  27. Alex*

    I think if you are the president it would be unethical to quit in the middle of your term just because you felt like it. People voted for you and are counting on you, and by running for president there is an assumption that you won’t quit just because something better comes along.

    Everything else…yeah you can quit.

    1. Alex*

      Oh wait, there can be situations where you are a supreme court justice and it would be unethical to leave.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        In both those cases you have a fixed term contract. I think the LW is talking about a permanent position.

            1. PollyQ*

              They’re not obligated to work until they die, they just have that option. Plenty of them retire, which I’d say is especially ethical if they feel like they’re losing a step and no longer up to the job.

              1. Evan Þ*

                Fun fact: In the late 1860’s, the elderly Justice Robert Grier refused to retire and insisted on staying on the bench. When he finally started falling asleep during conferences and wasn’t able to mask his dementia symptoms anymore, his colleagues pressed him to retire… and also pressed Congress to create the first federal judicial pensions.

                Once the pension plan was enacted, Justice Grier finally did retire. He died less than a year later.

      2. Jessica*

        This is a great example, but I’ll disagree with it. Your employer (the People) had a chance to build a saner governing system that wouldn’t make someone old and sick feel like they had to sacrifice themselves because the fate of the nation was on their shoulders. We chose not to do that, and are experiencing the consequences.

  28. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I think the only time it would be unethical to quit is if you are going to quit on the spot and their are people’s lives on the line. For example a nurse, or care giver. Where leaving right then and there would either cause people to not be able to get treatment or there would be no one to look after kids or vulnerable adults.

    Otherwise, even in this situation where you would be the only one left with instutional knowledge, it would not be unethical to quit

  29. AVP*

    The absolute only scenario I can come up with is: you are a rare disease specialist and the only person in the world who can treat and cure a particular deadly disease, and all of the people who get it would otherwise have no treatment! And even then, you should be focusing on training more people o you can leave!

  30. Lizzianna*

    I had a boss tell me once that no one is irreplaceable, and if they are, that’s management/leadership’s fault, and the employee should still do what’s right for them, their family, and their career. This conversation was in the context of me expressing concern about the timing of my maternity leave, but it stuck with me and has helped me frame decisions.

    Anyone could leave at any time. They could win the lottery. They could get hit by a bus. Or they could find a different job. A strong organization will acknowledge that fact and plan for it. If they haven’t, the individual employees shouldn’t feel like they have to sacrifice to make up for poor planning on the organization’s part.

  31. RB*

    What about consulting? Would you want to devote a very small number of hours per week to answering questions your old employer might have? Like a few emails in the evening for the first few weeks you’re at your new job?

    1. lost academic*

      Nope. Wrap it up and hand it off. I’ve left several consulting jobs and seen plenty of people leave. Especially when people are going to competitors – no. You don’t leave with no notice, but you devote pretty much all of your remaining time to handoff. In consulting you’re generally billing your time, so you do NOT devote a few hours a week going forward to answering questions unless you have a contract in place to get paid for it.

  32. Goldenrod*

    I totally agree with Alison (as usual).

    One thing that might be helpful to think about, for those who are super worried and conscientious….is that you really don’t know what the future holds. You can’t control or predict how your leaving will affect people.

    For example: Maybe the business will fall apart, everyone will get laid off…and find out that the things they do next are their DREAM JOBS.

    Maybe what looks like bad timing will, by chance, turn out to be PERFECT timing because just the right person for the job will happen to come along.

    I’m not saying these things will happen…or even that they should happen…I’m just saying (in a kind way) get over yourself because you aren’t the center of the universe, and things will play out in their own, unpredictable way.

    Once when I was worried about breaking up with a boyfriend (I didn’t want him to be lonely), a friend said, “God has other plans for him.” And, I’m not even sure if I believe in God, but she was right. He was sad for a short time – and then met the love of his life.

    So….let go and let God (or whatever “God” means for you)…..All you can do is make the best decisions for YOUR life.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      That’s so funny that you said that about your boyfriend. I did the same! With my ex husband. I didn’t think he could make it without me because he was so dependent on me.

      When I said that out loud to someone once, they just looked at me till I really realized what I had said.

      I filed for divorce. When it was (finally) finalized, I just lay down and cried while it felt like these bands of barbed wire loosened and fell off from where they had been wrapped tightly around my heart. It was such a relief. That guy was terrible for me. And my husband now is amazing. I can’t believe I might have missed out on him!

      (When I met my now-husband, I was already married to my now-ex, so although there were sparks, I didn’t do a thing. THANKFULLY when I got divorced 7 years later, my now-husband was still around and also available!).

  33. The Prettiest Curse*

    I used to work for a nonprofit that would hire temps for their big annual fundraising event. One year, a temp quit the night before the event, so there was no time to replace her. It was a pain having to re-assign her event tasks at 5am and we all wished that she’d just worked the day of the event and THEN quit – but even though we were under-staffed, it was okay.

    Events are another field where there’s a norm that quitting at an inconvenient time is not okay – but I give more leeway to temps than permanent staff, as event coordination can be very intense if you’re not used to it.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Having temped in those sorts of scenarios for a few months – nope. Temps owe the group they are helping with an event exactly as much long or short term consideration as the organization has shown them, which is to say none at all.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I wouldn’t hold quitting without notice against a temp unless they were actually trying to get into event management as a career. Like I said, it was a pain but the event went fine.
        (Also, I think it’s bad practice to hire event temps in general, because it can be pretty inefficient)
        Permanent staff, though, should wait till the event is over to quit if they’re responsible for something major at that event, unless it’s really unavoidable.

