In the September 11, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an employee placed by an employment agency quit, and the employer wants the placement fee refunded.


employment agencyAn employee quit without notice after five months. Her explanation was that she never wanted to stay at this job from the start. We paid a hefty agency fee for this person. She never signed any paperwork with the agency, and the contract stated that employment is “at will.”

Do we have the right to go after the employee to pay us back for not being truthful? Or do we have to go to the hiring agency to see if we can get our money back?

Nick’s Reply

An awful lot of readers are laughing at your story right now, rolling their eyes, and thinking, “Serves you right!”

Why would anyone laugh? Because the recruiting and hiring process usually blows up in the job seeker’s face — not the employer’s.

But I’m not here to laugh at you. The rise of intermediaries in the hiring process has introduced mass confusion, frustration and finger-pointing on every side — employers, agencies, employees. I’m afraid everyone is culpable.

You paid the employment agency, not the employee

I can’t believe you’re serious about recovering the fee you paid to the agency from the employee. I doubt you have a contract with the employee that provides such recourse. If there’s a contract at all, it’s between your company and the agency. Take it up with them.

If the agency does a good job for you in general, don’t blame them. Once you’ve got the hire for five months, whatever happens next is a management problem, not a placement problem. You chose to make — and keep — the hire.

But first consider the pickle you’ve put yourself in.

The problem with middle men

Employers expect someone else is going to handle recruiting and hiring for them, then are shocked when things go awry. Most agencies play fast and loose because they get paid to fill a job, not to deliver the best hire, and everyone suffers for it. Job seekers suspend their common sense when someone they don’t know dangles an “opportunity” in front of them. The introduction of middle men in hiring creates chaos, poor management and terrible decision making.

In this case, everything depends on the contract you have with the employment agency, and on whether there is a guarantee on the placement that provides for a refund.

The number of employment agencies — which go by all kinds of monikers — has exploded, with the result that employers often have no idea who they’re dealing with. (See They’re not headhunters.) It’s an unusual occurrence, but it’s possible the recruiter and your new hire were in cahoots and planned the “placement” to last only until the fee guarantee expired. Then they split the fee you paid and moved on to the next sucker company. I always explore this possibility when a new hire lasts just past the guarantee, which is usually between 30 and 90 days.

But I repeat: If your agency does good work in general, then they may not be the problem at all.

There are some measures you can take to avoid the most obvious problems with agencies.

Get a guarantee from employment agency

Always have a written contract with the recruiter that includes a pro-rated guarantee period. That is, if the new hire “falls off” for any reason — whether you fire them or they quit — make sure you can get back some or all of the fee you paid. Such guarantees usually run 30-90 days and will offer a refund or replace the employee. Good agencies will negotiate reasonable terms with you.

If the contract suggests the hire will be responsible for any refund to you, run. That’s unethical and unscrupulous, and possibly illegal.

Get a no-poach agreement

Your contract with the agency should prohibit poaching. That is, the agency cannot recruit the person it just placed with you — or any other employee at your firm — for a year or more after the last placement the agency made at your firm. This can be even more restrictive if it prohibits placing anyone who has left your firm in the past year or more. Some headhunters don’t like such clauses, but they promote healthy business relationships.

I would nose around. Did the agency that placed the employee with you recruit her out or place her elsewhere? Good agencies never do that.

Understand that “at will” employment cuts both ways

As I said above, it’s usually employees who complain about being terminated without any explanation in states where employment is “at will” by law. What’s your company doing to make sure it’s a good place to work?

Barring some kind of contractual obligation or regulation, you can no more prohibit someone from quitting a job than you can be prohibited from terminating them.

Check the agency’s references

Check the employment agency’s references as well as the specific recruiter’s references before you do business with them. I’ll estimate that 90% of pitches you get from recruiters will end when you ask them for references. Work only with recruiters whose skills and reputations you have confirmed, or don’t be surprised at the consequences.

