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Case 17. Responsibilities as an Employee


Paula Sowell has a Master's degree in applied sociology and for the past 8 years she has worked in a research center where she has progressed from a data entry clerk to a position of project manager for an important long-term study undertaken by the center. Her immediate supervisor, Sharon Trusdell, the director of the research center, is a Ph.D. in sociology who oversees Paula's work. Her supervisor is confident in Paula's ability to manage the project on a daily basis and work with the technical experts who are responsible for research design, instrumentation, and data analysis. However, on numerous occasions, Paula and the center director have had serious disagreements over the parameters of Paula's work. These conflicts are primarily due to a "personality conflict" between Paula and her supervisor, rather than a serious question about Paula's ability, although on numerous occasions, the center director has threatened to "fire" Paula for insignificant differences of opinion.

Becoming dissatisfied with the working environment, Paula decides to return to school to further her education and eventually work in a higher level position elsewhere. She applies to schools in January and knows by spring that she will be attending graduate school in the fall. Although Paula knows there is no one within the research center who can immediately take over her duties and that the project she manages will be at a critical stage for completing a final report, she doesn't feel she can inform the center director of her impending departure early on (i.e., in the spring). Paula realizes that if she informs the center director too early, her replacement might be hired and she could be without a job for a number of months before she begins school in the fall. Moreover, there could be a number of other negative repercussions because of their past history. Instead, she "gives notice" two weeks prior to her departure, which is what most jobs require.


  1. What ethical dilemma does Paula face when she decides the timing of his "notice" to resign from the research center?
  2. Is Paula's decision to give only a two week notice appropriate? Justify your answer.
  3. Even if Paula's two week notice did not violate any organizational policies, are there other ways she could have handled her resignation so that the negative impact on the center could have been avoided?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.