  34. animaniactoo*

    Having ended up a couple of times now as the “institutional knowledge”/”has a handle on too many integral things” slot, one of the things I started doing quite purposely a few years back (after reading a whole lot of AAM) was to start getting documentation in order so that my absence was not as big a problem as it might have been.

    This has had the effect of 1) being able to completely disconnect when I’m off and 2) making me more valued for this approach to work and work processes.

  35. TW1968*

    LW, you’ve probably heard this before, but this isn’t YOUR fault, it’s your COMPANY’S fault for not getting enough coverage and sweeping this issue under the rug. Your coworker is going on medical leave, you say? It seems fro your letter that your coworker give them PLENTY of notice, and they DRAGGED their feet, hoping they can dump TWO full time jobs on YOU.

    Whose fault is that again?

    And what if something happened to you and neither of you were available? You could get sick or worse and can’t work, or need to take leave due to family member’s illness, or you might need a vacation while coworker is on leave.

    You should let them know NOW that you won’t be able to handle the full workload yourself so what are their plans to get it all completed and handle customer service?

    They should give you a huge raise now to entice you to stay, but if they don’t, and that better opportunity comes along, give them your two weeks and leave with no regrets. THEY ignored this problem and they can deal with the fallout if/when you leave.

    1. DyneinWalking*

      THIS. This is so important.

      When a company (often intentionally!) keeps things running on a shoestring budget, every position ends up being vital. But the reason for that is not how extra special and important the position is – the reason is just the lack of redundancy. If you could easily think of ways to make your job not vital for the continued existence of the company (like, say, employing just one more person with an expertise that more than 5 people on earth have), it’s not that you are so important – it’s that the company values short-term ways of saving money over long-term stability.

      It’s a wonderful piece of emotional blackmail, come to think of it: You save money on employees costs by keeping the bare minimum of positions, and because there are only barely enough emplyees, they now feel personally responsible for keeping the company afloat!

  36. Clisby*

    In the case of public school teachers in my state (SC) it’s not just “understood” that you work out your contract, and it’s not just your reputation that could suffer if you quit. Quitting mid-year can be grounds for suspending your teaching license for a year.

    1. Clisby*

      Now, if you’re quitting because you are THROUGH with public education, then no worries; there’s not much they can do to you.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        but it’s still not *unethical* to quit. There are consequences. If you weigh out those consequences and it’s worth it to you, it’s not a question of ethics.

        1. Clisby*

          Oh, of course there’s nothing unethical about it. It’s just that there can be consequences beyond “I feel bad about doing this” for the person quitting.

    2. HS Teacher*

      They’re allowed to do that in my state, but my district hasn’t done that – so far. There are so many things they do to trap teachers, such as lack of reciprocity with licensing. Also, most districts will only give you a few years of experience credit if you’re new to them, even if you have years in another place. I don’t suddenly lose all of my skills when I move to another state! The retirement plans are also design to trap us where we are. It’s so demoralizing.

  37. Junior Dev*

    The example that came to mind for me is if someone’s (person or animal) life depends on you being there—if you’re a carer for a sick or disabled person, if you’re the only one in charge of feeding the animals at a zoo or lab, that sort of thing. That wouldn’t be a “you can’t quit” type of situation but it would be one where you’d have to give enough notice that your employer would reasonably be able to find someone else and if that doesn’t happen, report the situation to the relevant authorities before you go.

    Of course a responsible employer would not leave you in such a position without backup options, but as we all know not all employers are responsible.

  38. GreenDoor*

    If you leaving is really going to make or break the continuity of your company/department than that’s a failure of management, not you, OP! There are things good managers will have in place to lessen the impact of someone leaving: succession plans, written operating procedures, cross-training, etc. If your workplace didn’t plan ahead for how your small department might be impacted in a situation like this, that is not your fault and you don’t have to put off your plans to accommodate that!

  39. Phony Genius*

    I would imagine in law you couldn’t walk away from your firm mid-trial. At least not in a criminal case and leave the defendant hanging.

    1. Clisby*

      That’s an interesting point. Assuming, of course, that you’re not in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. I wonder whether the judge could order you to continue (although that doesn’t seem fair to the defendant.)

      1. Ginger Baker*

        You can absolutely withdraw as counsel for a client; you file a motion with the court. This happens alllllll the time in law firms, as an attorney leaves for a different firm. It generally does not leave the client with no coverage (other attorneys from the firm step in). Law firms as a whole can also remove themselves from representing a client (I am not a lawyer but I think this generally is done only where there is a significant conflict, for instance your client is consistently uncooperative or like attacked you or something). Where you are the court-appointed attorney I imagine the bar is rather higher to withdraw from a case vs. when the client hired you directly, but withdrawing from an ongoing case is not generally an ethical breach (I mean you can’t just storm out of court screaming “that’s it I am done!” but there is definitely a process to withdraw representation.)

        1. just passing through*

          (Not to derail, but this reminded me–I’m subscribed to the Dracula Daily newsletter, that emails you the novel Dracula in realtime, and the community recently had some fascinating discussion on attorney-client confidentiality when the client tries to drink your blood…)

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      As is often the case in law, there are rules about when lawyers can withdraw from representing a client. The rules may vary by state, but in general, withdrawing is allowed if it “can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client.” A defense attorney wanting to withdraw in the middle of of a criminal trial is (literally) the textbook example of a withdrawal that would have a material adverse impact on the client.

      Even if it might hurt the client, there are other situations in which a lawyer may (or in some cases, must) withdraw from representation, and those are the things professional responsibility exams are made of.