What to do next

At the very least, I’d call the agency in for a face-to-face meeting to discuss what happened as well as the terms for next assignment. Assess whether you trust the recruiter. I would not necessarily blame the recruiter if they did everything else right.

If your relationship with the agency is at e-mail’s length because they’re not in your city, then consider the value of working only with local agencies.

But don’t expect any agency is going to refund your money after five months. Read the refund deal in your contract. Some of this falls on you, but I understand your frustration. New employees feel the same way when they quit a job for a new one — only to get fired suddenly a few months later without explanation.

If you learned too late that the employee didn’t really want the job from the start, I suggest you improve your recruiting and interviewing processes — and how you manage. Always remember that while you can fire at will, an employee can quit at will. (This depends on the laws in your state.) I’m not a lawyer but my guess is, if she did the work and you paid her for it, no one is obligated to continue the employment — you or her. It’s up to you to get to know your workers well.

You should check with a lawyer so you’ll know better next time, but chalk this one up to experience.

This is one reason why it’s worth cultivating your own pipeline for recruiting through your own trusted sources who will put their own reputations on the line when they recommend someone. If you’re going to use an agency, it’s best to meet a good one through your trusted sources before a lousy agency takes advantage of you.

If you’re an employer, what’s in the contracts you sign with employment agencies? How do you protect your company? If you’re a headhunter, recruiter or employment agency, how do you help ensure your client’s (the employer’s) satisfaction? If you’re the hire who was placed by the agency, would you consider refunding part or all of the recruiter’s fee if you decided to quit the job?

: :

    • No matter how one interprets Borne’s (12:45am on SEPT 11, 2018) YouTube link (“I don’t care!” – Judy Garland) in his comment, it’s a company’s ultimate responsibility to effectively manage their affairs which seems to be a lost art these days.

      David (04:57pm on SEPT 11, 2018) stated:
      “I have seen it where they are not only capable, but are actively aware of what they are doing and yet, they don’t care.”


      This is business folks.

      Three months = an entire quarter. Whether private or public, quarterly numbers as well as culture “fit” count. Any company that can’t figure out if an employee is “worthy” after about 90 days doesn’t have a clue. The so called “six month guarantee” out there is a joke. 180 days in most businesses is equivalent to a life time. During that time you’re either moving forward, floating, or sinking.

      Paul Forel (07:00pm on SEPT 11, 2018) stated “There are no promises of performance by either party…”

      Although we are all aware of “performance numbers” tied to bonuses, etc., any so called “guarantees” during and after the hiring process are simply boilerplate garbage meant to make parties “feel good” and nothing more.

      Was there a “claw back” clause (if even legally allowed) in the contract? Even if there was AND it was legal in that specific jurisdiction, the company would still have to prove their case if litigation were to ensue which includes proof of mitigation of any alleged damages.

      Sounds like managment-by-finger-pointing and crying over spilt corporate milk. Any “talent” left at this company has probably already been looking elsewhere for options to escape – another WIN/WIN/WIN for said talent, real headhunters, and the competition.

      “The naivete on the manager’s part is quite astounding – and Nick is right – I was laughing” declared Daivd (08:07am on SEPT 11, 2018).

      True that! I was not only laughing but [shaking head…rolling eyes] at the same time.

      The naivete and whining by this company is pathetic.

  1. The naivete on the manager’s part is quite astounding – and Nick is right – I was laughing.

    The first question that came to mind is on what basis does the manager think he/she can get the money back from the candidate? The stipulations regarding the agency fee is with the agency itself and unless there was some sort of bonus claw back in the employee contract, the employer has no case against the employee – it’s essentially trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

    I agree that this is a management problem at the end of the day for the reasons you state. I would also add that employee retention is not the strong suit of many employers/managers there days. If employers were really concerned/serious about stuff like this happening in the future, there are ways to attempt to mitigate this sort of thing, they would literally put their money where their mouth is among other things. Until that happens, we’re going to see situations like this.

  2. Pretend for a moment the manager is able to force some sort of repayment from the ex-employee? Would it be worth the risk to reputation? I can picture a story like that going viral. I can also picture headhunters avoiding them in the future.

