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I've been with my current employer for about a year now. Due to the way the company is setup, I'm the only one with knowledge on a process that is quite important to the company. The company is going through some restructuring, and has been letting people go. As the newest guy in my department, I'm obviously concerned.

My question though, is if I am let go, am I obligated to spend my time teaching someone else this process that only I know about?

12 Answers 12

97

You should push for time to document your knowledge. It is never a good idea to have only one person with important knowledge. What happens if you are sick or otherwise unavailable?

If you are let go, the professional way to transfer this domain knowledge is during your last few weeks with the company. You should arrange how to do it with your manager. They might want you to spend your work time writing documentation or training someone else. Your manager will have to put most of your normal tasks aside so that you have the time needed to document as much as possible.

If they want you to come back later and train someone, you are free to say "no" if you want to. Or you can say "yes, but I want $x" where x is at least 3-5 times your previous salary.

  • 18
    Why 3-5x? Why not 2-4 or 4-6? – Mars Dec 9 '19 at 4:07
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    @Mars why don’t you provide an answer justifying 2-4 or 4-6? – Solar Mike Dec 9 '19 at 5:59
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    @SolarMike Because I don't have a reason for 2-4 or 4-6. If there's a specific reason for 3-5, I'd be curious to know :p – Mars Dec 9 '19 at 6:01
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    @Mars the company is likely to get rid of the OP - that is the point, so if they then need him back they should pay and make the pot sweet. I would not bother for 3x or less... Can just imagine the managers crying crocodile tears « we did not know you knew so much and we are stuck, please help us » . – Solar Mike Dec 9 '19 at 6:07
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    @Mars compare hourly wages of a normal employee vs. consultancy rates for a comparable resource. Then you'll likely find 3-5x isn't anything extraordinary. – Spoki0 - Reinstate Monica Dec 9 '19 at 8:03
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As long as you're still getting paid, you're obligated to do whatever your employer tells you to do during your official work hours (if it's within the context of your job and legal).

Refusing to do so would, at best, burn bridges and, at worst, result in them instantly terminating your contract and no longer paying you or potentially get you into legal trouble.

If they're no longer paying you, you're not obligated to do anything. You're also not obligated to work overtime (paid or not).

If you're asked to work overtime or do unpaid work, it would be reasonable to decline or (if it's a non-trivial amount of hours) request additional payment. Although this is not to say they would think it's reasonable.

Your contract may, of course, create different obligations, and you should adhere to those instead of what's written here. Any relevant notice periods should also be specified there, in some other legal document or in some regional employment law.


If you want to leave a good impression and avoid burning bridges, it would be advisable to try to pass on knowledge (through teaching or documentation) even if you're not specifically asked to do so. You might even want to (gently) push back on other tasks and emphasise the importance of passing on your knowledge. Although some won't be able to see the importance of transferring what you know.

  • I think in the second paragraph, you have the order backwards for after "at worst." Refusing to do your job will certainly ensure you're not paid, which is a zero. But the legal trouble will be a solid minus. – Mars Dec 9 '19 at 4:09
  • As for the 3rd paragraph, besides the fact that the OT sentence is unnecessary, it's completely possible to have mandatory OT in a contract, especially with no location tag in the post. I think the answer would be stronger if you removed mentions of OT (but the unpaid work, especially after leaving, is important!) – Mars Dec 9 '19 at 4:11
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    +1 for final paragraph, when you are the only person with knowledge it is tempting to keep it to yourself as an "insurance policy" in case you are fired but more likely this will just earn you a bad rep in your industry – Lord Jebus VII Dec 9 '19 at 15:02
  • This. When you are still working for them you are working for them (and getting paid for it). And while you might not care about big dumb corp it is only proper to transfer to colleagues who will replace you at the speed and allowence of management. If they say no then let them burn, but as long as you are getting paid for it to at leats try proper workmanship. – Hennes Dec 9 '19 at 19:34
  • Comment: That might be a very Dutch thing. Proper workmanship from you and from the company. Not well defined in law but required. But I did not see a country tag so I assume you live on a real country.. – Hennes Dec 9 '19 at 19:36
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If they let you go, then no, that is their concern. They might want you to come back to do training, but that would be a new arrangement and arrange payment first.

They could do this as part of the letting you go arrangements as well.