      That all has to do with the representation of the client, though. It’s not that hard for an individual lawyer to quit the firm even mid-trial, since someone else from the firm will just take over for them. There’s no material adverse effect from Howard handing the case over to Chuck—unless it’s the eve of trial and Chuck isn’t familiar with the case, but I don’t expect that situation comes up much.

      OTOH, if you’re first chair in the case and leave mid-trial, that sort of thing will get talked about.

  40. Janeric*

    If you work in Environmental Science are the one land manager or one regulator that is the only thing protecting a species/ecologically important area from destruction, harassing you on many levels until you quit from burnout/trauma is the playbook. In this case it’s important to remember that you are important, your mental health is important, and if you can protect it you can protect other things for DECADES. (You may choose to stay anyway. If you do, document communications with people who are abusive — both hard and soft copies (this CAN just look like keeping a good calendar.) and get a therapist (who isn’t from the local community).)

    1. Burning out*

      Oh hey, this is basically my situation. I’m trying to decide whether to go or keep sticking it out.

  41. tab*

    Well the U.S. Military isn’t OK with quitting whenever you like. They call that Away Without Leave (AWOL), and they will arrest you. I served in the Navy but did not go AWOL.

    1. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      That’s what AWOL stands for?? I always had a general idea of what the term meant but never actually knew what it was an acronym for.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      That was what I was thinking. But then the military is different. Members have committments and enlistment contracts and it’s not so much ethically but rather legally they cannot quite whenever they want.

      During wartime there have been periods when people who should have been able to seperate or retire because they reached the end of their comittment were deemed critical and not allowed to. That’s rare.

      But it’s not quite the same thing as what the LW asked. There are moments in the military in the middle of a mission when someone cannot quit the military but they are also bound by a legal committment at the same that wouldn’t just allow them to quit.

    3. PollyQ*

      Still not necessarily unethical, even if it’s illegal and generally unwise. The US military has 1.4 servicemembers. They’ll be OK without you.

    4. Katie Impact*

      I think this kind of example is instructive precisely because of its unusual nature. In cases where it’s really, truly not okay to quit at an arbitrary time, there are usually going to be consequences more tangible than ethical or social disapproval.

  42. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    At OldJob, I gave notice at the very end of the calendar year and left one week into January. My job involved compliance, campaign finance, and bank account filings.

    I did as much of it as I could in advance (some information would not be available until after my last day). I documented the hell out of everything — what was needed, where it could be found, logins/passwords for everything, mailing addresses, etc. I made multiple copies of everything and provided them to the CEO, the office manager, and all the people whose names were going on the filings and who would be responsible if they were wrong. I sent (and BCC’ed myself on my personal email) an email outlining all of the above, with all of the information.

    My former boss missed the deadlines. She got fined, heavily, by various state agencies. It was ugly and bad. The people whose names were on the filings and who were therefore also in trouble were FURIOUS — but not with me. Because I had covered my ass and covered it well, so even though I knew she was going to screw up and miss the deadlines, she couldn’t come back and blame me for it. (Although she tried.)

    I felt not one little bit of ethical or moral guilt over it because I had done what I needed to do and the fact that she didn’t know how to do my job and didn’t bother to read my documentation and didn’t think my calendar reminders about IMPORTANT DEADLINES were serious.

    It was a member-based association and it ended up costing them several thousand dollars in fines and legal fees and costs.

    Oh well.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Wish we had an upvote button.

      You did the best you could. That your boss was an idiot is not your fault.

  43. Dona Florinda*

    The only thing I could think of was when all the warehouse employees from The Office won the lottery and mass quit. Since the lottery money isn’t going anywhere (which is not the case for another job opportunity), I can see how giving an extended notice period and working for a few more weeks would be a kindness to the company/ coworkers.

    But maybe not even then, since Dunder Mifflin was an awful place to work.

  44. Sherman*

    I never saw a better example of Life Happens and Work Just Adjusts than at my last company and boss. My very wonderful boss was a Very Big Deal partner at a VBD law firm and had been there his entire career. To lose him unexpectedly or abruptly would’ve been a huge loss to the firm, the clients, the institutional knowledge he had, etc. and that’s exactly what happened. He suffered a heart attack one evening and never revived. After the immediate shock, a multitude of different attorneys throughout the firm came together and we parceled out his various matters and clients (some in the middle of major transactions now staffed with only an associate and paralegal). It was a lot to sort through! He was something of a workaholic and his attention to even the slightest details are what made him a great and highly sought after attorney. And you know what? Life continued on. It put some things about work in perspective for me. There may never be a “good” time or an obvious break in your work where it makes sense to leave that job. Some jobs just aren’t going to be like that and that’s okay! It’s okay to decide it’s a good time for YOU to leave. I myself left that job soon after to take something closer to home and focus more on some personal issues that’d been holding me back. I still miss that job, but I realize I miss how it was when that attorney was still alive and I worked largely with him. Going back now wouldn’t be quite the same.

  45. Chocoholic*

    I used to work in Long Term Care, where the staff turnover is high. One thing I did feel was unethical was when we had RNs who were paid close to $40/hour would come for a 3-day classroom orientation and then 3 or 4 training shifts where they were making that much money but were shadowing another nurse to learn the job, and then they would quit. They never even worked a shift, but just got paid for their week+ of orientation. That happened a number of times, and it was very frustrating. It was a huge waste of time and money, and I did feel that it was unethical for them to go through all that orientation only to tell us they had another job or just NCNS or whatever.

    1. TW1968*

      I’m curious, what was the pay like for the full time staff there? Was it super low and that’s why turnover was high? Or did they give the newbies a false picture of what the job was like, and then when they learned what the job really was, they figured, I’ve been lied to so just gonna NCNS?