    Of course that attitude might be why the employee never intended on sticking around.

    Finally, how much did the manager say they would pay the employee if things did not work out and they let them go (or it was not a permanent position, even though the employee was counting on that?

  3. Yeah, it’s hard to feel sympathetic for employers when they get a taste of their own medicine. Granted, it’s a generalization that may not apply to this particular employer in this instance, but we all know the crappy treatment candidates/employees as a whole are subject to with ghosting, exploding job offers and whatnot. So it’s not surprising when some of these chickens come home to roost.

    • @Askeladd totally agree. The ecosystem that candidates have to work in, where they have very little power compared to employers, is terrible. Even if your particular company is a good one that provides a decent candidate experience, I would personally probably disagree (it’s _shocking_ how bad the candidate experience is out there, even at big cool companies that should know better) but even if it’s one of the rare good ones, you can’t get mad at candidates for 1) not knowing that going in, and 2) not taking for granted that it will stay that way forever. When 80% of the companies you interact with treat you like garbage, there’s very little reason to go out of your way to give the benefit of the doubt to any company you suspect might be in that other 20%.

  4. Lots here that could have happened, including misrepresentation from any side (employer/employee/agency). What we don’t know is whether good management was provided – clear expectations, training & development, leadership, and a decent company culture. I’m always nervous about any employer who wants to hire without risk – long-term guarantees, extensive background checks & references, draconian assessments & testing, and someone to blame if it doesn’t work out. Risk is unavoidable in hiring (or in any relationship).

    • @Sybil I love how you phrased this. Totally agree. Hiring is risky. Someone can check all the boxes and still suck. Sometimes, it’s just a personality clash on the team that you couldn’t have predicted. There are a million reasons it might work out or might not, and honestly that’s why AI in hiring scares me. We’re so attracted to the idea of *data* and predictiveness in the hiring process, but it leads to seeing people as ones and zeros, to seeing them as indistinguished buckets of skills and aptitudes, rather than individual people with individual motivations within unique companies. But all the data tells us, over and over again, is that that none of this software, none of this outsourcing of recruiting, none of it is either improving the candidate experience en masse, nor is it actually improving hiring outcomes over trying to find someone fast and training them up.

    • Yah, I’m waiting for ZipRecruiter to provide guarantees and refunds when hires don’t work out. :-)

      • While you are waiting, I have this bridge for sale…

  5. Was this a temp job or something? Perhaps the employee had been laid off from a full time job with benefits, took this one as a filler, then left when she found another full time one with benefits. That might have been why she never intended to stay. Some employers will throw a fit if someone holds out and avoids agencies and has a few months of gaps.

    Also, it’s possible that she had no issues with the employer but the agency had done some things to tick her off right off the bat (perhaps a bait and switch on the job description, pay, etc.) and she decided to only stay as long as necessary as a result.

    Also, it’s possible that she was just taking the job temporarily, perhaps her husband had had an impending layoff and she was working temporarily until he could find a new gig.

    Unless the thing was supposed to be for six months or something, I cannot see how she wasn’t being truthful by leaving after five months.

    • It doesn’t sound like a temp job. Usually companies don’t pay a big fee when a temp starts.

      It’s possible the employee regarded it as temporary.

      Speaking of which, saying you “never intended to stay” is not a wise thing. One reason to keep very quiet at exit interviews and before.

  6. I have heard of six month refund periods if someone quits.

    Another scenario behind, the headhunter arm twisted the employee into taking the job against her better judgement.

    • @bob tbh I think about that second one a lot. I think this is part of the problem when recruiters approach their positions as sales positions. The goal isn’t to make anyone’s lives better, it’s to move inventory. If you do a hard sell on someone and it works, you can’t be shocked when 6 months later they think they’ve been baited and switched.

      If you have a shitty company that treats people badly, then you can’t really be shocked when 1) a hard-sell approach is needed to fill positions, and 2) when people turn out to not be happy in the role because they feel they were bamboozled. One should be more shocked every time it *does* turn out well than when it doesn’t!

