I declined a job offer last week for cultural fit reasons, over email, and this morning I received an email back from the hiring manager saying that he's very disappointed in me and he'll be calling my current employer to let them know I'm looking around. Should I try to get ahead of this and tell my manager, or call his bluff?
You should've told the hiring manager you will sue them if they do. For anyone with the smallest bit of remaining mental sanity, such a warning would've been enough to consider the possible consequences of their actions which ultimately gain them nothing at all, and to refrain from such a call as a result.
Call his bluff. It would be extremely petty and inappropriate to do that. I cannot imagine doing it. One's life would have to be pretty small to do so.
Having said that, if he does call...so what? Just tell your boss you got approached by them but turned them down. At this point it's your word against their word, and you're the one staying at your job.
As a manager, if someone called me and said "hey, rooty, who works for you, got offered a job at my company but they turned it down!" I would certainly not hold it against rooty. If anything, I would want to congratulate rooty for making what seems like an obvious good decision to not go work for a company managed by inappropriate and awkward leaders.
Knowing that an employee of mine was thinking about leaving would change nothing. If someone has a problem, either I can solve it, or I can't. This is an ongoing process of staying in the loop with employees and addressing issues as they've come up - either your manager is already doing this, or they aren't. Managers who respond to threats of losing people are generally not the kinds of people you'd want to work for long term anyways.
A friend once relayed a story of threats that resulted in him simply replying, “If that’s what you think you should do, then that’s what you should do.” I believe it applies here as well. It tends to make the other party realize his actions are not terribly concerning to you.
I’d focus more on your view of the work environment and your relationship with your boss. I’d suggest letting it lie until you hear from your boss. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to test the waters from time to time. If your manager deserves to be considered a true leader, he has interest in his people and doesn’t take a slave owner’s view of his team. It may even make him consider ways to keep you happy where you are. Just remember very few managers want to hire replacements. He’s unlikely to sink a lot of time trying to do so over retaining you.
Also, prepare your response. Be honest. Maybe focus on the fact that you turned down the offer. In your own phrasing, perhaps this might work: “Yes, I test the waters occasionally. This demonstrates that our company came out on top and serves to reinforce that I’m where I should be.”
To the threats, that manager has now emailed you proof and you plausibly could do more damage to him and his company than he’ll do to you. Beyond professional networking and company review sites, you have the option of forwarding his email onto his HR department and could probably find higher ups on LinkedIn if you truly wanted to get vindictive. That sort of escalation does come with other considerations of how he might retaliate, but I wouldn’t say you are wrong for doing so. And I wouldn’t threaten him back. I’d either choose to pursue that path or not.
I would suggest that the correct course of action is to escalate this to a higher authority at the hiring firm. The action this "hiring manager" is taking is very unprofessional and in some jurisdictions may be grounds for you to sue. You came to them in confidence to explore a job opportunity and attempting to blackmail you is actual extortion which is a crime if he does it for gain. Escalating it to a more sensible and professional leader in the hiring organisation will probably result in an apology to you and castigation for the hiring manager. Perhaps their HR department may be a good place to start.
No matter the course of action taken that you've decided to take, you should consider posting a review on Glassdoor of your experience interviewing with this company
A consideration for doing so should be whether this could be traced back to you and whether the company would likely 'get revenge'. They may potentially have a lot of influence in your industry, particular if it is tight-knit like academia
Reply to the hiring manager, thanking him for improving your negotiating position with your current boss. It may not be strictly true, but if you don't seem intimidated, he'll likely assume it isn't the threat he thinks it is.
If he does tell your boss and your boss raises it with you, just let your boss know you are always looking to keep your options open. Your boss is unlikely to try to get rid of you just because you are job hunting and might look for ways to keep you from leaving since it may be easier to retain you than replace you. Even if it's not that hard to replace you, it's still more hassle to hire and train a new employee before you've actually left -- unless your boss was already looking to get rid of you.
As an attorney I once consulted regarding a threatened legal matter told me, "I can't do anything for you UNTIL <* other party *> HAS ACTUALLY DONE SOMETHING. My advice is to go home, be polite to <* other party *>, and carry on as if nothing is going on BECAUSE IT ISN'T. When <* other party *> has done something, come see me". (emphasis mine) Best legal advice I ever got. IANAL, but if this clown of a prospective employer contacts your current employer, then you may have grounds for legal action - and if your current employer terminates your employment for this reason you may have further grounds for action. But until something happens act as if nothing has happened because it hasn't.
Since no one discussed that what if hiring manager just phones and tell his current manager that this guy is looking for a new job ?
But I guess if you are open to new opportunities or if your CV is on a job board, there are still some chances for your employer to find out that anyway...
Be prepared if your manager asks you, "Are you looking for a new job ?"
If they cared enough, they will rectify the issues because of which you are leaving, if not, you gonna leave anyway, i guess, would you care much ?
@JohnSpiegel offers a fantastic answer. I would want to make it clear that the threat didn't concern me, so I like it a lot and I definitely think it's the right thing to do, and close to the best possible answer to this question. Better than mine!
It really depends what your priorities are however.
Personally, being a bit of a hot-head, when someone tries to manipulate me unscrupulously I don't think I'd ever be fully satisfied by sending a neutral response, even if it worked. So I'd go with "I assume that your email was written in haste, and possibly distress, so I'm willing to let it go. But by all means prove me wrong. We'll see who ends up in need of a new job." ...maybe with more swear words. And if at all possible, I'd CC the highest ranking person in their organisation that I could acquire an email for. Satisfying. Which is by no means right because, as people have said in comments, there are risks associated with rattling cages, poking bears and kicking hornets nests, but I'd be willing to gamble in exchange for the warm feeling I'd get inside from pushing back at someone nasty with no morals.