  46. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    When I left my last organization to move cross country, my department (which was supposed to be six ICs) had two full time ICs (including me) and one part time. I gave ten weeks notice, with the intention of giving my manager plenty of opportunity to try to start filling in gaps. Three weeks after I gave my notice, the other full-timer pulled us all into a conference room and informed us they had been diagnosed with inoperable and terminal cancer and would be going to part time effective immediately.

    My manager didn’t even get a job opening posted by the time I left. My understanding is that my former coworker passed about a month later. The org is still running. They’ll figure it out.

  47. BellyButton*

    From an organizational and talent development perspective: if a company does not plan and prepare for unscheduled leaves or employees quitting because of better offers, that is on them. Part of being a good leader and a knowledgeable HR person is to prepare succession plans. This involves assessing roles that have a lot of institutional knowledge, skills, and system knowledge and preparing for documentation and knowledge transfers before someone gives their notice or goes out unexpectantly. That isn’t most individuals’ role to bring that to the attention of the leaders/HR.

  48. Fluttervale*

    I find it really interesting in the USA that we talk about people who don’t make a lot just “working harder” and working their way up, but there’s no expectation whatsoever that businesses do the same.

    There’s always someone else that can do the job. They might be more expensive, they might not be as good at it as you are, but you’re not special in the best way possible. If they didn’t want to lose you, they’d give you what you need to continue doing the job — whether that be schedule flexibility, more money, an assistant, etc.

  49. Jessica*

    My department would be in a bad way if anything happened to me, because there are tons of things (after 20 years) that only I know, and that are not adequately documented. But you know what? That’s an institutional choice that was made at a higher level. If my unit (or indeed ANY unit) had adequate staffing, or if we had functioning processes that weren’t insanely inefficient, then I might have had time to create that documentation. As it is, I don’t, because thanks to penny-wise/pound-foolish bad management, I spend my days wrangling crises that didn’t have to exist.

  50. PsychNurse*

    I know others have said this but: Nurses are ethically obligated to finish a shift, once we’ve taken responsibility for a patient/patients. Even in that situation though- if you become ill or have an emergency on your shift, your ethical responsibility is to let your manager know, and they have to deal with it.

  51. Tom*

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned is if that person and their department is so critical to the company more should have been invested in them building documentation or cross training additional people.

    I’ve found so many places have huge chunks of tribal knowledge (Tribal knowledge refers to any unwritten knowledge within a company that is not widely known.) Companies that don’t deal with tribal knowledge and get formal processes/documentation in place end up having problems when people leave(for any reason.)

    1. Jessica*

      Exactly. Employees are human beings who will get sick, go on vacation, take parental leaves, have personal emergencies, sometimes make mistakes or be less productive for a bit, retire, die, and quit their jobs. If leadership at a company has chosen to staff to a level where it’s only okay as long as all their employees are present and giving 100%, that’s a terrible management decision that will have completely predictable consequences.

  52. Woah*

    I worked a very odd and specific job during the worst of the Covid pandemic. When I stopped sleeping, started vomiting in the mornings before shift, and started having nightmares when I did sleep, I realized I had to leave or be reassigned. I was the only person able to do my job and I gave 3 weeks notice. Interestingly enough my team and immediate bosses were all supportive, but HR was asshole-y and tried to guilty me. By that point I was guilt proof. I gave all I had, it wasn’t enough, and if they needed more, they needed to restructure. And that’s what I told them. And, that’s what happened.

  53. RPOhno*

    I’ve been in a similar situation. You really have to ask yourself what staying preserves and protects. In my case (and it sounds like in the LW’s case), staying would just prop up a building built on sand. Less metaphorically, if your leaving would kill the department, then it was already dead through no fault of your own and you are under no obligation to stay and keep it on life support.

  54. urguncle*

    One pull quote that I’ve really gotten use out of from AAM is, “you can’t care more about the company than your boss does.” Even if you do care, your effort is wasted when your boss doesn’t care. A coworker recently had an issue where literally half of his team was just…grossly incompetent to the point of it becoming a liability for the company. His boss didn’t care, but we’re still a flat enough organization that his skip-boss did care, and was able to stop the bleeding before it got too bad.

  55. SundayFunday*

    My spouse is struggling with a decision like this. He’s the sole full time front end staffer for a retail store that is under staffed (as many places are these days) and other staff are part time with limited availability. He’s underpaid for the role he’s in. Every day is a struggle to keep staff and cover shifts. And he’s tired and burned out and wants to leave for a bigger company where he may sometimes have weekends off. But he has so much guilt. I am supportive of him whatever decision he makes, but it’s hard to watch.

    1. Wintermute*

      If I were in your shoes and looking to change his way of thinking, I’d say that he can’t care more than the company does about making it work.

      Retail, especially, has cut staffing to the bone in the name of profits and passed all the burden onto employees. It’s largely a metrics-driven business, and they’re not lowering their corporate expectations just because of something as “trivial” as chronicly understaffing, underpaying, under-scheduling and overworking employees.

      And from the corporate perspective, why not? there is literally no downside: the stress, the unpredictable schedules, the inconvenient schedules, the difficulty of surviving on a part-time job with no benefits, everything else? All of that is on the employee’s backs not a regional manager’s.

      If the company really cared about coverage they would A) pay a wage that attracts good employees (including benefits), B) Treat them respectfully such as not playing games with part-time hours to dodge labor laws and ensuring they have a reasonable work/life balance C) Have enough staff that there is buffer enough people can quit or even take a day off without causing a minor crisis.

