Recruiting Ethics?

21 Nov


Nirav Mehta’s company, Magnet, loses two programmers to L10NBridge, both of whom leave without serving any notice period. His HR calls Lionbridge HR to protest about this, only to be told that it’s Magnet’s problem to retain their employees, and to be given a lecture on the harsh realities of life after threatening that Lionbridge would poach the rest of their QA team as well.

Neeraj writes that firstly, he expected the employees to not sell their soul for money. And that secondly, Lionbridge shouldn’t be encouraging unethical behaviour, by forcing employees to break their contracts.


Lots of comments on the post…ranging from the usual “employees are not human resources” to “sue the ex-employees” to “you must be at fault for not being able to retain your people”.

Responding to the above post, Vulturo writes from the perspective of a recruiting manager, and makes some good points:

…when it comes to a company wanting its new hires to join at a short notice, the issue is purely between the new hires and the company. The existing employer of the new hires is nowhere in the picture. If the company is open to allow its hires to join work without submitting proper relieving documents, it is a risk which it chooses to take as a part of its business strategy. If another company made your employees quit their jobs and leave at a short notice, it didn’t exactly do anything “unethical” to you. It is your employees who were willing to quit. The other company did not enter into business to look after your company’s welfare. It entered into business to make profits

Deepak points to the ethical dilemma that any thinking employee would face w.r.t. serving out the notice period. On one hand, it’s the right thing to do. On the other hand, there are always a few rogue employers who will make life miserable during this period, delay the relieving letter, not pay the dues or create arbitrary hurdles. (And if you think your employer isn’t one of those, wait till you try to quit!). He also makes one good point w.r.t. the recruiting employer:

…should the new company be wary of have-not-properly-exited hires? They should, but even they are aware of the “asshole employers” concept. Also, HR targets are to get the best people as soon as possible, and that links directly to rewards.


I can appreciate both aspects. I think employees should serve out the notice period that they signed up to, and the contracts should be legally enforced. I also think employers should be held to account when they let go of an employee to pay the dues within a certain time, and issue the necessary paperwork.

I do agree with both Deepak & Vulturo when they say that it is not the recruiting company’s problem, or even their job, to enforce your notice period. They might be in a steep ramp up mode, and/or might be facing the same situation (of someone leaving without serving notice period). However, it is also true that most recruiters believe in recruiting people at the last possible minute. And when they recruit they want the person to join “yesterday”, but when the guy leaves, they want to enforce notice periods. You can’t have it both ways!

I have also heard some very senior managers say that the notice period can’t/shouldn’t be bought out by the employee because they need the time to manage a smooth transition. However, there are two points that bear mentioning in this regard. Firstly, the notice periods tend to be ridiculously arbitrary, ranging from 1-3 months for fairly junior positions. (refer cartoon in yesterday’s post). Secondly, most of the time required for notice, is typically wasted. I have myself served out a 3-month notice period, where the handover was done in all of 1 week, at the very end.

Deepak makes another interesting point about open discussions regarding employees’ intention to leave. I do not think it’s that easy. The employee-employer relationship is fraught with distrust. Companies typically ignore all issues & concerns their people have. Companies belive in taking without giving. And to some extent this colours the perspective of all employees, even in companies that do not behave in this way.

There was a time employers & employees had a long-term relationship. There used to be a social contract. Work wasn’t just a place you went to earn your bread. It was a also a place you met friends, developed your interests. Your employer took care of you, and promised to do it typically for the rest of your life. The employee in return committed to giving his all, for the rest of his life. When companies chose to forgo this path (late 80’s in USA; mid-90’s in India), they did not foresee their actions coming back to haunt them. They did not think the balance of power would shift to the employees. Well, guess what! It did. Life is not a one-way street. What you give comes back!

And now even the enlightened, friendly, ethical employers pay the price. And to a large extent it is every company’s fault, and problem.

I’d actually advice Nirav to forget the errant employees. Suing them won’t make the problem go away. It’ll further vitiate the atmosphere for those who remain. Talk about the issue within the company. Say you don’t like it! Ask your employees for suggestions on how you can change things, as well as what needs to be done in such situations. Ask also how you can build a place they will be proud of calling their company, a place they would love to come to every morning. I know it sounds both cliched & heartless, but try it. You might be surprised!


Posted by on November 21, 2006 in Biz/Tech, Thoughts


18 responses to “Recruiting Ethics?

  1. NA

    November 21, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    I fully agree with the comments from DesiPundit on how the new employer eager to get the new employee into his fold is screwing up things for the latter. Such an employer would not think twice if he were to throw you out the next day. Least of professional ethics, I would say….

  2. srinivas

    November 22, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    hi mohit,
    this is srinivas here , i am also sorry for my post yesterday as i think was not in good mood ,seeing it now i think it was not that bad to warrant some rude behaviour from my side.meanwhile just read yur views on recruiting ethics ,agree to most of what u wrote .