      The letter-writer’s company had *5 months* to convince that candidate to stay. Even if she never intended to, 5 months is a long time to convince someone that they can be paid well, valued, and engage them in the work. That this company failed to do so is 100% on them.

      • “you can’t be shocked when 6 months later they think they’ve been baited and switched.”

        Happened to me. I was contacted by a company about a job perfoming a function that has federally-mandated response times and complicated regulations to administer. I had previously done the same thing for a similar sized company in the same line of business and had significant, successful experience. The company was managing this function manually but said that they were going to buy the software needed to do the job right. I told them what software I had used and outlined the tasks it performed. They said great and that if I took the job, I would buy software. I accepted the job –I was over 60, needed a permanent job for the health insurance and the money was acceptable.

        I reported to someone at another location and it turns out that she had done prior research on software. She had all but committed to purchase the worst software for our needs — best suited to 50 employees in one location rather than 6000 employees at 100+ locations– and the budget ony included $5000 cost for the bad software’s license rather than the $30,000 needed for the proper program. I asked for better and was turned down. The bad software was purchased and it performed none of the functions needed to get the job done for compliance; it’s tracking functions were poor and it did not produce necessary documentation. I had to create all correspondence mannually. The existing cases were all badly screwed up due to prior incumbets’ and the supervisor’s complete ignorance of the law and the volume of new work was crushing. The supervisor left before three months went by and I was reporting to people who did not understand the issues at hand. The situation was bad –I was there only a short time when the dept. VP called my work s*** in a meeting. Information ineeded to handle cases was not made readily available to me; it was like pulling teeth only I had a clock ticking over my head. I asked for needed clerical assistance and was turned down. I knew the place was toxic but I stuck it out rather than quit because I needed the income and benefits. When they terminated me for not living up to expectations, I told them that no one could have succeeded given the conditions. I pointed out that the decision to not spend for software or extra help was responsible. I felt relief as I drove home that day.

        I saw the listings for my replacement and, about 6 months later, a opening for a clerical position that would be half time supporting the position I held. (Hmm, I guess someone realized I was telling the truth.)) A few months back, the company received a great deal of negative national media attention for teminating an employee for non-job related opinions. Karma! The positive reviews of the place seem forced but the negative ones are scathing.

  7. Regarding the issue of the employee’s behavior:

    “she never wanted to stay at this job from the start.”

    If I was this company, I’d spend the majority of my time asking why in this particular situation. Was it, as others mentioned above, because the recruiter “pushed” her into accepting the position when it wasn’t a good fit? Was she just taking a job to put food on the table? Did she get there and realize how bad of a place it was?

    Assuming it wasn’t just to pay the bills until a better position came along, there are big issues that need addressed…..and it will happen again if those issues aren’t dealt with.

    • Sometimes, Chris, the company is completely incapable of asking those questions.

      At a previous company, we had problems hiring. (This place had very mixed reviews and all the five stars reviews were fake. Nick may argue that Glassdoor reviews are worthless, but when they form something like an inverted bell curve, that’s a definite warning sign.)

      To help with the hiring issues, we went to the C********* agency and they had us work with one of their used car salesmen, er, I mean one of their recruiting professionals.

      I’d mentioned to this guy that we’d had an issue with our Glassdoor ratings and that people were beginning to bring it up in interviews, and he’d said he look into it. And shortly after that, every few days a very brief 5 star review would be added. I was less than thrilled with this.

      But he sent us many resumes – including old ones from people who weren’t looking for work.

      Anyway, the owner/CEO was absolutely convinced that this was a five-star place – that anyone in the world should be grateful for an opportunity to be micro-managed by him. The recruiter clinched his contract with us by telling the CEO that he though all the negative reviews were written by one person with an axe to grind.

      • “Sometimes, Chris, the company is completely incapable of asking those questions.”

        I have seen it where they are not only capable, but are actively aware of what they are doing and yet, they don’t care.