      All of that is THEIR choice not his. He’s not the captain here, he’s one of the crewmen trying desperately to keep the boat afloat and sailing while the captain and the first mate are already in a lifeboat and the owner is sitting in a nice mansion back on shore watching him trying to bail out the ship with a bucket: if it sinks it’s not because he abandoned ship or didn’t bail hard enough.

  56. Kate*

    I served on the board of a nonprofit where the person whose job title was “conference director” quit like, two weeks before the yearly conference. It was certainly Not Fun for the other staff of the small organization, but I would still file it more under “reflects badly on them/not a cool thing to do to coworkers” than flat-out unethical. I’ve always had the sense that their mental health was suffering and they quit with nothing else lined up to tend to that.

  57. Sarah*

    Like a surgeon in a small hospital probably shouldn’t leave mid-shift with a patient cut open. But in 99.9% of the time, you can leave whenever you want. It’s the businesses fault if they haven’t planned on what to do if someone leaves. I always know who can cover what and what can wait if an employee quits and it takes time to hire another. If there are gaps, the company should be cross training.

  58. E.*

    I think there are definitely times when it would be unethical in some non-profit work, healthcare, humanitarian relief, crisis response. Jobs where other people’s basic needs, safety, and lives truly depend on your job. (Although at the same time, there are many people in those sectors who believe their job is more important than it is!)

    1. Ama*

      Even then, though, I think “unethical” depends on the personal situation of the person quitting. There’s a difference between leaving because you’re unhappy (but could stick it out until a more opportune time or until sufficient notice was given) vs. leaving because of a major threat to the health/well-being of yourself or family.

      But I do think the bar for “unethical” is higher depending on the type of work, and while leaving a job, even the most critical and lifesaving job would not be unethical, the timing and notice given and how it affects the balance of harm to you vs. harm to others could be unethical.

  59. Nikara*

    I work in Emergency Management. You’ll definitely take a pretty serious reputational hit if you quit during an EOC activation/active disaster response. And people will raise their eyebrows if you quit in the next couple of months after. It’s a small field, and people will definitely hear about it. But EOCs are designed to have deputies and backup. It shouldn’t all depend on one person. So ethically, you should be okay. But it would be hard to stay in the field after.

  60. Yellow+Flotsam*

    I can think of so many industries and situations where it isn’t right to leave AT SHORT NOTICE unless there’s harm to you in staying. And what “short” is is very industry and situation dependent.

    It is still your legal right to do so (in my country, outside very narrow jobs in very senior positions where you could be sued). But you would have to accept that you could be burning bridges for the entire industry, and potentially other industries who wonder if you were vindictive or just completely self centred. [I am not in an at will country – my employer can’t fire me at short notice outside of major transgressions, and even then I have avenues of appeal if I disagree]

    You should give some thought to how critical your role is (and if you are fairly compensated for being so critical) and how replaceable you are. You should also think of what redundancy they did build in & how much they are responsible for a current lack of redundancy. While it is true that if you were hit by a bus they have to cope anyway – it really isn’t the same.

    Few examples I can think of – any specialist qualifications where it isn’t feasible to have good redundancy but the place shuts down without you (especially if the redundancy has been taken out due to illness for example). Anything that places people at risk if you don’t give the expected notice (quitting a supermarket gig with a few hours notice is very student to not turning up for that transplant operation). Anything where you are specifically compensated to have to give a long notice period!

    1. Adele*

      I agree, there’s a lot of space between “you can’t ever quit this job, you monster” and “you know, it would be a real jerk move if you quit now instead of just a little bit later.”

      I had a coworker providing maternity leave coverage for two people who were normally each other’s coverage, so their leaves were very unfortunately timed. We hired, we shuffled around, we trained. This coworker was covering part of their workload and others were taking on other parts. She gave her two weeks notice three weeks before the first new mother was due to come back, while one of the other covering coworkers was on a well deserved vacation. She was just leaving for a different job in a different industry, not a once in a lifetime opportunity or something. She absolutely burned bridges by not waiting an extra two weeks, or even one week.

      The kicker? She asked for her job back a couple years later and no one wants her back after she screwed them over. So definitely, do what you need to do for yourself, but recognize what bridge burning behavior looks like.

  61. Koala dreams*

    Wow, your company not only doesn’t care to hire a second person, they also plan to put the additional work of supervising an intern on you. That’s not fair to you, and also not fair to the intern. It’s definitely a good reason to leave (if you want a reason).

    In small companies, often there isn’t the range of fully staffed departments that you can find in larger companies. Often the only solution as an employee is to find another job at a company that does value your work.

    As for the ethical side of it, I think people talk too much about when it’s unethical to leave and too little about when it’s unethical to stay. People talk about doctors and pilots in the comments above, and personally I think there should be a requirement to not go on a flight or to not perform a medical procedure when the company doesn’t provide enough qualified staff to make it safe.

  62. Patty Mayonnaise*

    Late to this post and this may be opening a can of worms anyway, but if fiction counts, Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules continues doing his job (actually one specific task) and doesn’t feel he can quit until he convinces Homer to take over for him because he feels he has an ethical obligation. I don’t want to say more for spoilers and moderation but the book makes an extremely compelling argument for it being a greater ethical wrong to quit a certain job than to keep doing it.

  63. Nightengale*

    In medicine there is considered a duty not to abandon patients, which includes notifying patients and making an effort to identify alternate care providers. This goes beyond “quitting in the middle of surgery” – physicians are generally expected to do this if closing a practice.

  64. AceyAceyAcey*

    Regarding teachers, note that in some US states, K-12 teachers who quit mid-year can have their teaching license for the entire state suspended by the school they left. So if you’re a teacher, don’t quit mid-year unless you’re leaving the field, or leaving the state — or know beyond doubt that your state isn’t one of those states.

