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Address job-hunting key employee with care

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in HR Management,Human Resources

If you learn a key employee is job hunting, you might be tempted to try to persuade him to stay. Be careful what you say.

Asking the worker to stop looking and making even vague promises of continued employment may backfire if you have to terminate the employee later. He may argue that he justifiably rejected job offers because he relied on your promise of continued employment.

Recent case: James managed information technology for a company that was bought and absorbed by another entity. As an IT manager, he was essential to getting the new organization off the ground. However, he faced some criticism for not knowing much about the kind of work the acquiring firm performed. James therefore began job hunting in Georgia, where his wife had taken a new job. He made no secret of his job search.

Then James’ supervisors asked him if he was interested in a promotion to lead the entire IT function of the new, combined firm. One supervisor even assured him that the new owners liked James and his work and therefore said he had a good shot at the position.

Later, the supervisor asked if he had dropped his job search. James said he was no longer actively looking.

Eventually, the company hired someone else to become the new IT head. Then, after more consolidation, James was terminated.

He sued, alleging that he had been intentionally misled to his great detriment into giving up his job search.

The court said such a claim is often viable—but not in this case. That’s because the supervisor never actually asked James to drop his job search. He merely asked if James had. Plus, James never received any job offers that he turned down, so he could show no harm. His case was dismissed. (Aulick v. Skybridge Americas, 8th Cir., 2017)

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