Informing clients about staff changes

Q. As part of my company’s “resizing”, I’ve been notified that I have only two months left with the firm. In the meantime, I’m negotiating on behalf of my employer with a prospective client who is a friend of mine. I am sure my friend expects that if she gives us her business that she will be working with the people she knows in our workplace – most of whom have already been given notice. May I let my friend know that many of us are leaving imminently?

A. Let’s sort out the different relationships here: the firm’s relationship with the client, your relationship with the client, and your relationship with the firm.

Your employer is not acting unethically towards the client by not informing her that the company is being reorganized, as long as it will be able to meet its obligations and has not promised or implied that particular employees will be assigned to this contract.

As long as you represent your employer, you should do so in a loyal way. This means that in your contacts with the client you don’t undermine the company’s interests. The moral giants of the Bible were exemplars of employee loyalty. Jacob pointed out to Laban’s daughters that “I worked for your father with all my might,” even though Laban was not exactly honest with him. (Genesis 31:6.) And when tempted by his employer’s wife, Josef first replied that this would be a sin against his employer, and only afterwards that it was a sin against God. (Genesis 39:8-9.)

However, by asking a terminated worker to negotiate with a personal friend on behalf of the company, your employer is putting you in an awkward position, to say the least. You should tell your boss that you feel uncomfortable representing the company in these conditions, and ask that somebody else negotiate with your friend. You can cite personal reasons (the fact that the client is a friend), professional reasons (you don’t want to damage your professional credibility), or merely the fact that you’re already halfway out the door.

It is true that when you inform your friend that someone else is going to negotiate with her, she may infer that something is amiss. But it’s not your responsibility to actively give the client the impression that you will remain at the company, and there is no reason for you to accept this assignment given the awkward situation it puts you in. Your boss will have to do the explaining.

Of course if you refuse to work on this contract you could lose your job…