Break Verbal 2-Year Commitment?

Q. I’ve been reporting at a 20,000-circulation newspaper for about eight months. When I took the job, I made a two-year verbal commitment. My employer promised a starting salary he’s been unable to meet due to furloughs implemented on my second day (to be fair, he told me about the furloughs about a week before I started). I, though, had no other leads and still couldn’t turn the job down. We also agreed to a raise schedule that my editor’s been unable to keep.

It’s a great small-town paper, but my copy is mostly unedited. I’m developing some, but without much help from my editors. In addition, my fiancee moved here a few months ago to teach and can’t even get opportunities to substitute.

For a multitude of reasons, an opportunity to move would be good for us. The only reason to stay is the two-year commitment. Am I justified in applying? How can I talk to my editor about it when the time comes? Is it likely to be awkward if I don’t get the job?

The position I’m considering applying for is with an approximately 40,000-circulation paper in a large metro area. It would mean a raise for me and would open up a slew of job opportunities for my fiancee.

If I break it down to a pro/con list, the only cons are burning a bridge (which is significant) and leaving too early. Everything else, I believe, points to at least applying.

Am I OK to apply? How should I approach the process as far as my current employer’s concerned?

Thanks,

Bob

A. Apply.

The agreement was broken by the newspaper when it first could not meet the promised wage and again when it did not meet the raise schedule. You seem to be the only one holding up his end of the deal.

Do not tell your editor you are applying elsewhere. Applying is not even halfway to leaving. You might want to tell the editor if you get an interview. But I would wait, if it’s possible, until the other paper wants to check for a reference with your editor.

Then, say, “Look, I appreciate all you have done for me, but I am really struggling. The economy has meant that I never received the wages I had counted on — not your fault — and the furloughs have meant I don’t get the editing I had expected. Now, there are two of us and we are having a hard time. I feel I have to leave sooner than I said to make things work. I hope you understand and will give me a good reference. I am not doing this lightly, but feel I am forced to by the same circumstances that are hurting the newspaper.”

If your editor asks about the verbal, two-year commitment, avoid an argument but say that several things have changed for both of you since the time you came. If the editor is as decent as you seem to say, there should be no repercussions.

Good luck.

What’s on your mind? E-mail your career questions to Joe Grimm. I’ll send you an answer soon.

Coming Friday: She is more than ready to leave her job for another one in the market, but signed a non-compete clause. She thinks she would lose just her last check. What about her reputation?

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