  65. neurodivergent office queen*

    I’ll also add that for some healthcare jobs, the notice period for quitting is one month rather than two weeks, to try to ensure continuity of care for patients/clients.

    Other than that, if your business is so small that one particular job is essential, the owner should be stepping in to fill that role until someone can be hired and trained.

  66. Crazy cat lady*

    I used to work in fundraising for a small college that pre-dates the founding of this country and is truly one-of-a-kind. When it looked like the school might close due to accreditation issues stemming from a difficult financial situation, I made the hard choice to stay and help the school fundraise despite the high probability that there wouldn’t be a school or a job for me at the end. Others on my team left, and I didn’t blame them, but I just couldn’t make myself leave, I needed to see it through.

  67. Calamity Janine*

    i’m a ruthless millennial with a very cynical view, but my flowchart of “is quitting this job ethical” goes as so –

    will people literally, actually die or be put in mortal danger if you quit? not just be stressed, not just have less profits, not just have to close the store until more staff is hired, etc. – will human lives be put in immediate danger that you are there to prevent?

    if no, then you’re golden.

    if yes, tbh, that’s not even a “no don’t quit” – that’s a “plan your exit out and make sure your replacement is up to speed before walking out”.

    this is the very bottom floor, i’m sure. but let’s be honest, for every genuine plea of “please stay at this job which is okay but not your dream job through a few more months, we really need you”, i feel like there are a dozen more stretching that line like taffy in order to guilt trip an employee into continuing to slowly drown in toxicity.

    “but some businesses might fail!” listen, it’s entirely possible that an employee will quit out of the blue… or get hit by a bus and the next time you see them is in a casket at their funeral. if a business so relies on one individual and has done no cross training, contingency plans, etc… well… in the words of a great anime sage… omae wa mou shinderou. you (as in the business) are already dead.

    now i’ll grant you that some businesses are genuinely built around one person as the lodestone. but the number of those that are genuine is vanishingly small, compared to how many businesses are simply the walking dead due to terminal bad management.

    this is, i realize, so brutally cutthroat as to be near useless. but my anxiety likes to catastrophize. and sometimes you’ve just got to beat that sucker at its own game in order to shut the little brat up. the catastrophe here is… either not going to happen, OR inevitably will happen because the persons who can actually fix it will not do so and you can’t solve that for them even if you stay. when someone is trying to bank on manipulating emotions and toxic behaviors? take out your sword and cut that gordian knot.

    it may have additional consequences, mind you – damaging relationships, et cetera. but i feel like “not honoring a commitment” is the actual ethical issue, and one that ethics can separately treat with more nuance and broader thought. leaving a job? well, maybe you’re not honoring a commitment. maybe however you’re responding to someone not honoring a commitment to YOU, and reacting appropriately! the burden of honoring commitments in the workplace has so disproportionately been on the workers lately, and very of that energy gets returned. so it’s far more likely to encounter this attitude as an ensnaring tactic from toxic workplaces than anywhere else. the cynical eye when squinting at the question is, i feel, richly deserved.

  68. Uhhh*

    I’d say never unethical. Frowned upon maybe. If it bothers you that much offer to work as a contractor/consultant to ease the transition. Make sure it’s 2-3x your normal hourly rate and stipulate that it would be outside the normal business hours of your new role. if you are particularly upset or concerned do it at your normal hourly rate (i.e. biweekly gross salary/80). That way you can help the transition if you are truly that indispensable in the company’s eyes and make a little extra money at the same time

  69. Uhhh*

    I had what could be considered a similar situation. I had started a job where they had made promises and didn’t come through with what we agreed to so they said “if you do x by this time we’ll do y by this time” I had told them up front in the interview “if this is a wait your turn to advance environment where advancement is based on time in a role and age instead of performance, don’t hire me” I took the job naively thinking they were being truthful and I was in a very specialty role where only one other person in the company had the expertise to do (my direct boss). After I had done everything we agreed to and more, I asked my boss about them keeping their end of there deal several months after their committed time to hold up their end of the agreement. He got mad, called in his boss. After yelling at me for a good 15 minutes in my boss’s office (me sitting quietly and taking it) they said “well we don’t have the flexibility to do what we said we would do and your looking at no less than 5 more years for any advancement, more like 10 regardless of performance. I calmly told them “I appreciate your honesty, but I will be gone in 6 months”. Two weeks shy of the six months (to the day) I put in my formal resignation letter stating my last day would be in 2 weeks. My boss got mad at me saying “it’s really only a 2 day notice since we’re shutting down for the next week plus holiday.” He wouldn’t even shake my hand when I left. I told him it wasn’t my problem that the office was closing, it is a 2 week notice, and I had told him 6montha prior I would be gone by then. Had they just kept their word I wouldn’t have ever started looking. They still survived, I ended up getting more than had previously been agreed to by not giving into the guilt trip. Bottom line loyalty must go both ways, and since employer to employees loyalty doesn’t exist anymore, you have no more commitment to them than they do to you. Staying only allows them to string you along until it is convenient for them to cut you and by that time your opportunity has already passed

  70. Mill Miker*

    My first job after college actually did fall apart when I quit. It hung on for a while, but I’ve run into one of the former owners since then, and he introduced me the person with him as “the guy who was keeping my old business alive.”

    I was pretty sure that’s what would happen, and I did go out of my way to try and find and train a replacement, but it didn’t work. Apparently an experienced full-time employee with a decent salary was too much for the business to bear, it needed the jack-of-all-trades fresh grad producing high-level work at minimum wage to be viable.