  3. Just Mohit

    November 22, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Srinivas,
    No issues regarding your comment mate!
    W.r.t the post on recruiting ethics, would appreciate if you’d also write about the parts you disagree with! 😉

  4. srinivas

    November 22, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Mohit ,
    the only part i might disagree is “I think employees should serve out the notice period that they signed up to” .this shud not be true in each case as sometimes even though employee might have signed the contract knowingly that he needs to give 15 days or 3 months notice but it might also be because he had no choice that time ,otherwise he wud not have got such lucrative job .In most of the companies when u join there is a 90 days period where your performance is evaluated and then yur job is confirmed as full time with all benfits and all .the same facility shud be given to the employee also i believe.once he has also seen the working environment and liked it ,after 90 days he shud be asked to e the sign the contract leaving clauses whether 15 days or 3 months .(though i dont see companies giving that much to employees in near future ).if such is the case and then employees leave without giving notice according to clause and join another company immediatly then i agree the employer can have legal powers t orecover the costs etc. from the employee.
    but just beacause the employee signed the contract at starting about leaving clause hoping of ecxpecting some excellent work environment and later on finding it to be not healthy according to him ,he i think every right to join new company without serving out notice incase they r unable to wait for the notice period time.

    i didnt checked typos ,there might be many i guess ;)and i dont c preview also to check ,so sorry about that :(:(:(

  5. S Nand

    November 26, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    It is the obligation today on the part of the company to make the workplace so happy and democratic (pl check that even the new employee thinks twice before leaving it.Infact in reality the new employee sees how existing employees are being treated, listen to what they say
    about the organization and sense the smell of the place(quote sumantra ghoshal) and so decides his exit if he gets an opportunity which he perceives is better,whether his perception is correct or incorrect is only time will tell.
    The phenomenon is good also as now orgns will have to strive to see that the environment is happier.

  6. Vijay

    December 3, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Nirav told lies about those 2 QA guys. Both of them left the company by coming in the office and giving resignation. Also the bond which was signed was not valid as it was a XEROX of a stamp paper. Funny is’nt it??? Being as freshers they were promised that their salary will be hiked up in 2 months, but they cut the salary for every damn thing.

  7. me@me

    January 22, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    I fully agree on leaving the company on happy note. I worked for a company for 5 years built a very healthy and good relationship with people around. But the same company made my life hell even after service notice period. Problem is companies follow no rule and every rule is for employers only. Look at all big tall companies in india, most of them have 3 months notice period. These guys are crazy. That is the worst way of retaining the people. Look at HR dept in IT companies, what they do whole day, absolutely nothing.. Now look at the VP HR or Manager HR, His people contact is ZERO. Now look at the people who are filling HR and admin departments. These people are useless without skills relatives of management people. Most lazy and lousy departments you will find in any IT companies are these two. If these companies think having these noncompetent people will reduce the attrition rate, that is out of the world thought. Another problem, attitude of VP and manager HR is like they are masters and others are slaves. Attrition rate is linked to BAD HR Practices, if guys are listening, lets accept it. About notice periods, any notice period more than 1 month does not fulfill its objective. 3 months notice period is laughable. Recently I refused 3-4 offers after seeing the offer letter. I really dont want to make my life hell after joing any such company. All these guys sitting in HR departments, need to look inside first, if they do so and start talking to the people in their company, attrition rate will come down.

  8. abhishek

    March 2, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    This is a really good discussion going on and I would really love to contribute my 2 piece. Recently, I have been having a lot of troubles with this same breed which calls itself the HR. I had joined a fairly known company, which initially when it started off in India, had a good staff which was from the US. Then gradually the reins were handed over to the new Indian Management and HR and things went for a complete toss. Why, I remember it was almost after seeing this Tomboy styled fat lady for 3 weeks that we came to actually know that she had taken over as the Head of HR for the India operations??!! If that is the attitude that this lady wished to keep then it was pathetic, and to add to that even when I finally gave in my papers (after we had been acquired by another big product company, this lady did not even come forward to talk to me as to why I was leaving, it was all left to the Manager to complete this too. And the way she treats her juniors, as though they were her slaves, asking the executive assistant to make copies for her as she does not know how to operate the printer and what not!!
    Then again, when it comes down to retaining talent, I think these people (or to be more precise, people like her) should be awarded for reducing the workforce of the company, as they actually do drive the people out instead of retaining them.

  9. dexdex

    April 12, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    I wish to ask – In my company the notice period says 2 months notice or salary in lieu of. However, the discretion of waiving the notice period is at the manager’s discretion. In my case, my manager is not willing to waive off my notice period even though I am willing to pay the remaining salary in lieu of notice. What kind of legal redress would I have in such a case?

  10. Just Mohit

    April 12, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    dexdex: Unfortunately, there’s no legal precedent that i am aware of that would help you. However, it might be worthwhile talking to a labour lawyer (esp. if you are NOT part of the management cadre).
    Again: I am not a lawyer, and my experience is limited to the cases I have experienced or seen or been told of.

  11. spock

    April 18, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Can someone start a blog which talks about bitter experiences faced by employees in the IT companies, so that people can avoid or be carefull before they could join such companies

    For example look at this article

    I would also welcome if they could give an insight about there company policies and help them from landing into trouble.