But even if they ask you don’t have to agree, especially if you are already in a new post.

If they are running with a bus factor of 1 then that is their issue.

Seen this before, where a new manager saved by sacking the contractors (just before xmas...) By February the systems were failing and the contractors all re-employed, at increased rates as they said « you need us more than we need you » :) Worked very well for them. The new manager was gone.

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    What did we just learn: A bus factor of n > 1 doesn't help if you throw n people under the bus :-) – gnasher729 Dec 8 '19 at 17:57
  • @gnasher729 if you are intelligent enough to do that then you deserve the consequences... – Solar Mike Dec 8 '19 at 18:02
  • If you are let go, you usually have to work your notice period. During your notice period you have to follow reasonable requests of your employer to the best of your abilities, just of like any other employee. Documenting your work and transferring knowledge is a quite common and reasonable request! – Daniel Dec 10 '19 at 16:00
  • @Daniel many companies will "pay off" the notice period and walk the person out the door the instant they are "let go"... This prevents malicious damage... So, no opportunity to do that documenting... – Solar Mike Dec 10 '19 at 16:02
  • @SolarMike: could be, but that would render the question moot. The can´t ask OP do document or hand over something if they deny OP access to "something". – Daniel Dec 10 '19 at 16:05
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If you are laid off and given a "notice period" you have to work -- you will need to do whatever the employer reasonably required during that period, e.g. training others about that process, or whatever they need.

If you are 'let go' without notice and with no further obligation then there's no need to hand over anything during what would presumably be your own time at that point.

You may want to consider whether you'd still hand-over some stuff as a gesture of goodwill at that point (you never know who you will need as a reference).

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    +1. The moment you stop working there, the company's problems are no longer your problems. If they lay you off and walk you out the door, you owe them nothing. – O. Jones Dec 8 '19 at 23:18
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    While there is a (giddy!) freedom to the "not my problem" realization, if you had a good relationship with yout colleagues during your tenure it may take some discipline to stick to this advice. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 9 '19 at 17:34
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    Or hand over stuff as a contractor, at short-term contract rates. – Technophile Dec 9 '19 at 19:18
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After your employment ends, you have zero obligations towards the company at all. If they wanted you to transfer knowledge, they should have kept you employed for longer. (If you had quit, they should have asked for a longer notice period).

If they need your help, and your new employer agrees, you can work for a short time as a contractor for the old company.

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    If they wanted me to pass on my knowledge, they shouldn’t have so loaded down my colleagues that they couldn’t afford the time to work with me. – WGroleau Dec 9 '19 at 0:07
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The important thing to remember in a redundancy/RIF/lay-off scenario is that positions are deemed to no longer be required, and people are only affected who are in those positions. If you are in a position that is still required then you will not be laid off. If the position is still necessary but you get laid off anyway, then management have blundered. But either way you are under no obligation to do anything that you are not being paid a salary to do. Nor are you under any obligation to compensate for management blunders. You should start looking for a new position anyway however.

  • In some countries companies can only fire people under temporary contracts (often-year-contracts), as a result they may have to re-train the people in positions no longer required to take the place of those they had to let go. – Ivana Dec 9 '19 at 13:42
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Although I'm not sure if there's any law in any country I highly doubt it. But you should approach it from another direction. How would you feel taking a new job realizing the last guy left without leaving critical documentation. We probably all have been there so you know it sucks. Now imagine that new employee is going to be your future superior, employer, hiring staff, ... and will find out you were there guy that left without passing that critical knowledge. I'd instantly fire you if I could.

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There are various types of redundancy processes such as specific positions are deemed to be redundant and the occupants of the redundant positions are let go. An alternative is to declare a number of equivalent positions redundant and everybody applies for the remaining positions. The successful candidates are offered a position. If successful and offered a position an applicant could turn down the employment offer and decide to take a redundancy. In these circumstances they may be required to keep working through a transition period (e.g. 3 months was required when I was first made redundant). Unsuccessful candidates such as myself are rejected and deemed to be unsuitable or unable to perform the role and immediately placed into a redundancy stream. For security reasons staff are escorted off the site at this point and their remaining time is spent at another location until they are paid out. Therefore the correct answer to this question requires more information i.e. terms of employment and the redundancy scheme.