    So now I have a policy: If I feel like an employer needs specifically me, if I really feel like things are getting to the point where the business might crumble without me, I quit ASAP. I consider this the ethical thing to do.

    Firstly, I don’t want to work for an employer that would pin so much on one person. And secondly, the sooner I quit, the less dependent the company will be on me, and the easier it will be to recover.

  71. Elm*

    I stayed at my last teaching job until the end of the year because it felt like the ethical and moral thing to do. My mental and physical health were failing. But those kids needed a champion against the administration who *literally* threatened their lives, and I wasn’t going to leave them in that horrible place in the middle of the year.

    But I didn’t renew my contract because I also knew I was going to die at work if I did. That’s not an exaggeration (I had a mini stroke situation at my desk, can no longer have general antibiotics because of how often I was sick, and I fainted several times at work because I didn’t have time to eat).

    I’ll never regret staying until the end of the year, though. Those kids had it rough and knew I loved ’em.

    So there are ethical reasons to stay at a job…for now. There aren’t ethical reasons to feel like you have to stay forever.

    1. Ama*

      I really admire you doing that. But looking at the long term consequences to your own health, I would say that someone in your situation could make the call to leave and that wouldn’t be unethical either. The rule about putting your own oxygen mask first comes to mind.

      That being said, I just heard about a teacher at another school who left a month into the school year because they decided that teaching is “not for them”. Now sure, this could have been cover for some other, more serious personal situation or egregious working conditions, but in general I would say that leaving vulnerable people in the lurch because the timing is more *convenient* for you isn’t ethical. In contrast to those who sacrifice themselves for an organization that can’t be bothered to build in redundancy of staffing, there’s a subset of people who act like inconvenience/discomfort and harm are the same thing and prioritizing their “needs” first is always ethically acceptable. I would say that there’s a difference between what you need and what you want, and refusing to sacrifice short term comfort for someone else’s actual need is unethical. (Of course applying all relevant caveats such as length of notice and degree of harm to yourself if you stay vs. potential harm to others if you leave, etc).

  72. HR Ed Rep*

    I think Allison should reconsider this last caveat. Teachers should not wait until the end of a school year of it is personally beneficial for that teacher to leave. Schools and school districts already have severe penalties in place like: the inability to apply to another job for a year, financial penalties, all the way up to losing a teaching license with the state. It is important that teachers are not held to a ridiculously high standard that other employees do not have! Forcing them to work in potentially unsafe conditions, with unraveling mental/physical health concerns, and sustained poor pay isn’t the “gift to children” people think it is. Teaching cannot continue to be an industry that allows abuse of its workers and then uses guilt, shame, and severe penalties to force its workers to unravel. If it is the right time to leave, leave.

    1. Ama*

      > If it is the right time to leave, leave.

      I disagree. I don’t think anyone in any job should sacrifice their long term health or well-being, whether physical or mental. But I do think that there’s a difference between “this would be inconvenient or difficult for me” vs “this would be harmful to me”, and there are professions that you enter into knowing that you have a duty of care which means you may have to put up with scenarios in the first bucket, and choosing not to do so would be unethical.

      *However* I do acknowledge that it’s not always easy to tell which situation is which from the outside. For example, one person’s “stressful but mangeable” is another person’s “threat to mental health”. But ethics aren’t just about plausible deniability or what you can justify to an external observer. It might be cliche to say, but only you know what’s in your heart. That means that at the end of the day you are the one best able to hold yourself ethically accountable.

  73. Bagpuss*

    Yes, I think in OPs situation, they could so things such as suggesting to their manager that they should be urgenty cross-training someone from another department given how small theirs is, and kniwing the the other person is going to be out (they don’t need to say they are planning to leave, but can frame it as something that needs to be addressd as a result of coworker needing to take leave ‘I know we are trying to hire, but in the meantime, I’m concious that if I were sick or got hit by a bus, there isn’t anyone else who is familiar with this, and there is no cover for any time off I may take, so we need to have back up available’
    (And if that’s ignored, that’s not OPs fault, but may help them to eel less guilty about leaving !
    They can also try to document key processes etc
    And perhaps offer longer notice than usual although only if this wouldn’t jeopardise their new opportunity – maybe something to raise at the point they get the offer to ask whether new employer would be OK with 1 month rather than 2 weeks, for instnace .

  74. Consuela BananaHammock*

    Many jobs ago, the owner’s wife physically attacked my boss in the middle of the office, accusing her of having an affair with her husband. No consequences, no apologies, just shrugging shoulders, “no big deal”. Boss quit that day and all her direct reports started looking for new employment, within a month we were all gone – which happened to coincide with a very busy period at the job. Zero regrets.

  75. Wintermute*

    Personally, the only jobs where quitting on very short notice would be unethical are covered in law– it’s not legal, for instance, for a doctor or nurse to just walk off in the middle of a shift without handing over the care of their patients to a competent party. And I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s one of the very, very few non-contractual legal exceptions to at-will employment– No one would want surgeons to be able to say “you know what, screw this job, find someone else to sew him up I’m out of here!” with a patient on the table. Similarly it’s not legal for some types of mariner to quit their duties while at sea. That’s basically the level it would require, for me.

    Unless it’s THAT level of urgency, it is immediately life-and-safety related and there’s no other competent person available. In any case I can think of even THEN if you give them two weeks notice the company should be able to replace you– if you’re that essential to avoiding people getting hurt then they shouldn’t rely on just you!