        The low hanging fruit: I’ve personally experienced and seen colleagues leave for substantial raises, ranging for 35% to as high as 75%. And that’s just to get people up to “market rates” let alone them getting ahead.

    • Chris, if the employer is asking if they can claw back their fee from the employment agency because the employee quit, saying she never wanted to stay, I doubt this employer is capable of self-scrutiny and resolving those bigger issues.

  8. I see this from another angle. I think that the LW may be the employee writing to Nick, disguised as a manager. An experienced manager should already know the answer to the fee question.

    “She never signed any paperwork with the agency” – How would an employer know that?

    • Jim,

      For what it’s worth, I don’t even see how whether or not the alleged employee signed anything with the ‘agency’ is relevant to the employer/this scenario.

      The fact that the employer paid the ‘agency’ fee gives evidence to the idea that it was understood and agreed by the employer that the employee was referred by that agency.

      To the best of my knowledge based on my hundreds of years in this business, the only thing an applicant signs with an agency/recruitment firm is a document allowing and acknowledging that the agency/recruitment firm is representing that applicant. There are no promises of performance by either party in such a document.

      So whether that employee signed anything with the agency/recruitment firm is neither here nor there.

      It just doesn’t matter and it’s not part of the problem or solution.

      Particularly, as Nick says, since the fee paid is a conversation strictly between the ‘agency’ and the employer, not between the employer and the applicant/employee.

      (FWIW, for anyone in the peanut gallery who cares, it is foolish for an agency/recruitment firm to send candidates on interviews without a signed document by that candidate acknowledging that agency’s/recruitment firm’s role in the referral process.)

      Paul Forel
      Executive Search

  9. This is a good example of what can happen when employers outsource hiring staff and perhaps don’t care which middleman they hire to do it. Employment is at-will in all 50 states, which means that the employee can quit at any time for any reason or for no reason, just as the employer has every right to fire employees for any reason or for no reason, so long as the employee is not a member of a protected class (think race) and that race wasn’t the reason for firing him.

    What muddies the waters here is the middleman. If the employer is upset that the candidate the recruiter gave him didn’t stay and there is nothing in the contract between the employer and the recruiter, then he can’t go after the employee for the fee. The employer didn’t pay the finder’s fee to the person who came to work for them but to the recruiter.

    I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for the employer. There are so many bad actors out there, and now that they’re getting a taste of their own medicine, they don’t like it and aren’t happy. How about doing their own recruiting and hiring (eliminate the middleman, especially the unscrupulous ones)? How about treating candidates better both during the hiring process? And if someone quits after five months on the job, either a better job came along (better pay, better benefits, better workplace environment, better opportunities for advancement, etc.) or perhaps the job was not what was promised, the salary not what was promised, the environment toxic, etc.

  10. I got placed in a new job by an agency that also placed for my then current employer. This agency did not place me in my then current job, but they found a job closer to home (the new job was a 15 minute commute rather than a 90 minute commute).

    When the old employer found out that their agency placed me in a new position, they weren’t too happy. I did apologize for the mix up – my old company got a free placement out of the agency.

    Now I have to say that this agency placed me in two jobs that I liked (first one I left to go back to school and the recession was starting; the other job I left when the new job came with a 60% pay increase). Because they did a good job for me as an employee, they are one of the few agencies I would use when it is my turn to hire.

  11. Interesting thing here: Companies insist that a job is at will. Yet they get upset if you leave.

    How could we modify employment agreements so that both sides consider their obligation? If a key employee leaves, that can have major repercussions.

  12. I laughed so hard I thought I’d die.

    I wrote a lot of comments and then realized, this question was a joke. No one, in any company in North America can be so dumb, can they?

    Oh right, look who the President of the USA is, yep, he’s dumb too.

    • Agreed! Biden is like a train off its rails. Just waiting for the final impact.

  13. @Richard: People will always be people – that goes for you and most certainly for me.

    While I am no fan of Donald Trump, I do try to listen to my friends who support his being in office – and likewise in any interaction, listening is a skill many of us could hone. I am especially guilty of talking more than I listen.

