Workplace Navigator: What Happens When Job Recruiters Go Rogue

Workplace Navigator: What Happens When Job Recruiters Go Rogue

Question: Is there a code of conduct for recruiters? I ask because I have had several less-than-positive experiences.

I’ve been contacted about positions that were clearly outside my area of expertise, or outside a reasonable commuting distance. Another firm took it further. Six people, or one person using six names, all calling from the same phone number, harassed me by phone and emailed me 20 times in two days for a job that was more than 100 miles away. They persisted until I threatened to report them to the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Answer: Although there’s no official code of conduct, most recruiters are “honest, ethical and delightful to work with” when matching hard-to-find candidates with hard-to-fill jobs, said Jeremy Tolley, an HR executive with Tennessee-based health care provider CareHere. It sounds as though you’ve come across some unprofessional — maybe unethical — representatives of the profession.

The recruiters in the first case seem to be operating on the “spray and pray” principle, firing pitches in every direction and hoping to hit a target, Tolley said.

That approach doesn’t speak well of their abilities, especially when they could be using search technology to “laser target” appropriate candidates by skill set and geography. It also may be that they’re desperate to fill a job and are casting the widest net possible. To dodge the spray, keep your online job-hunting profiles up-to-date and accurate, especially your job description and location, Tolley said.

As for your second example, Tolley said that, although recruiters can be persistent, a two-day barrage of calls and emails is excessive and “not a legitimate opportunity.” Threatening to contact authorities was the right call.

If you’ve received a recruiting pitch and are trying to decide whether it’s legit, Tolley said one of the top signs of an established recruiter is a “solid LinkedIn profile” that includes:

  • Where the recruiter operates.
  • A list of clients the recruiter has served.
  • Hundreds of professional connections.
  • Third-party referrals and endorsements.

Professional certifications can be a good sign but are not crucial, Tolley said.

And, of course, trust your instincts on out-of-nowhere pitches that seem too good to be true, or recruiters who are less than transparent or who demand fees, personal ID numbers or financial information. Some executive-level headhunters may work on a fee basis, but your typical recruiter’s fee comes from the employer, not the recruits. The Federal Trade Commission website ( has more details on warning flags (search “job scams”).


A life-and-death matter

Q: One of our employees, a young woman in her late 20s, attempted suicide and was hospitalized. After a paid leave of absence and all the support we could offer organizationally and individually, she came back to work after about six weeks. Many of us urged her to take more time, but she is anxious about endangering her job and says being at work feels better than being home alone while her husband works.

Yet she’s not stable. She is able to do her job adequately, but she leans heavily on one senior staffer — in and out of her office all day crying — and that staffer is exhausted from the strain. Meanwhile, those of us who best know the depressed colleague are worried about another suicide attempt. Our boss feels under legal constraints to make no observations about her health or suggestions, for fear of violating employment law.

This feels like a life-or-death matter, yet nobody knows what we can or should be doing.

A: You are right to be worried for your co-worker. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, suicide was the No. 2 cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 34. And while your collective supportiveness is laudable, you should also be concerned about the ripple effect on you.

Your boss and HR department should immediately consult a mental health expert, either through an employee assistance program or through a suicide hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

The exhausted staffer and other concerned co-workers also should be directed to these resources, in part to learn how to compassionately set protective personal boundaries.

While the Americans With Disabilities Act discourages employers from speculating about or trying to diagnose employees’ medical conditions, it doesn’t prohibit pointing out when workers’ conduct is disruptive to their performance or others’.

Also, your boss is generally permitted to make the employee’s return to work contingent on a medical evaluation, if there is a reasonable belief that her condition is impairing her performance or poses a threat to herself or others.

He or she could also turn to the Labor Department’s Job Accommodation Network for confidential consultations about how to offer accommodations without violating your co-worker’s ADA rights.

All these resources should help your boss guide your co-worker to support from qualified professionals while providing workplace support. If she needs more time off for treatment, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave in a year, with some states and employers offering even more.


Who owns the rights To your designs? It depends

Q: I work for a small nonprofit and handle all of our in-house graphic design. Graphic design was not a duty laid forth in my hiring; it was a skill set I brought to the table when it was clear that vendors were not delivering the quality the organization was looking for.

Although I am compensated for this work through my salary, all of the work is done on my personal equipment and with my own software subscription.

Over the years, I have created elaborate digital illustrations that highlight our organization’s work. These illustrations have been featured on our annual reports. My boss has hinted about using the designs for posters that the organization could then sell as a fundraising project.

Am I able to retain any rights to the illustrations? I am starting to look for a new job, and it would be nice to know how much (if any) intellectual property I may be able to retain due to using my own rather expensive equipment.

A: It depends on what your designs are. (Ha.)

If you’re thinking about reselling the illustrations you produced for your employer, or using them in some other way for your own commercial gain, you’re probably out of luck, according to employment attorney Amy Epstein Gluck and intellectual property attorney T.J. DoVale, both with FisherBroyles. The designs you produced within the scope of your employment likely qualify under the Copyright Act as “works made for hire,” which means they belong to your employer.

Epstein Gluck notes whether a work is “made for hire” depends on several factors, including whether the work occurs within authorized work hours and whether it’s performed in part to serve the employer. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t originally hired as a graphic designer or that you do the work on your own equipment; you’re doing the work on company time for the company’s dime. (Speaking of dimes, why not drop one to an accountant to see whether that expensive personal equipment qualifies for some tax deductions as unreimbursed business expenses?)

If you were a freelancer, your contract would — or should — spell out what rights your clients would retain for any work you produce for them. As a full-time employee, unless your policy handbook offers more details, you will probably have to ask your employer specifically if you want to reuse designs, sketches or rejected ideas for your own profitable purposes, though that could raise questions from your employer you might not want to answer.

Perhaps you simply want to use copies of the designs in a portfolio. DoVale said that would probably be an acceptable use, as long as you don’t try to resell the designs, post them online or distribute them. Showing designs to prospective employers as samples of your past work, or posting URLs to pages on your nonprofit’s website that feature your work shouldn’t get you into trouble.


Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing


Author: Karla Miller

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