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Without going into great detail, the situation is: My contract doesn't contain explicit terms on the specifics of handling a crisis, but some crisis is to be expected and our team is responsible to address them. The crisis may last about a month. This is in addition to our day-to-day responsibilities.

Recently the company is faced with a crisis, which will probably last for a month or so, but I find that morally I am opposed to the direction the company is taking. Their position is made pretty clear to be non-negotiable. I'm pondering the prospect of quitting, but I feel like it may be unethical to leave at such a time of need, and I'm somehow "cheating" my contract.

  • 1
    @Abigail Perhaps calling it a crisis is more appropriate. It will probably last for around a month, by my estimate. – 友人A Jun 13 at 16:55
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    @Abigail I agree. The op should list exactly what the crisis is. Are they taking on extra responsibilities because of something the company did, or is it because of some sort of emergency like a fire, or someone passing away? – Dan Jun 13 at 17:20
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    It might be helpful to know what the consequences of the crisis are, though I personally don't think anything other than life-threatening or serious physical harm would make quitting unethical. (For example, a doctor shouldn't quit in the middle of surgery.) – BSMP Jun 13 at 17:58
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    Are you suggesting handing in your notice, and (if required) working your notice period? That's not ‘cheating’ in the slightest. (That's what the notice period is for!) — Walking out immediately would be, though (and leave you open to legal action). – gidds Jun 14 at 9:05
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    “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” – Daniel R. Collins Jun 14 at 14:14
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What should I do?

  • Find your next job
  • Get and accept a formal offer
  • Give the required notice
  • Work out the notice period
  • Put this job in the past

You aren't ethically bound to work for a company doing things that are against your morals.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 Jun 14 at 13:52
49

Is it unethical to quit my job during company emergency?

No, it is not.

What should I do?

Take care of yourself first

In general you should do what is best for you, because the company most certainly will look out for itself first. All you are obligated to do is honor your contract.

If you want to quit, turn in your notice, and then leave (you may want to have a job lined up first, but again that is up to you).

If your contract doesn't have specifics in terms of a notice period, I would still offer a two week notice, which is pretty standard.

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    100% - your job is to take care of number 1 - you and your family. Unless you have any stake in the company that from your post i guess you dont – Strader Jun 13 at 18:26
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    *No it is not. * Will it result in a poor reference? Yes. Can it get you blacklisted if you happen to work in some petty, niche industry? Yes. (Especially since OP's handle is in Japanese, where I've heard a few rumors of companies sharing blacklists). Of course there are legalities, but unfortunately reality and legality are separate and one should always think in terms of reality, not only legality – Mars Jun 14 at 2:32
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    Would your company help you if you had a crisis? Probably not, they would only do what they are contractually obligated to do. Don't be any more ethical than the company would be, which normally isn't much. If you have close friends at the company, you might consider how your actions would affect them. – Mattman944 Jun 14 at 2:44
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You (almost certainly) couldn't save the company anyway

Unless you have concrete evidence that your leaving would cause likely and significant harm to others (as opposed to a vague feeling that the company can't function without you), then not only is it not wrong to leave during a "crisis", but you couldn't save the company by staying. It's common to feel like you're irreplaceable, but that's almost never true. And a company that's poorly managed will always be in a state of crisis. That does not oblige you to stay forever.

When is it wrong to leave during a crisis?

  1. If your leaving will truly jeopardize peoples' health, safety, or lives, then it is wrong for you to leave.
  2. If your leaving will devastate others financially and your staying does not cause more harm than your leaving would, then it is wrong for you to leave.

You'll know if you're in either category. #1 would be critical care healthcare professionals, security professionals, first responders, police officers, and military personnel--people who often cannot go on strike or stop working without warning precisely for this reason: peoples' lives depend on them. #2 would be if you are a C-suite executive in a corporation; you probably shouldn't just up and leave, or you could (potentially) tank the company and mess up a lot of peoples' lives. Though even here its far less likely that you'll actually truly harm others than if case #1 applies to you.

If neither of these applies to you, then generally speaking you're not harming anyone by leaving, even during a crisis.

NOTE: in #1 and #2, "wrong for you to leave" means wrong for you to leave as long as doing so will cause the indicated harm; it does not oblige you to remain forever--it just requires you to be more deliberate about your timing.

At the end of the day however, you have the best information about your situation and must make the final assessment.

  • if you are a C-suite executive in a corporation; you probably shouldn't just up and leave, — or maybe nobody would notice. – gerrit Jun 14 at 13:32
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    That did occur to me too. :) – bob Jun 14 at 13:33
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    "If your leaving will truly jeopardize peoples' health, safety, or lives, then it is wrong for you to leave." - I have to partially disagree on this - this type of logic is used far too often to justify fairly abusive workplace practices towards doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. If the place of employment hasn't made a backup plan for how to deal with being down a medical professional or two, it's not your problem - it's theirs. – Selkie Jun 14 at 16:50
  • I think for whether it's moral to leave if leaving will jeopardize people's health, safety, or lives, it's probably really important to consider the cause of that jeopardy. It would be easy for an OSHA whistleblower to think their leaving jeopardizes their coworkers' health. But if they've already blown the whistle, and their coworkers are still accepting the risk the company has put them in, the whistleblower has done all that can be reasonably expected of them, except for leading the way by leaving, and they are not putting their coworkers at further risk. – Ed Grimm Jun 15 at 1:31
  • Good points. My intention is to define a very narrow range of circumstances where it would truly be wrong to leave, so I agree with you. It should never keep someone indefinitely; rather it's a good idea to leave the right way and right time. Obviously it would be wrong for a needed first responder to leave in the middle of caring for the victims of a mass casualty event, for example--a true and undeniable crisis. But once the crisis was over (likely that same day), they could leave. So I don't think anyone should be chained to their job, but there is sometimes a wrong moment to leave. – bob Jun 17 at 15:08
3

"Without going into great detail", there is no hard answer, unlike what some other answers imply. In fact, there are no hard answers no moral/ethical questions in general.

There are situations where leaving would be unethical. But there are some where it would not only be ethical, but the only dignified way.

If the situation is indeed such that the company does something objectionable from your point of view, and it's not negotiable, then leaving seems to be the ethical response. (It may not be practical, but that's another matter; if this option is on the table for you, we should not discuss it here).

The only thing I'd stress is that your position should be open and clear. Before you hand the notice (but mentally prepared to), speak to your boss and say openly: I'm really sorry, but I don't like <this> and <that>. If the company insist on it, I'm going to quit, even though I'd hate to do it. Shake hands and don't burn bridges. On both sides these are (presumably) responsible adult decisions. It happens.

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It really depends on the degree of unethical activities are they asking you to do:

  1. Build a nuke ;)
  2. Experiment on humans
  3. Fire a couple of people

Can you legally 'just leave'?


Here are the two options I see:

OPTION A. If it is something really unethical and BOTHERS you and you can legally just leave then WHY STAY?

OPTION B. If it is not something very unethical and you think you wont be able to survive without a job then STAY - and either look for a better job or try to CHANGE the situation.

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