    Please note: I try not to make political comments on this blog – so you will not hear political feedback from me any time soon.

    Perhaps my teenage daughter said it best: “Adults need to listen.” When I started listening more, our relationship improved.

    How can we be better listeners on the job or in interviews?

  14. I was an agency recruiter. The agency was reasonably decent. Cold day in Hell getting a cash refund, but they genuinely offered a “best effort” on finding a replacement. And for long standing clients, would do the pro-rata refunds that Nick mentioned.

    There’s really good reason for not giving refunds as noted. Except for situations where real headhunters are involved who have developed a long standing relationship with the hiring manager and really knows him/her, the hiring manager is usually a wild card.

    You can send a really good candidate over to a goose stepping managerial idiot who under utilizes or is a waste of a good person’s time.

    This is because some clients do the same thing to their recruiters/agencies as they do to their candidates…give them the mushroom treatment. Throw up a firewall, put you into a dark room and feed you BS. They give recruiting a low priority, withhold access to themselves and in so doing withholds the information that helps the agency to do their best work. Then you reap what you sew. Why as an agency would I bet on an unknown managerial capability?

    On the candidate side, it’s amazing how many managers think the scale swings totally their way. As many of you know, job hunting is like gardening. You walk around an industry selling yourself much like planting seeds. Some sprout with offers you can’t refuse after you’ve taken a job.

    If you get one of those while you’re experiencing a lousy on boarding experience at your new company..(on boarding is another neglected step) it’s not hard to make a choice. The job hunter’s genie appears before you and says I’ll grant you 2 choices, a job where you’re in crap up to your ears or one tailored to make you dance to work. Pick.

    I’ve watch countless companies that fret about attrition. They think their problem is people leaving…when the problem is people looking.

    He opined that the person wasn’t interested from the beginning. If he spotted that, did he find out why? Then, when something might have been done about it.

  15. Not feeling sorry for the employer. You reap what you sow.

    I talked with a recruiter about a job, told him what I was looking for and my salary range.

    I came into the office and then he started back tracking. First, he had a problem with my salary range. Why not tell me that on the phone? Then he was trying to place me in a job for which I was over qualified. He also wanted my personal identifiable information (PII) and when I asked him what it was for, he told me it is used to “track” applicants. I told him I would not give him PII without a bonfide job offer on the table. I did not even have an interview set with the company yet.

    He pressed me for the PII saying all their candidates give them the information. I asked him how this information would be used and protected. He never answered those questions. I told him no, politely, and that’s when his demeanor turned cold.

    He said he could not go further in the process until I submitted my SSN and date of birth. I told him that was not going to happen.

    This–this is the stuff candidates deal with when employers hire recruiters. And, you ask why you can’t get people, let alone good people to stay.

    • The (Other) Dee–You were right to leave when asked your full PII; there is no reason for it. Indian recruiters and companies, for FTE and contract jobs, are especially brazen about asking for DOB (without year–that’s over the legal line) and SSI, usually last 4-5 digits. It’s true that these companies are using this information to track applicants because they have not figured out another, more secure system. Mind you, these are Fortune 500 and top healthcare companies–the latter should know better because security around PII and PHI is in their training!

    • I’ve heard that this tracking is for the end client to track candidates on their end to avoid double submissions and fee fights or whatever.

      This could be avoided if the employer in question didn’t allow every agency in the world in addition to their own HR to recruit candidates.

      • Doesn’t matter–it’s still Personally Identifiable Information and hackers can take that and merge it with other public information to make your life hell.

        Another reason why we need strict privacy regulation and enforcement. I believe the regulation of large providers on the internet is needed, much like radio and TV were regulated first by the FRC then by the FCC.