  12. Just Mohit

    April 19, 2007 at 6:16 am

    Hey spock: it’s a good idea. Why don’t you start such a blog, and post the link here? You could ask other people to contribute their experiences via email/comments etc.

  13. dexter

    April 23, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Here is my take on it –

    Having been in the IT industry for about a period of 5 years, I have seen that one has to be prepared for every eventuality including, what is commonly known as “The Bus Test”. “The Bus Test” goes like this –

    What if coming into work one day, one of your team members gets hit my a bus and dies? How will your project cope then?

    The eventuality that an employee needs to leave and leave ASAP is something that needs to be planned for and having a two or three month notice period is NOT the answer. What if the employee had a family emergency and could no longer work? Do you still force the employee to work?

    Notice period is a legal agreement that needs to have a way out for all parties. In my opinion notice periods which do not have a buy out clause or have a buy out clause at the discretion of the company management is unethical in the least, if not bordering on being illegal.

    Whenever a contract is signed between two parties, there needs to be a “buy out” clause which leaves no room for discretion on either party. If I do not want to work, I do not want to work – Period. If because of my not working, you as a company are suffering a loss, I am willing to compensate you for it – to the extent of the salary you pay me. Forcing me to work during this time is a fundamental violation of my rights as a free and independent individual.

    Sure, every employee wants to part on good terms. However, circumstances do arise when an employee feels he/she needs to leave the company in a hurry and forcing an employee to stay on is not the answer.

    For example, in my case, the transition was completed in 3 weeks and I was willing to pay one month’s salary in lieu of notice but my employer just wanted to continue billing me even though technically I had check marked all the boxes (Manager had agreed, Transition had taken place, I was willing to pay one month’s salary).

    In the US there is a law which enforces this fundamental aspect of working – It is called “Employment at Will”. It means that every employee is free to leave employment whenever he or she wants just as every employer is able to terminate any employee at will. Either party needs to give 2 weeks notice or salary in lieu of. There is no ambiguity and the law is nationally enforced.

    In India, 2 weeks notice would be considered very less and that is fine. Make it 2 months notice or salary in lieu of. However, there should be no room for discretion on either party and if an employee is willing to pay salary in lieu of notice, then it should be accepted by the company.

    I think a legal overhaul of this is long due and eventually we as a society will probably move towards that. Till that time, this is a nice discussion to have!

  14. Just Mohit

    April 25, 2007 at 7:38 am

    Hi dexter:
    Love your comment, esp. because it so obviously comes from the heart.
    To my mind, the Bus Test is an ideal. It is not really very practical to do a bus test for each & every employee.
    However, I do agree that the sort of one-sided contracts that companies love are unethical & borderline illegal. However, the way out of this would be for one of the ex-employees to take the legal route. I expect such a battle to be messy.
    And from an employee’s perspective such a battle would be unadvisable, since it will impinge upon their future employment prospects.

  15. dexter

    April 26, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks Mohit. I agree the “Bus Test” is an ideal and not possible to do it for every employee. But I think the issue is not the fact that companies are not prepared to pass the test but rather the issue is that companies are not willing to accept that the scenario can happen. Acceptance is half the battle in this case and risk management is something, we as IT companies do really poorly.

    Well anyways, I hope things change for the better one day.. till such times, souls like us will continue to struggle 🙂

  16. Karuna Sanghvi

    September 11, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    I think Nirav’s behavior is immature. He should take what Deepak Deshpande said positively. It is a career move for his staff.
    He could get into a tie up with the company and share a talent pool. It is stupid to question ethics of an organization on an issue of this sort.
    If anything, Deepak advised him that to retain talent, you have to pay it appropriately. This is simply not the manner in which you attack a peson in public.
    It is shameful to see him washing dirty linen in public, like this by questioning the ethics of someone he hardly knows.
    It sounds like a personal vendetta campaign.
    If you have not done enough to retain your employees then the problem is really yours and has nothing to do with any other company whatsoever!
    Nirav’s reaction is like the child who refused to share his toys in school. And when the teacher took the toy to someone else, he started hitting out and bawling.
    Nirav should move on or else it is a just a publicity stunt.

  17. Rani Chandan

    September 27, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Its funny to see the volley of comments this discussion has thrown up. Being an ex-employee of Lionbridge (LB) myself, I know the hard time LB has had with HR from another organization – Praxis. Of course I’m not going to get into a discussion about ethical or not so ethical behavior of the founder member of both companies Jay Sitaram.

    Praxis HR exercised the same aggressive tone with LB as LB HR seems to have done to other companies past and present. The theory that “we are a big company” and so shall rob a small company of their people resources didn’t really ring true here, what with Praxis a startup being able to strike gold when it came to mining valuable human resources from LB. The ensuing attrition rate caused the decline and final fall to a very large project in LB. The very same Deepak Deshpande and LB HR dept was groveling with ex-employees not to leave – and then went on to hold on to money that those very same employees needed. What ensued was just plain ugly and warrants no discussion here.

    So Nirav no worries – Every unethical dog has its day!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: