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When an Employee Backtracks on Leaving Her Job, the Owner Finds Himself Overstaffed. What Would You Do?

What can the owner do when he has two employees but only one position?




When an Employee Backtracks on Leaving Her Job, the Owner Finds Himself Overstaffed. What Would You Do?

Paris Gems and Gold boasts a 60-year history and a sterling reputation in a well-established suburb of a major city in the South. The store’s custom design and repair department is well known throughout the area for innovation, quality and efficiency. Over the years, Lucas Wright, the second-generation owner of Paris, has had his hands full insuring that the right personnel are consistently on board to keep the department operating smoothly and up to standard. In his experience, while strong salespeople are tough to find, recruiting talented jewelers is nearly impossible. He’s also learned, though, that “good karma” often has a way of providing help when it is least expected.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.


Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at

That seemed to be the case two years ago when Mark Varner, one of his most experienced and productive jewelers, was recruited away by a large chain who promised him more money than Lucas could possibly pay and the opportunity to run one of their fabled “regional repair shops.” Mark insisted that he wasn’t out looking for work and that he really did love working with Paris, but that the chain’s offer was something that his responsibility to his family would not let him ignore. Lucas followed all the typical channels after Mark’s departure, placing ads and even talking to headhunters — but in five weeks, he hadn’t come up with a single qualified candidate. Then, in a stroke of good fortune, Carley Rogan came into the store. She told Lucas that she was originally from the area and had been working with a trade shop in New England for the past several years. She was recently married and her new husband was a manager with a local company, so she left her job with the trade shop to move back home with him. She saw Paris’s ad posted to an online job placement service and decided to stop by. Carley was very honest about what she called her “five year plan” to open her own trade shop — but after talking with her references and looking at his current situation, Lucas decided that hiring Carley would be the best decision for Paris. She started with the company on June 1, 2016 and fit in perfectly — delivering quality work and quickly becoming an integral part of the team.

Things were great for over a year, with Paris’s business on a steady incline and everyone — including Carley — working hard to get the job done. Then in August of 2017, Carley paid a visit to Lucas’s office to tell him that she was pregnant, and that she planned to work only through January, when the baby was due. After that, she would be staying home as a full time mom. Lucas was not happy with the news, but was grateful for the long notice. He planned to get started immediately to locate a replacement for Carley and found ways that he could stretch his payroll budget in the short term to allow him to keep both Carley and a new jeweler on the payroll if he somehow managed to find one quickly.

It seemed that good fortune took over once again in mid-September, when Mark Varner called to ask Lucas for his old job back. Seems the grass was not at all greener at the large chain, and their recruitment promises, as Lucas suspected, were little more than bogus enticements. Lucas was delighted with the prospect of having Mark back on the team, and agreed to have him start back with Paris on October 15. It would have been a lot easier on Lucas’s budget to let Carley go at that point, but both his sense of loyalty and his discomfort with the idea of firing a pregnant woman told him to just tough it out and let her leave in January as planned.


On October 5, after being out sick for 3 days, Carley came in and told Lucas that she had lost her baby. She said that despite the miscarriage, she was still considering leaving in January, but had not yet made any final decisions. Lucas hadn’t told Carley — or anyone else in the store — about his commitment to bring Mark back, but he knew for certain that Mark had already left his previous employer and was taking a couple weeks off before returning to his duties at Paris. While he was prepared to carry the heavy payroll for a few months, Lucas was certain he could not support it in the long term. Besides — he was more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of having his business decisions dictated by Carley’s choices.

The Big Questions

  • With Mark and Carley equally qualified, what should Lucas do now?
  • Should he tell Carley that he’s already hired her replacement and that her job will only be guaranteed through January?
  • If Carley makes the commitment to stay on with Paris, should Lucas cancel his deal with Mark, or should he bring him on as planned, at least through the end of the year?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Drue S. Albany, NY

The only solution if I was placed in this position would be to keep both through January as committed and let Carley go. She did give notice and Mark is now depending on coming back to the Paris family. He had a long history with the company and Carley only has the year. Also, the situation may occur again in the near future where she decides to stay home to have children. In my experience, hiring back a good employee who now knows the grass isn’t better on the other side is a great bet!

Gabi M. Tewksbury, MA

He should let go of Carley in January and bring Mark back on. They were both professional and truthful about coming and going, but it doesn’t seem like Carley is in it for the long run anyway. Mark saw the brighter side, which was clearly with Lucas, so I don’t think he’ll be going anywhere anytime soon. Also, Carley is already on the fence about leaving in January; I think bringing Mark back will save any future headache.

Ira K. Tallahassee, FL

What a great predicament to be in. Lucas would be the envy of every storeowner I know. Keep both Mark and Carley—ADVERTISE your shop and also look for trade work. It should be a win-win!

Daniel B. Provo, UT

He should tell Carley that he has already hired her replacement and that her job will only be guaranteed through January.

This was Carley’s doing. She had effectively given notice. She also has plans to open a trade shop, so this may accelerate her plans. She will have time to make plans to make her move in the few months that she has left at Paris Jewelers. The extra help for Paris through Christmas will be good, too.

Todd T. Bowling Green, VA

She gave her decision to quit for good, so she should know you had a need to fill it. So fair is fair. Plus, what’s not to say she won’t get pregnant again and quit again?

Laura S. Indianapolis, IN

Sounds like Lucas is a really good boss, being concerned about doing the right thing for everyone. These are the kind of decisions that makes being a boss hard. I hope Lucas had some paperwork prepared when pregnant Carley announced that she would be leaving in January. Things are so litigious now; this problem might warrant a brief run-through with his lawyer for a legal opinion. At the end of the day, Lucas should honor his commitment to Mark, who left his job based on a decision made by Lucas with all the known facts at the time taken into consideration. As awful as this situation is, if Lucas cannot afford to keep both Mark and Carley, Carley will have to leave. There are other jobs out there, and of course, Carley could rely on Lucas as a good reference.

Linda H. Colorado Springs, CO

Unless there is some ingenious way Lucas can generate enough new business to provide work for both profitably, he should tell Carly that he has made a commitment to Mark based upon her resignation. It would be especially helpful if Lucas has Carly’s resignation in writing. Although it is not the decisive factor, Carly’s five year plan to open her own shop is likely the same as it was last year.

Kent C. St. Simon’s Island, GA

Keep them both. No one can guess the dynamic when the old “boss” shows up. The skills of both may improve. Increase the department’s abilities and output. It’s a dream problem to have. I see many options that will benefit the store, and you will be better prepared for future surprises.

Kim H. Sumter, SC

To me, the choice is clear. If the payroll cannot maintain both, then Lucas should be honest with Carley. He should tell her he had to make arrangements, and that given she was still considering leaving in January (and would have left within 5 years from hire, anyway) and he could not back out on an agreement to hire another jeweler who had already left his prior job, he would be replacing her in January. If payroll would support a part-time jeweler, I would discuss that option with Carley; if not, I would stick with the more probable long-term, known talent of Mark.

Tom S. Winnipeg, Manitoba

Carly’s gone in January, the end. Life is full of hard choices. Small businesses cannot afford to be held ransom by employees.

Rex S. Houston, TX

Lucas relied on the notice that Carley had given him and engaged the services of the prior employee. It is not relevant that Lucas had not announced the rehire to other staff members. Carley made clear to Lucas that she was not interested in a long-term career. Carley had a five-year plan to work and leave. She chose to alter that by resigning due to her pregnancy. Just because the pregnancy was not successful does not negate her resignation. Lucas has to plan for the long term. It is unlikely that Mark will leave again; Lucas is likely to have the long-term employee that he needs. Carley made it clear up front that she was only interested in a short-term option. Lucas should not discharge Mark to allow Carley to continue. As a compromise, he might offer Carley the opportunity to do some part-time work on an as-needed basis.

Marcus M. Midland, TX

This is simple: keep the original plan. Carley still sounds like she’s very unsure of what she is going to do in January. You know you have a qualified former employee returning and more than likely going to stay after testing the waters in the corporate world. As much as you feel for Carley, she just doesn’t seem fully committed right now and still might leave in January. If you cancel the deal with Mark, you could be leaving him high and dry. And what if Carley does still leave in January? Now you’re high and dry. There are too many “what if’s” here and this could get tricky. Eliminate the headaches, stick to the plan and keep it simple.

Bruce A. Sherwood Park, Alberta

Nothing really changed with Carley’s employment conditions, although there can be no disagreement that her personal life took a dramatic and tragic turn. She still intends to leave in January and she should be commended for her honesty. Mark should return to Paris and Lucas can follow up with his plan to keep Carley on until the end of January when she intends to leave anyway.

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She Wanted to Spend More Time with Her Kids. She Called Wilkerson.

Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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