August 30, 2005 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I signed a contract to work for six months with a local company. That job starts in mid September. Now, another company wants to interview me that pays more and is closer to home.

Do I have an obligation with the first company I've signed on with or should I go with the money and the closer job if the second company offers me a position? I live in a right to work state so it's my understanding that I can break agreements made with employers.
posted by PHINC to Work & Money (12 answers total)
If you live in the US, then no, you can go. You see, we have this whole thing we did in the 1860's where some people said that you had to stay in a job against your will and some other people said, "no way," anyway, long story short, your "contract" is to protect you from them, not the other way around. If you are a contractor, and you don't provide the deliverable, well, then you should expect not to get paid, but no, they cannot force you to work for them.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:30 AM on August 30, 2005

Response by poster: Funny, true, thanks.
posted by PHINC at 6:37 AM on August 30, 2005

Even if Pollomacho is correct, it seems there's at least some ethical obligation to fulfill the contract. The company presumably stopped looking for other people when you signed, and mid September isn't that far away, so you might be leaving them in a bind. And there's your reputation to consider, you probably don't want to become known as someone who can't be relied upon to stick to their word.

Also, I'm not convinced Pollomacho is correct. I know for regular employment he basically is, but if you're a contractor you're not an employee, so already you don't get some benefits of employment (health coverage, overtime, vacation, sick leave, unemployment insurance, etc.) IANAL though, so take this for what it's worth.
posted by blm at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2005

I should PS my previous post that if you are a contractor and have already been paid in part or whole for the deliverable, then you will have to fulfill at least that part of the contract.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:55 AM on August 30, 2005

Pollo is right. Until they pay you, you owe them nothing. The contract in this scenario can be terminated by either party at any time. If work was done, money must be paid. If money was paid, work must be done (or the money returned).

These contracts do not guarantee you any period of employment; they mostly guarantee how much you'll be paid for work performed. Since the employer can send you away anytime they want, you have a similar right to leave (or not start).
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2005

You should also re-read your contract very carefully. Many contracts include clauses entitling one party to damages of some sort if the other party fails to come through with their part of the deal. A signed contract is legally binding—they can't force you to do the work, but they can hold you to the terms you legally agreed to.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2005

Once caveat to Kirth's comments - you can be held responsible for costs they incur getting ready to employ you if your contract specifies them. I know someone who has committed to work for one of the alphabet-soup companies here in DC and her (horrid) contract says she can't start and get paid till her clearance is complete but if she leaves now that the process has started she's on the hook for $10k.

How well this would survive legal challenge is uncertain but odds are they have bigger lawyers than you. Read your contract.
posted by phearlez at 11:27 AM on August 30, 2005

Since your current contract is short-term, I'm assuming it's more of an independent-contractor kind of thing than a full employee arrangement.

Every contract of that type I've ever signed had a clause in it stating something along the lines of "either party may terminate this contract with XX days written notice", or some other language describing what happens if you or they want to bail out. So the legal answer is, read your contract. Which you should've done before you signed it.

The ethical answer is another story entirely; if I were in your position I'd feel very strongly obligated to finish the job I signed on for. 6 months is a very short period of time; go ahead and interview with this other company, but be honest and tell them you're booked up through February but that you'd love to work with them after that.
posted by ook at 12:10 PM on August 30, 2005

Yes, read the contract, by all means. I've never encountered the kind of clause that phearlez describes, but they can put whatever they want in there. That's why you should read it before signing, and negotiate anything that looks unpleasant.

I do admire the ethical stance of those who are saying you have an obligation because you agreed to take the contract. That said, I would not feel that way. In my working life, I have seen innumerable instances where management sacrificed workers for some short-term gain. If the client company decided the day before PHINC was to start that they had a cheaper way to get the job done, you can bet he'd be out of their picture. Why should he give them consideration they would not give him?

You've got to look out for yourself. The days when companies were interested in their workers' security are far in the past.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:48 PM on August 30, 2005

Sticking to the job you promised you'd do isn't entirely altruism, Kirth. PHINC doesn't say what industry he's working in, but whatever it is, there's going to be a limited number of "local" companies doing whatever he does, and people do move around and talk to one another.

So there's a greater than zero chance that if PHINC blows off his current job, he'll wind up losing out on a future one -- or even this current other one -- because someone there remembers or finds out about it. Not a guarantee, of course, but I've often been surprised by how word of my past actions pop up in the most seemingly unrelated places...
posted by ook at 10:33 AM on August 31, 2005

I'm not saying I have ever done this, but I probably would, and I have seen it happen several times. As I said, if they can change your plans without notice (and they can and will), you should have the same ability. Any company staff that would badmouth you for choosing a better job is acting unprofessionally. I have seen that, too, and it usually redounds on the badmouther one way or another. Corporations are not persons, and should not take the career choices of others personally. That's what we're talking about here - career choices.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:26 AM on August 31, 2005

Any company staff that would badmouth you for choosing a better job is acting unprofessionally.

I disagree. If it were a simple matter of choosing between one job and another, sure, but PHINC already signed a contract. If he fails to live up to it, he may or may not be legally culpable, depending on the terms of the contract -- but it certainly wouldn't reflect well on his trustworthiness as an employee.

"Yeah, we had that guy signed, but he bailed on us a couple weeks before he was supposed to start."

That's not badmouthing, it's a simple statement of fact. And if I were considering hiring someone, and heard that about him, I'd definitely have second thoughts. I have some sympathy for the company's point of view here, even though I'm rarely the guy on the hiring side of the equation: they, like you, just want to get the job done and make some money doing it. If they know the guy they're dealing with can't be trusted to follow through on what he promises, then they'd probably be better off hiring someone who can be trusted.

if they can change your plans without notice (and they can and will)

Or they can't and won't, again depending on the terms of the contract. It goes both ways; if you want the employee to be able to flake out at will, then surely the company should have the same right, no?

That's what we're talking about here - career choices.

No, what we're talking about is whether PHINC should fulfil the contract he signed, even though he now would rather not. He already made his "career choice", when he signed the contract. Now he wants to change his mind.

Devil's in the details, of course. If the other job is vastly superior, then anyone who hears about it is probably going to understand and not hold it against him. Or if PHINC is going to be relatively easy to replace, then it won't be such a big deal. But if he's not an interchangeable part, and he bails on these guys at the last minute and leaves them scrambling to fill a hole in their project plans, they're not going to be happy about it, and rightly so. And that kind of information tends to travel.

Personally I'd find six months of work a reasonable tradeoff for maintaining my professional reputation, but that's just me.
posted by ook at 10:23 AM on September 4, 2005

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