  16. I hate to be callous or inconsiderate however, pound sand.
    I have had so many companies in the Bay Area treat me so disrespectfully. Gilead put me through eight onsite interviews (two hour roundtrip from home): HR finally said job was on hold.
    NetApp: Senior Manager was mad she could not get through her “13 questions” in our 30 minute interview according to HR.
    I never answer recruitment emails from Indeed or LinkedIn…why? There is not ONE recruiter who has ever placed me and they are all just hustling to make a dime.
    Take the time to read a resume, find commonalities with the potential hire and do your own damn diligence. Getting the right hire is worth it, but you have to make the effort.

    • Oh…and my current position I accepted because I was fed up with looking, interviewing and being toyed with after sixteen months of unemployment. I took a $15k decrease in pay because the benefits are so good, however, because the senior manager of my current position refused to negotiate I will be out the door as soon as my one year is over, moving to a higher/better position either internally or externally. Do not low-ball well qualified people (ironically my senior manager only has a bachelors), dump 2x the workload for the same price or my personal favorite, micromanage your staff. All you end up doing is seeing an exodus.

  17. @Lisa: Aaaaaa-men. Employers seem to be such slow learners. Penny wise and pound foolish, as well.

  18. An employee leaving without notice might be a sign of a toxic work atmosphere. Look at yourself before blaming others, you might learn something.

  19. So would someone explain to me exactly what the “employee at will” system is? I thought that it was a system where you could leave your job any time with or without notice, and the employer can likewise fire you with or without notice at any time. Yes, I know the law says they can’t discriminate, but there are ways around it.

    So I ask you, are we employment at will or not? Sorry employers, you can’t have it both ways.

    • Your understanding is generally correct – Companies can terminate employment for any non-protected reason or no reason at all. In exchange for this freedom, employees can quit for any reason.

      The only caveat is if there were any contracts signed, in which case could make things more problematic.

      From my basic understanding, agencies/headhunters have some sort of “guarantee” in their agreement with the employer that if the employee quits before a specified date, the placement fee is returned or a replacement is found.

      In this case, the employer wants to go after the employee when (a) there may have been no “claw back” that the employee signed for leaving early and (b) the agency/headhunter “guarantee” had passed.

    • @Kevin: This will also be helpful in understanding at-will employment:

      • Absolutely right, but try to get one now from any company even at a director level. They ‘don’t do that.”

  20. I’m surprised no one’s brought this up, but this employer sounds like the type which would sue the employee to get the fee back, even if there are no papers (which I find unlikely today–the only time I experienced this is with a retainer recruiter for a major ad agency over two decades ago). Even if a nuisance suit, this would effectively tie up the employee in litigation, serve to notify her current employer, and cost her money because she’d have to find legal counsel to represent her.

    This is really chilling (to use another word armchair lawyers are fond of) to the other side of ‘at-will employment’.

    Remember we are in an era now where employers will demand that you disclose your second job or side business on a basis of ‘conflict of interest’. (Nick, this topic may be worthy of a column)

    • Quite frankly we are moving towards a semi-authoritarian ‘network state’ where rights reside in a combination of the state and internet entities, a world of greater spying and control over your life. Elites will grow narrower and narrower, with the minions power centered in enforcing what the corporation-state wants. References: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, The Network State talks by Balaji Srinivasan and Click Here to Kill Everybody by Bruce Schneier. It is actually quite hip to be scared about the way things are going!

  21. @Dee: Every generation has something to be afraid of. Today, it’s the internet. In my generation it was television and it’s mind control capabilities. In my parents’ generation, it was the threat of the Cold War turning hot. My grandparents had the Great Depression and WWII.

    I am not trying to trivialize concerns you bring up – just putting them into perspective.

  22. I have a very dim view of headhunters and recruiters. I have an equally dim view of d-bag sleazy employers, especially like the one who asked this question. Trying to sue the employee for quitting after a short tenure? Really? Maybe this employer needs to stop being lazy and/or unrealistic in their vetting and hiring process. Asinine personality profiles, speed dating interviewing practices, using recruiters, and nit-picking and disqualifying good candidates because they didn’t give the HR ditz the “tingles”, or they didn’t pledge to the hiring manager’s fraternity in college, shows how morally and ethically bankrupt many employers are today.