If you are redundant and still employed you are obliged to assist with the training of your replacement. As you are redundant you can seek alternative employment and give notice. The length of that notice period is job/contract dependent. During this notice period you are obliged to train your replacement. If you are rejected as unsuitable, placed into a redundancy stream then successfully apply for another position in the same organisation, it gets more complex. Your new manager gets to determine how much assistance you can provide the old section. In my case I was still fielding questions four years later. It got to the point where I rejected requests for assistance. As a reject it was not appropriate for me to perform the role. Then there were no negative consequences for the refusal to assist. Due to organisational changes I was made redundant again when my section was made to evaporate. Again I was successful when applying for another position in the organisation. Losing your job and redundancy may not be fatal.

If you are terminated, paid out then receive a request you are under no obligation to assist. If you commenced full-time employment a contract condition may prevent you from assisting your old employer. If you are in full-time employment and your new management is happy for you to assist after hours I would be asking for double pay as a casual then double pay for working overtime plus a loading for meal allowances and taxi vouches for travel and that is before adding a loading for stress. Therefore 5 times your previous salary is not unreasonable. If this is too high for your old manager then wish them well. If I had left on bad terms that stress loading would have been much more significant. If the request for assistance came from a close friend then I would attempt to provide remote assistance to get them out of trouble.

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Normally I'd say EF the employer for letting you go, and that it's bad management to leave only one person have all the information.

Coincidentally though we've had a person of domain knowledge leave us without shearing that knowledge. It's now causing alot of headaches trying to sort that domain. In the mean time a whole bunch of people don't have easy access to a whole bunch of resources that would greatly help them do their job (which is not some corporate cutthroat business but is of good, helping nature). Also the domain knowledge is rightfully your employers' even if they don't know about it's existence.

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It depends on how much of a grudge you have against them for firing you and how much of the bridge you want to burn. If you still want the company to be successful and you don't want to put your (former) coworkers under undue burden, you should do some amount of knowledge transfer. Of course if you have to teach from the ground up, you only have a limited time so you should only do as much knowledge transfer as is practical; if your company valued your expertise they wouldn't have fired you so obviously you should treat them likewise and not break your proverbial back trying to keep them afloat, but you should give them something to go on.

That said, if this was a "messy breakup", so to speak, you have no obligation really to do anything. Yes, your employer can complain to you and say you're not a good performer or whatnot, but realistically they've already dropped the biggest bomb they can on you so they really have nowhere to go. As long as you are not being actively disruptive or spending an undue amount of time doing non-work-related tasks at work (e.g. playing video games or something) and you are contributing in some other way, you don't have to do knowledge transfer. Of course, the less knowledge transfer you do the more your bridge will be burned, so keep that in mind as well if you want a recommendation or something.

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Legally, as long as you are paid you have the duty to fulfill the task given to you by your employer to the best of your abilities. You also have the duty to advert harm from your employer.

As this Question has the tag "professionalism" here is how professionals would work:

  1. Always share your knowledge. Once you realize you have a certain domain knowledge that is important to the company. document it or share it. If you don´t have the time, report this issue to your boss and leave a paper trail. You boss can´t manage knowledge transfer if they don´t know there is knowledge. you are responsible for the details of a solution, so you are the first source for them to know if you did anything special.

  2. Always try to make yourself obsolete. Try to get your projects to a status where you are now longer needed. Something more interesting may come up tomorrow, and you don´t want to be stuck in this boring old project. You may want to go on longer holidays,without constant interruptions. You could get sick and it won´t look very professional if everything stops working once you are away a few days. You will discover that the ones that can make themselves obsolete are often rewarded with new, more interesting and better paying opportunities. Those who don´t are stuck where they are.

  3. Try to leave on good terms. If you leave a mess, you don´t leave a good impression. Remember you will probably be a lot more years in the industry. Looking for a good recommendation? Applying to a job and discovering a former college will interview you? Maybe even wanting to go back, because a lot changed inside the company and you need the money? Always better to be remembered as the one who cared for a clean handover then the one who left a mess.

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I think you should stay and help them to grow their business if they are providing you the all require facilities and salary. If not then you should give training to another person.

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    I think you've misunderstood the question. OP wants to stay, as far as I can tell, but is worried they might get let go (i.e. their position might get terminated). – F1Krazy Dec 9 '19 at 11:54

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