    To come up with a circumstance that would ethically require you not to quit at all for extended periods requires coming up with ludicrous hypotheticals like “You’re the only doctor for Podunk, AL, and because of the weather and the ice road breaking up for spring they won’t be able to fly another doctor out for several weeks” or “You’re the overseeing engineer of a remote nuclear power plant on the Kamchatka peninsula”

  76. Heck, darn, and other salty expressions*

    Some healthcare providers can be disciplined by their licensing board for patient abandonment if they quit without adequate notice. It is usually up to the employer to define what constitutes adequate notice, but it is normally 2-4 weeks. We had a situation where a therapist was required to supervise therapy assistants and provide services for a federally mandated special education program. They quit 1 week before school started for the year and it was not possible to hire a replacement in time. As a result none of the students who were entitled to this service were able to receive it and it took most of a semester of school to even get a contract therapist on board. This one action affected the services of approximately 300 students, prevented the therapy assistants from performing their jobs, put the education agency in legal jeopardy ( a complaint was filed against the agency with their regulatory board for not providing services), and caused extra stress and work for others who had to explain to parents why a service their child needed to be successful in school was not being provided. The education agency would have been justified to file a complaint with the licensing board against this therapist for abandonment, but they did not.

  77. Mid*

    I think the only truly 100% unethical time for someone to quit their job is if they’re a surgeon in the middle of an operation. Unless someone is clearly, directly, irrevocably harmed by your departure, you get to leave.

    There are some other situations that are harmful to leave without proper notice, like my friend’s PhD advisor who left with 2 weeks notice, causing a lot of funding issues and every one of their PhD students had to extend at least an entire year, which was pretty terrible for them. But even then, that professor had the right to quit, they just should have given more notice and helped people transition better. And if that professor had an emergency (which by all accounts they didn’t) they of course had the right to quit without notice.

  78. Irish Teacher.*

    At least in Ireland, teachers definitely do leave mid-year. Where possible, people leave at the end of years, but that isn’t always possible. And of course, teachers go on maternity leave very regularly and those often don’t start at the start of a year and a teacher going on maternity leave from November until the end of the year causes at least as much upheaval as a teacher leaving in November.

    Neither is a big deal.

    Our school did have a particularly inconvenient situation this year as a teacher left a couple of weeks ago to take up a position as deputy principal elsewhere. The reason this was so inconvenient wasn’t her fault. It was just that she was a science teacher. We had two science teachers who left and weren’t replaced at the end of last year (our school was over it’s quota of teachers and when that happens, the first response is to ask if any teachers would like to transfer elsewhere; three chose to do so, of which two were science teachers) and another teacher moved temporarily (for a 5 year stint) to a non-teaching position within the school. This left us with two science teachers and the other is pregnant and due to go on maternity leave in a few weeks. This means in a few weeks time, all those teaching Science in our school will be new and part-time or temporary (the guy in a non-teaching role is working with them on planning and stuff). The maternity leave will last pretty much to the end of the year.

    But none of us would grudge her the opportunity for a minute. It would not be reasonable to expect her to turn down a more senior role with higher pay because of the situation in our school. What criticism there is is more directed at the school for having a science teacher move into the non-teaching role. To be fair, if he did the better interview, it would also be unfair to choose the other candidate because their subject hadn’t had so much upheaval.

  79. Justin*

    Maybe a fire fighter during a large ongoing forest fire. Stick around until it’s contained.

  80. Yikes, Esq.*

    Pffffft I *wish* I had had the stones to quit my campaign job in October! I came super close because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but ultimately got guilted into staying because THE CAUSE was SOOOO IMPORTANT. If you’re a field organizer who has somehow found 5 free minutes to be reading this: if the candidate/party/whoever really thinks it’s so important, they should figure out how to do better by staff than demanding 100 hour weeks for poverty wages. If they can’t, run away and don’t look back.

    1. Merrie*

      A longtime friend of mine has done a lot of political campaign work and this is pretty accurate in my experience. It unfortunately seems like many/most campaigns are run like this. I hated seeing the conditions she was subjected to. :(

  81. Roja*

    In some fields, yes. I work in performing arts and education, and it’s a real jerk move to leave mid-semester, especially in secondary ed when it can mean loss of credits and money for students, or even delay graduation. It’s not to say there aren’t some extreme situations in which it would be worth it, but you really shouldn’t. Certainly in the small world of performing arts where everyone knows everyone, it would severely hamper your future job prospects.

    If you’re in a smaller dance company and there are no understudies (like most of the places I’ve danced), then it’s really Not Done to leave shortly before a show. You’re probably contracted for the season, but even if not, you really, really shouldn’t do that. It’s extremely rare for someone to break contract and leave a company mid-season, and again, it’s definitely going to hamper your future prospects once that news gets around.

  82. münchner kindl*

    My first thought was not, as Alison said, “your company could fire you immediately” but: “any well-run company should have a buffer, both for the lotto bus, and for regular vacation”.

    Since the law mandates +20 days/ year vacation (sick days seperatly, by need), every manager knows they need to plan accordingly. Which means that not only conscientious employees need to document their individual project status, but managers need to make sure the general methods SOP are documented.

    Vacation is planned, so work can be distributed among others, or temps hired, or external companies can take over (Alison has pointed out that some companies specialize in providing HR, or accounting, or admin, services, instead of hiring a temp to come in).
    When the Lottery bus arrives, or people get sicked, that’s unplanned for, but with most procedures written down, a plan for cross-trained coverage and manager prioritising what can be pushed back for later while hiring additional staff, a good business should survive.
    And a badly-run business will get into problems anyway, sooner or later.

    The other is the famous phrase “Cemeteries are full of irreplacable people”. That’s why important organisations (not just military, but government etc.) have chain of commands: spelling out who steps up when manager is not available, takes over responsiblity and can give orders.
    And few business situations are as urgent as a flood or a war.

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